Mental illness should have prevented Ft. Lauderdale airport shooter from owning gun, sheriff says

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — As more information becomes available on the mental status of the man who is accused of having opened fire at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, killing five, questions have been more prevalent than answers.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said he wanted to know Saturday how Esteban Santiago, 26, who had been taken for a mental evaluation by law enforcement in November, could have legally owned a gun.

“A conversation that needs to happen, certainly, is we need to talk about, as a country going forward … you know, people suffering from mental illness they’re not problem people,” Israel said. “We all know they’re people with very real problems, but if they are suffering from a mental illness, or on a no-fly list, or are a convicted felon, they flat-out shouldn’t be allowed to own handguns or rifles.”

Video: Passengers duck, hide at airport

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Santiago was able to legally transport a handgun and ammunition in his checked luggage from Anchorage to Fort Lauderdale Friday, and FBI officials say it appears he abided by U.S. Transportation Security Administration rules.

After he picked up his luggage from baggage claim, Santiago retrieved his gun, loaded it in a bathroom and came out shooting, investigators said.

Five people were killed and six were wounded, Israel said.

FBI special agent George Piro said authorities are looking at leads in several states and have not ruled out terrorism.

“At this point, it appears that the shooter was working alone,” he said.

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The gun used was a semi-automatic 9 mm handgun, but Piro said the FBI was not releasing the make or model.

Investigators have not nailed down the reason why Santiago chose to carry out his attack in Florida, but it appears he did not have any other reason for coming to the state, Piro said.

“Indications are that he came here to carry out this horrific attack,” he said, noting that it does not appear Santiago was currently on any no-fly lists.

Broward County sheriff’s deputies were able to make contact with Santiago within 70 to 80 seconds of the first gunshot, Israel said.

But when someone abides by all the laws and rules regarding guns at the airport, preventing an attack like this was basically out of their hands, he said.

“If you have a person who could be suffering from a severe mental illness, or if you have what we call a ‘lone wolf assassin,’ that’s ready to conduct some cowardly, heinous act, there’s not much law enforcement or anyone can do about it,” Israel said.

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