Authorities returned gun to accused airport shooter one month before massacre
Santiago’s brother has questioned why he was allowed to have his gun after authorities knew he’d become increasingly paranoid and was hearing voices
Authorities in Anchorage confiscated a gun from the accused Fort Lauderdale airport gunman after he visited an FBI office in November acting bizarrely and speaking of “terroristic thoughts”. But police gave the weapon back to him about one month ago, authorities in Alaska said.
They would not say if it was the same semi-automatic handgun used to murder five people at the baggage claim area of the Fort Lauderdale airport on Friday.
Disclosures during Saturday’s press conference in Alaska raised further questions about whether Esteban Santiago should have been able to get a gun and check it on a flight.
Despite being disturbed, delusional and having had incidents of reported domestic violence, Santiago was not on a government list of people prohibited from flying.
“During our initial investigation we found no ties to terrorism,” said Marlin Ritzman from the FBI’s office in Anchorage. “He broke no laws when he came into our office making comments about mind control.”
Santiago, an Iraq war veteran, was agitated and incoherent when he visited the FBI office on November 7. He had a loaded magazine on him but left his gun and infant son in a car, Ritzman said.
Santiago told agents he did not wish to harm anyone. The FBI contacted the Anchorage Police Department, which transported Santiago to a mental health facility. The department took his weapon and “logged it into evidence for safekeeping,” Police Chief Christopher Tolley said.
“Mr Santiago had arrived at the FBI building asking for help,” Tolley said. “Santiago was having terroristic thoughts and believed he was being influenced by ISIS.”
The FBI closed its assessment after conducting database reviews and interagency checks.
“He was a walk-in complaint,” Ritzman said. “This is something that happens at FBI offices around the country every day.”
Santiago’s brother, Bryan Santiago, questioned why his brother was allowed to have his gun after authorities knew he’d become increasingly paranoid and was hearing voices.
“The FBI failed there,” he said. “We’re not talking about someone who emerged from anonymity to do something like this.”
On November 17, 10 days after the visit to the FBI, the police sent Santiago a letter asking him to pick up his gun and an appointment was set for November 30.
The police coordinated with the FBI but Santiago left without the gun that day. The firearm was released to him on December 8, Tolley said.
Santiago boarded a Delta flight in Anchorage on Thursday night, checking only a hard case containing his gun. Once in Fort Lauderdale, he recovered the gun at baggage claim, went into a bathroom, loaded the weapon and came out firing at people, police said.
Alaska US Attorney Karen Loeffler said federal law requires that a person be adjudicated mentally ill by a court before someone is prohibited from possessing a gun. She said she knew of nothing in Santiago’s background that fit that exclusion criteria.
Miami security expert Wayne Black said authorities had to do more to “connect the dots” when someone comes to law enforcement talking of terrorism.
“We’ve got to keep them off planes with guns,” he said.