FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The gunman walks through the baggage claim area at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, just steps behind a man and two boys. As coolly as one might check a cell phone for messages, he pulls a handgun from his waistband and begins firing, then quickly runs off camera.
Security footage obtained by TMZ shows the seconds before and after a gunman police say was Esteban Santiago opened fire at the airport Friday. As the silent video begins, it shows what could be any baggage claim area in America.
People tugging suitcases behind them pass baggage carts and carousels. The gunman, wearing a blue sweater with black stripes on the shoulders and carrying a jacket in his left hand, enters the screen, draws the weapon with his right hand and appears to fire it three times.
A couple sitting nearby drops to the ground. A woman ducks behind a baggage cart. Several people, seeing nowhere to take cover, dive face-first to the ground.
Reached for comment on the footage, airport spokesman Greg Meyer said, “We are aware of the video on TMZ. There is currently an investigation involving law enforcement looking into the matter.”
The Broward County Sheriff’s Office could not be immediately reached for comment.
Santiago confessed to planning the assault that killed five people and left several others wounded, according to a criminal complaint filed by federal prosecutors.
Two of the injured victims remained in intensive care Sunday afternoon, while the remaining four had been released or were recovering at Broward General Hospital, Sheriff Scott Israel said.
The hospital gave slightly different numbers, saying seven victims, five of them suffering gunshot wounds, remained hospitalized Sunday. One gunshot victim was released Saturday, the hospital said.
Asked if passengers would experience added security at the airport, Israel said he was more concerned with persuading lawmakers to keep firearms out of the hands of felons, the mentally ill and those on no-fly lists.
“The answer isn’t to beef up airports,” he said. “We’re a free society. We as Americans, we go to airports and stadiums and venues every day of our lives.”
Gun had been confiscated
Federal authorities were familiar with Santiago. He’d set off red flags just weeks ago.
He visited an Alaska FBI office in November, saying his mind was being controlled by U.S. intelligence. He left two things in the car: a gun and his newborn.
The Army veteran’s rambling walk-in interview at the Anchorage office was concerning enough for authorities to take away his gun and order a mental health evaluation. But it wasn’t enough to get him mentally adjudicated, which would have prohibited Santiago from owning a firearm.
Santiago got the gun back a month later when he retrieved the pistol from police headquarters, and it was that weapon, law enforcement sources said, that he used in the airport attack.
“As far as I know, this is not somebody that would have been prohibited based on the information that (authorities in Alaska) have. I think that law enforcement acted within the laws that they have,” said U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler.
Santiago also had some legal trouble and was due in court in March.
Complaint: He aimed for heads
Santiago, 26, faces three federal charges that each carry the possibility of the death penalty, the U.S. Justice Department said.
He will be charged Monday with counts of causing serious bodily injury to someone at an international airport; using a firearm during and in relation to a violent crime; and causing the death of a person through the use of a firearm.
Santiago told investigators he bought a one-way ticket to Fort Lauderdale and brought a Walther 9-millimeter pistol and two magazines.
He said he went into a bathroom stall at the airport, loaded the gun and shot the first people he saw, according to the criminal complaint. He thinks he fired 15 bullets, aiming at his victims’ heads, the complaint says.
Santiago recently began selling his possessions, including his car. Friends and associates noticed more erratic behavior, investigators have learned from interviews with those who know him.
Authorities are examining writings, including online posts, that appear to indicate some period of planning, law enforcement officials said.
George Piro, the FBI’s special agent in charge in Miami, said Santiago flew from Anchorage to Minneapolis to Fort Lauderdale. A lieutenant with the Anchorage airport police said Santiago had one checked bag — a handgun case containing a pistol.
Though authorities do not yet know Santiago’s motive, the FBI has not ruled out terrorism, Piro said, adding that the suspect was cooperating with investigators, who spent several hours interviewing him.