Gunman opens fire at Ft. Lauderdale airport, killing five

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Reuters) - A gunman wearing a "Star Wars" T-shirt opened fire at a baggage carousel at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Friday, killing five people before being taken into custody, officials and witnesses said.

Five people died and eight were wounded in the incident, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters at the airport.

The gunman had arrived on a flight from Canada with a checked gun in his bag, Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca said on Twitter. He claimed his bag and went to the bathroom to load the gun before coming out and firing, LaMarca said.

Cellphone 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 had pools of blood from apparent head wounds.

The shooter was unharmed as law enforcement officers never fired a shot, Israel said, adding that it was too early to assign a motive.

"At this point, it looks like he acted alone," Israel said.

Nonetheless, he said "this scene is considered fluid and active" as police search the rest of the airport.

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

The shooter, who said nothing as he fired, was wearing a "Star Wars" T-shirt, witnesses told MSNBC.

The Florida attack was the latest in a series of mass shootings that have plagued the United States 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 U.S. gun laws.

About 90 minutes after the attack, panic broke out anew with passengers and police running frantically about at a separate terminal, but Israel said there were no other reports of shots being fired.

Slide 1 of 19: People take cover outside Terminal 2 of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and 8 wounded in an attack from a single gunman.

Slide 2 of 19: Police assist people seeking cover outside Terminal 2 of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and eight wounded in an attack from a single gunman.

Slide 3 of 19: People run on the tarmac at Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport, Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after a shooter opened fire inside a terminal of the airport, killing several people and wounding others before being taken into custody.

Slide 4 of 19: Law enforcement personnel arrive in an armored car outside Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport, Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. A gunman opened fire in the baggage claim area at the airport Friday, killing several people and wounding others before being taken into custody in an attack that sent panicked passengers running out of the terminal and onto the tarmac, authorities said.

Slide 5 of 19: People take cover behind vehicles at Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport, Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after a shooter opened fire inside a terminal of the airport, killing several people and wounding others before being taken into custody.

Slide 6 of 19: Law enforcement personnel stand outside a garage area at Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport, Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. A gunman opened fire in the baggage claim area at the airport Friday, killing several people and wounding others before being taken into custody in an attack that sent panicked passengers running out of the terminal and onto the tarmac, authorities said.

Slide 7 of 19: Law enforcement helicopter flies over a garage area at Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport, Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after a shooter opened fire inside a terminal of the airport, killing several people and wounding others before being taken into custody.

Slide 8 of 19: Law enforcement personnel shield civilians outside a garage area at Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport, Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after a shooter opened fire inside a terminal of the airport, killing several people and wounding others before being taken into custody.

Slide 9 of 19: Police direct traffic outside of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and eight wounded in an attack from a single gunman.

Slide 10 of 19: People leave a garage area with their hands up in the air outside Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport, after a shooter opened fire inside a terminal of the airport, killing several people and wounding others before being taken into custody, Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Slide 11 of 19: Police question people who are evacuating from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport near the tarmac after airport shooting in Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017.

Slide 12 of 19: Passengers are shown on the tarmac outside Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport, Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after a shooter opened fire inside a terminal of the airport, killing several people and wounding others before being taken into custody.

Slide 13 of 19: People stand on the tarmac at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport after a shooter opened fire inside the terminal, killing several people and wounding others before being taken into custody, Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Slide 14 of 19: An injured woman is taken into Broward Health Trauma Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after a shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Friday, Jan. 6, 2017. Authorities say a lone shooter opened fire at the airport Friday afternoon, killing "multiple" people before he was taken into custody.

Slide 15 of 19: Police officers stand on the perimeter road along the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport after a shooter opened fire inside a terminal of the airport, killing several people and wounding others before being taken into custody, Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Slide 16 of 19: People stand on the tarmac at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport after a lone shooter opened fire inside the terminal, Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.  A gunman opened fire at the Fort Lauderdale airport Friday, killing several people and wounding others before being taken into custody, officials said.

Slide 17 of 19: Travelers and airport workers are evacuated out of the terminal after airport shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017.

Slide 18 of 19: A shooting victim arrives at Broward Health Trauma Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Friday, Jan. 6, 2017.   Authorities say a lone shooter opened fire at the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, international airport Friday, killing "multiple" people before he was taken into custody. The airport suspended operations as law enforcement authorities rushed to the scene.

Slide 19 of 19: Travelers are evacuated out of the terminal and onto the tarmac after airport shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017.

