Florida shooting: Gunman was war veteran

  • 07/01/2017

A gunman believed to be an Iraq war veteran has opened fire at a baggage carousel at Fort Lauderdale's international airport, killing five people and wounding eight before being taken into custody.

The shooting spree sent panicked travellers running for cover inside the terminal and on the runway apron, with dozens of people corralled into large groups on the tarmac. Aviation authorities shut down air traffic, stranding hundreds of travellers.

The shooter was identified as Esteban Santiago, 26, and was carrying US military identification, according to a spokesman for US Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, who spoke with officials at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Santiago served from 2007 to 2016 in the Puerto Rico National Guard and Alaska National Guard including a deployment to Iraq from 2010 to 2011, according to the Pentagon.

A private first class and combat engineer, he received half a dozen medals before being transferred to the inactive ready reserve in August last year.

The gunman had arrived on a flight to Fort Lauderdale with a checked gun in his bag, and upon claiming the luggage went to the bathroom to load the gun, Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca said on Twitter. He came out firing, LaMarca said, and witnesses told MSNBC television he only stopped upon running out of ammunition, at which point he surrendered to police.

Mobile phone video posted on social media showed victims on the floor next to a carousel, with people on their knees attempting to provide aid. At least two victims had pools of blood from apparent head wounds.

Flying with firearms is routine and legal in the US as long as the guns are kept in a locked, hard-sided container as checked baggage only, under TSA rules. Ammunition is prohibited in carry-on bags but is allowed in checked luggage.

The shooter was unharmed as law enforcement officers never fired a shot, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters at the airport, adding it was too early to assign a motive.

"At this point, it looks like he acted alone," Israel said while police continued to search the airport.

The shooter, who wore a Star Wars T-shirt, said nothing as he fired, witnesses told MSNBC. He appeared to use a 9mm handgun, which he tossed aside upon firing all his rounds, MSNBC reported.

"This is a senseless act of evil," Florida Governor Rick Scott told reporters.

The attack was the latest in a series of mass shootings that have plagued the US in recent years, some inspired by militants with an extreme view of Islam, others carried out by loners or the mentally disturbed who have easy access to weapons under US gun laws.

Attention was likely to focus on impact of his service in the Iraq war. An aunt said he came back from the war "a different person" after his deployment, MSNBC reported.