Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport reopened and was slowly recovering Saturday after the deadly shooting rampage that left five dead and sent thousands of passengers fleeing in terror.
Roads to the terminal opened to traffic at 5 a.m. but the airport warned that flight delays and cancellations would likely continue.
Stranded passengers were offered bedding, food and water by Red Cross volunteers at the city's Port Everglades cruise terminal overnight while the airport was closed following the massacre.
The chaos began shortly before 1 p.m. Friday when Esteban Santiago, 26, allegedly retrieved a gun from his luggage in the baggage claim area and began shooting people.
Passengers were trapped for hours on planes while law enforcement secured the terminal, which became a deadly crime scene.
The airport said Saturday it was processing more than 20,000 bags and personal items left from the evacuation. "This is a time consuming and complex process," it said on Twitter.
Some of those caught up in the havoc complained of what they call a confused and ineffective response by authorities.
"The toilets over-flowed, they shut down the toilets," one airline passenger told NBC News.
Another, Edward Hayden, said his flight was supposed to leave at 12:55, and the plane taxied out to the runway. And there it sat.
"My wife is handicapped and it was just a nightmare," said Edward Hayden. "We were in the plane from 12:10 to 8:45. Frankly I feel like the crisis management of this was extremely poorly organized. My wife is handicapped, and it was just a nightmare."
Faith Schall said she hid in a storage room while the shooting took place. When she got out, she said, there was not enough help from officials. "Broward County and the airport ought to be ashamed of themselves," Schall said.
Not everyone was was so upset. Norma Petras, who flew in from Austin, said she spent six hours on the tarmac waiting to deplane.
"You know, Southwest did a really great job," Petras said. "They gave is water and drink, and if they ran low, they resupplied and everyone stayed calm."
|© Mike Stocker/Sun Sentinel/TNS/Getty Images|
Esteban Santiago's brother blames FBI for killings as Fort Lauderdale shooting suspect may face death penalty
The unhinged Army veteran who flew 5,000 miles to execute five strangers at a Florida airport could face the death penalty for his baggage carousel killing spree.
Esteban Santiago, described by his brother as a walking time bomb, was charged with an act of violence resulting in death at an international airport — making him eligible for federal execution.
“(The) charges represent the gravity of the situation and reflect the commitment of federal, state and local law enforcement personnel to continually protect the community and prosecute those who target our residents and visitors,” said U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer.
A day after the massacre — the nation’s first mass shooting of 2017 — investigators were still stumped over why Santiago, 26, flew from his home in Alaska to target passengers at the Fort Lauderdale airport.
A federal complaint revealed the New Jersey-born Santiago told the investigators that his carnage was planned, right down to purchasing a one-way ticket to Florida.
As officials searched for a motive, Santiago’s brother said the assault could easily have been prevented if the FBI had stepped up and used a little common sense.
“We’re not talking about someone who emerged from anonymity to do something like this,” sibling Bryan Santiago told The Associated Press outside his family’s Puerto Rico home.
“The federal government already knew about this for months, they had been evaluating him for a while, but they didn’t do anything.”
Two months ago, Santiago sat in an FBI office in Anchorage, Alaska, claiming the CIA was forcing him to join ISIS. After he was evaluated for four days, Santiago was released without any medication or a follow-up plan.
“I told him to go to church or to seek professional help,” the brother said.
Anchorage Police Chief Chris Tolley told a Saturday news conference that Santiago was a troubled soul who was investigated four times last year by local cops.
The allegations ranged from domestic disturbance to an unverified strangling charge — and he was only arrested once.
Anchorage cops also held Santiago’s weapon for safekeeping after his bizarre Nov. 7 appearance at the FBI, and only returned the gun Dec. 8.
“There are speculations that this is the same gun (used in the killings),” said Tolley. “I have not received confirmation that it is in fact that gun.”
Another relative said Santiago’s service in Iraq may have sent him over the edge.
“While in Iraq, his brother said he lost two of his close friends,” said an uncle who lives in Naples, Fla. “A grenade went off, and they died right in front of him.”
Authorities said they were not ruling out terrorism, though no groups had claimed responsibility. Six people were also wounded.
“Indications are that he came here to carry out this horrific attack,” FBI agent George Piro said. “We have not identified any triggers that would have caused this attack. We’re pursuing all angles on what prompted him to carry out this horrific attack.”
There does not seem to be any specific reason that the gunman chose Fort Lauderdale airport over other airports and targets, Piro said.
Santiago landed at the Fort Lauderdale airport just before the 1 p.m. shooting. He had taken off Thursday night from Alaska and had a layover in Minnesota before arriving in Florida.
Authorities said Santiago stepped off a flight and went to the baggage claim area where he pulled a 9-mm. handgun from his one checked bag and began shooting. He reloaded, fired until he was out of bullets and calmly surrendered without saying a word.
It is legal for airline passengers to transport unloaded guns and ammo in their checked bags, as long as they are locked in a hard-sided container and declared to the airline at check-in. Some airports require guns and ammunition to be checked in separate bags.
The airport, which shut down after the attack, partially reopened early Saturday morning, allowing some commercial flights to resume at 5 a.m.