One person was injured trying to evacuate, which may have triggered the later panic, Israel said. Dozens of police sprinted back and forth with automatic weapons drawn, and one officer screamed "Get down, get down!" from a nearby parking garage, a Reuters reporter witnessed.
John Schlicher, who told MSNBC he saw the attack, described the shooter as a slender man who was "directly firing at us" while passengers waited for their bags.

"I put my head down and prayed," Schlicher said, adding that his wife gave first aid to someone who had been shot in the head. His mother-in-law used her sweater to tend to another victim but it turned out that person was already dead, he said.

The shooter reloaded for another burst of shooting, Schlicher said, but could not say how many bullets were fired.

Mark Lea, another eyewitness, told MSNBC "there was no rhyme or reason to it."

"He didn't say anything, he was quiet the whole time, he didn't yell anything," Lea said.

Security officials corralled passengers underneath jetways and on the runway apron, according to images on television.

Air traffic was temporarily suspended.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is the second largest in South Florida, serving as an intercontinental gateway, with Miami International Airport known as the primary airport for international flights in the area.

HISTORY OF SHOOTINGS

Nearly two months ago a former Southwest Airlines worker killed an employee of the company at Oklahoma City's airport in what police called a premeditated act.

The deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history took place last June, when a gunman apparently inspired by Islamic State killed 53 people and wounded 49 at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

One of the most shocking was in 2012, when a man entered an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and shot dead 20 first-graders and six adults.

Attackers have exploited security officials' focus on preventing attacks on airplanes rather than inside airports. In Western Europe and the United States, terminals are easily accessible public spaces.

But at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport, widely seen as a model for security, private companies trained by the national security agency use bomb-detectors, profile passengers and question travelers under the watch of police at the airport's entrance. That may just shift the target to another location at the airport, experts have said, however.

© Wilfredo Lee/AP

Fort Lauderdale airport shooting: 5 dead, suspect had gun in bag

Five people were shot dead and eight wounded in a baggage claim area at Fort Lauderdale's airport, and law enforcement sources tell CNN the suspect, identified as Esteban Santiago, had brought the firearm in his checked luggage.

Authorities said it was too early to understand why the suspect, who was taken into custody without incident, opened fire at the Florida airport.
Florida Sen. Bill Nelson told CNN that Santiago had a military identification card, but he did not know whether it was current.
Here's the latest on what we know:
• Thirteen people were shot and eight were taken to hospitals, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said. Five others died from their wounds.
• The suspect joined the National Guard in Puerto Rico in 2007. In April 2010, he went to Iraq for 10 months. A spokeswoman for the Alaska Army National Guard said Santiago was in the Army Reserves before he joined the guard there in November 2014. Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead said Santiago was discharged in August for unsatisfactory performance.
• The suspect showed up several months ago at the FBI office in Anchorage, law enforcement officials told CNN. He was interviewed and said he was hearing voices in his head, including some telling him to join ISIS. He was taken to a hospital for a mental health evaluation, the officials said. He voluntarily checked himself in, the officials explained.
• Law enforcement sources told CNN that the suspect flew to Florida on Friday from Alaska and had declared the firearm. When he arrived at the airport, the suspect retrieved a bag at baggage claim, took out the gun and started firing, the sources said. One source said he went to the bathroom to get the gun out of his luggage and emerged firing.
• Israel said the gunman likely acted alone. The sheriff said it was too early to say whether terrorism was the motive.
• Gov. Rick Scott told reporters at the airport: "The citizens of Florida will not tolerate senseless acts of evil. Whoever is responsible will held accountable to the fullest extent of the law." The governor said that now was time to mourn the dead and pray for hospitalized victims, not talk about gun laws.
• Multiple reports on social media -- including tweets from former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer -- described the shooting.
Five people were shot dead and eight wounded in a baggage claim area at Fort Lauderdale's airport, and law enforcement sources tell CNN the suspect, identified as Esteban Santiago, had brought the firearm in his checked luggage.

