WOODLAND PARK, N.J. — The alleged gunman who authorities say killed at least five people at the Fort Lauderdale airport Friday was an Army veteran who was born in New Jersey and a recent father who began to have problems about a month ago when a relative said he began to see things and “lost his mind.”
A federal law enforcement official who was not authorized to comment publicly confirmed the suspect’s name and date of birth as Esteban Santiago, born March 16, 1990.
Santiago was arrested after a shooting spree that began around noon at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and left five people dead and eight people wounded, according to law enforcement officials.
Santiago had served with the National Guard in Iraq and became a father in September, said his aunt, Maria Luisa Ruiz, who lives in Union City. She said that another member of her family had told her that he was the suspect in the Fort Lauderdale shooting.
She said that her nephew had been living in Alaska, where he was able to obtain a job in security. She showed reporters a photo of Santiago at a hospital holding his newborn son in September. Staff at Providence Hospital in Anchorage confirmed that the photo was taken in their hospital.
Santiago wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the word “Disturbed” in the photo. Ruiz said that Santiago, whose mother lives in Puerto Rico, appeared happy after the birth of his son but that something happened to him about one month ago.
“Like a month ago, it was like he lost his mind,” she said “He said he saw things.”
She said that he was hospitalized for two weeks, but she did not have details about his condition.
Ruiz spoke to reporters at her home Friday afternoon before FBI agents showed up at her door and local authorities closed off the street near her home.
"I don’t know why this happened,” she said during the interview.
The shooting broke out around noon next to the baggage claim area at Terminal 2, which serves Delta Airlines. Witnesses said the gunman fired randomly at people gathered near a baggage carousel, reloading several times.
One passenger, Mark Lea, told MSNBC the man was "just randomly shooting people" with a 9mm pistol without saying a word to anyone. After emptying about 3 magazines of bullets, the shooter then got down on the ground spread-eagled and waited for police to arrive.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., had initially identified the gunman as 26-year-old Esteban Santiago and said he was carrying a military identification card.
Maria Cedeño, a Broward County resident who had just gotten off of a Delta flight from Atlanta, told The Record that she took refuge in a Terminal 2 bathroom, where she said two armed female officers from the Sheriff’s Office carrying guns and flashlights were looking around. She said FBI agents were also in the airport.
“The most impactful thing is to see members of the sheriff walking around with guns and checking the bathroom right now,” Cedeño said.
She said officials were telling those in the airport to “stay where you are,” and to only respond to command of officers, but that some people who were in the bathroom had stepped out. She said outside the bathroom she could see people sitting along the wall on their mobile devices.
Cedeño said she had heard from her daughter, who was keeping her abreast of the news, that a person from her flight may have been one of the victims of the shooting. Cedeño said she was on her way to baggage claim, but fortunately made a stop in the restroom.
“I could have been there in that moment,” Cedeño said.