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Suspect Charged In Shooting Death Of 5 People At Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Airport

People stand on the tarmac at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida on Friday after a shooter opened fire inside a terminal, killing at least five people and wounding eight others before being taken into custody.
Lynne Sladky
People stand on the tarmac at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida on Friday after a shooter opened fire inside a terminal, killing at least five people and wounding eight others before being taken into custody.

Updated at 8:00 p.m. ET Saturday

The U.S. Attorney has charged Esteban Santiago, the man in custody for carrying out the deadly shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida on Friday afternoon.

At least five people were killed and six others were injured in the shooting, according to the Broward County Sheriff's Office.

The suspect, Esteban Santiago, had been taken into custody "without incident" by a sheriff's deputy immediately after the shooting, Sheriff Scott Israel said at a news conference. Israel had said earlier in the day that "at this point it looks like he acted alone."

The charges issued include: "Performing an act of violence against a person at an airport," "using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence" and "causing the death of a person through the use of a firearm in the course of a violation."

The maximum penalty carried with these charges is a possible death sentence.

Santiago will have his initial appearance Monday at 11:00 a.m., before United States Magistrate Judge Alicia O. Valle in Fort Lauderdale.

Authorities said Santiago took flights from Alaska to Minnesota, finally landing in Fort Lauderdale, where he took a firearm out of his checked baggage and "began indiscriminately shooting," as Israel put it.

Santiago was interviewed extensively by FBI and Broward County sheriff's office officials, Sheriff Israel said.

George Piro, special agent in charge of the Miami field office, said at the news conference that it was too soon to say what the motive behind the attack was. "We're not ruling out anything, including the terrorism angle," he said, adding that it was "too early to truly know why he came to Florida."

Piro confirmed reports that Santiago, 26, had voluntarily gone to the FBI office in Anchorage in November and spoken with agents. News reports have said the suspect complained that an outside force was controlling his mind. Piro noted that the suspect stated that he didn't intend to harm anyone.

"We looked at his contacts," said Piro, "did interagency checks and closed our assessment." He says the agents turned Santiago over to local police, who took him for a mental health evaluation. NPR has not confirmed any details of the suspect's mental health issues.

Piro didn't confirm news reports that Santiago was involved in a fight before the shootings. "I'm not aware of an incident on the flight or at baggage claim," he said.

A victim is taken into Broward Health Trauma Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Friday following a shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Taimy Alvarez/Sun-Sentinel / TNS via Getty Images
TNS via Getty Images
A victim is taken into Broward Health Trauma Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Friday following a shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

Sheriff Scott Israel described the weapon used in the attack as a semi-automatic handgun and said it was too early in the investigation to say how many rounds were fired. The sheriff said the attacker didn't make any statements while shooting.

In addition to the victims who were killed or wounded by bullets, Israel said, some 30 to 40 people were taken to hospitals with other injuries. The airport aviation director, Mark Gale, estimated that authorities will have helped about 10,000 people with transportation, food and lodging because of the incident.

Police Chief Jesse Davis of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport says Santiago departed the Alaska facility on a Delta flight, having left a firearm in his checked baggage, as required. Davis tells NPR's Richard Gonzales that Santiago did not draw attention to himself at the airport, was not previously known to the airport police and apparently was traveling alone.

According to NPR's Tom Bowman, Santiago is a 26-year-old former soldier. Tom tells our Newscast unit:

"Military records show Santiago received a general discharge — rather than the top honorable discharge — from the Alaska National Guard in August because of poor performance ...

"Santiago received an honorable discharge from the Puerto Rico National Guard in 2013 and served with those soldiers in Iraq in 2010 and 2011. He was a combat engineer, a job that includes clearing roads and detecting mines."

Tom reports that a U.S. official familiar with the investigation says, while serving with the Alaska National Guard, Santiago "was AWOL on a number of occasions, would miss drills and was interviewed by Army criminal investigators at times for what they called 'strange behavior.' "

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who traveled to Fort Lauderdale on Friday afternoon, told reporters he had not asked the federal government for resources and had not attempted to contact President Obama. The governor said he had reached out to President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who take office later this month.

Later, Scott's press office announced that he spoke with Obama following the news conference. National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price said the president "extended his sincere condolences to the families and other loved ones of those killed," said his "thoughts and prayers are with the wounded," and gave assurances that federal authorities would continue to help in the investigation.

Israel said authorities were not releasing any information about the identities of those killed and injured. The sheriff's office tweeted that those who were injured had been taken to a local hospital.

Israel and Gale both said there was no evidence any shots had been fired elsewhere in the airport or by anyone except the suspect in custody. Previous reports had indicated there might have been additional shots fired on the airport property.

Broward County Fire Rescue told the local CBS affiliate in Miami that a shooting was reported around 1 p.m. ET. The sheriff's office tweeted that it received a call about a shooting at the airport around 12:55 p.m.

The airport said on Twitter that: "There is an ongoing incident in Terminal 2, Baggage Claim." The airport has four stand-alone terminals, of which Terminal 2 is the smallest. It serves Air Canada and Delta Airlines.

People who said they were inside the airport described seeing people running. Among those inside was former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who tweeted that "everyone is running" after shots were fired, and that police said there was one shooter and multiple victims.

Shortly after 1 p.m., Fleischer tweeted that police were not letting anyone out of the part of the airport he was in.

Television images showed hundreds of travelers standing around the part of the airport where the planes park.

The airport said it had temporarily suspended all services and asked travelers to contact air carriers directly about flight information. The Federal Aviation Administration said a ground stop was in effect at the airport due to the incident.

In a statement about two hours after the shooting was reported, the FAA said flights were "not arriving or departing" from the airport.

The airport reopened Saturday at 5 a.m., according to The Associated Press, with many flights delayed or canceled.

This is a breaking news story. As often happens in situations like these, some information reported early may turn out to be inaccurate. We'll move quickly to correct the record and we'll only point to the best information we have at the time.

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Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.
Barbara Campbell