Authorities said it was too early to understand why the suspect, who was taken into custody without incident, opened fire at the Florida airport.
Florida Sen. Bill Nelson told CNN that Santiago had a military identification card, but he did not know whether it was current.
Here's the latest on what we know:
• Thirteen people were shot and eight were taken to hospitals, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said. Five others died from their wounds.
• The suspect joined the National Guard in Puerto Rico in 2007. In April 2010, he went to Iraq for 10 months. A spokeswoman for the Alaska Army National Guard said Santiago was in the Army Reserves before he joined the guard there in November 2014. Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead said Santiago was discharged in August for unsatisfactory performance.
• The suspect showed up several months ago at the FBI office in Anchorage, law enforcement officials told CNN. He was interviewed and said he was hearing voices in his head, including some telling him to join ISIS. He was taken to a hospital for a mental health evaluation, the officials said. He voluntarily checked himself in, the officials explained.
• Law enforcement sources told CNN that the suspect flew to Florida on Friday from Alaska and had declared the firearm. When he arrived at the airport, the suspect retrieved a bag at baggage claim, took out the gun and started firing, the sources said. One source said he went to the bathroom to get the gun out of his luggage and emerged firing.
• Israel said the gunman likely acted alone. The sheriff said it was too early to say whether terrorism was the motive.
• Gov. Rick Scott told reporters at the airport: "The citizens of Florida will not tolerate senseless acts of evil. Whoever is responsible will held accountable to the fullest extent of the law." The governor said that now was time to mourn the dead and pray for hospitalized victims, not talk about gun laws.
• Multiple reports on social media -- including tweets from former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer -- described the shooting.
• The incident occurred in the baggage claim area of Terminal 2, officials said. There are four terminals at the airport, which ranks 21st in the US in terms of total passengers.
• Parts of the airport were evacuated. Aerial footage from CNN affiliates showed large groups of people standing outside on the tarmac.
• More than an hour after the shooting, tensions were still running high, a witness told CNN. "Everyone sprinted outside again. We are back out on the tarmac," Judah Fernandez said, adding that it was unclear why people had rushed outside.
• The first call about the shooting came in at 12:55 p.m. ET.
• Most flights scheduled to land at the airport will be delayed or diverted, the FAA said. The airport had not resumed operations by 6 p.m ET.
• In November 2016, nearly 2.5 million travelers passed through Fort Lauderdale's airport, according to a government report on the facility.
• Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport serves about 30 airlines. Many passengers use it because of its convenience to nearby cruise ship terminals.


Fort Lauderdale airport shooting: Five killed, suspect in custody

Police said a lone gunman opened fire Friday at the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., international airport, killing five people and injuring eight others in a brief, bloody shooting rampage.

The attack at a quiet baggage claim area sent people scrambling through the terminals and across the airfield at one of the country’s busiest airports, shutting down all flights while paramedics and federal and local law enforcement officers flooded the scene.

The suspected shooter is in custody, and it appears he acted alone, said Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. In addition to the people slain, eight others were brought to area hospitals, all with apparent gunshot wounds.

“Right now, this scene is considered fluid and active,” Israel said during a news briefing on Friday afternoon at the airport, which is operated by Broward County.

Police did not immediately identify a motive for the shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, which they said occurred just before 1 p.m. The gunman was taken into custody without any incident “almost immediately after the shootings,” Israel said.

“He’s unharmed,” Israel said. “No law enforcement fired any shots.”

The man in custody was identified by several officials as Esteban Santiago. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) publicly identified the shooter as Santiago after being told the name by the head of the Transportation Security Administration, according to Ryan Brown, a spokesman for the senator. A federal law enforcement official also confirmed the name to The Washington Post.

Santiago, 26, was carrying an Army ID, according to three federal law enforcement officials.

He was a passenger on a flight traveling with a checked gun in his baggage, said federal law enforcement officials, who asked to speak on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation. The officials said that Santiago had picked up his bag and took the gun into the bathroom to load it before returning to the baggage claim area to begin firing at people.

John Schlicher, a pastor from Ohio who was in baggage claim when the shooting happened, said in a brief telephone interview that the gunman, who appeared to be wearing a blue “Star Wars” T-shirt, said nothing as he fired at people’s heads.

“He was just shooting randomly into the crowd,” Schlicher said during an interview Friday afternoon broadcast on MSNBC. “There were two people to my left and two people to my right who were shot.”

The gunman reloaded and continued firing at people, Schlicher said. When police arrived, Schlicher said his wife tried to administer first aid to a man who had been shot in the head while his mother-in-law tried using her sweater to help another man before realizing he was already dead.

In a brief news conference Friday evening, trauma surgeons at Broward Health Medical Center, located just north of the airport, said they received five shooting victims and two needed surgery. All of the patients were in stable condition, they said. Hospital officials declined to comment on their specific injuries or release their ages and gender, citing privacy rules and the ongoing investigation.

Travelers are allowed to bring firearms with them to flights, as long as the guns are unloaded, locked in hard-sided container and in checked baggage, according to the Transportation Security Administration. Ammunition can generally be placed in checked baggage, but it is prohibited from carry-on luggage, and some airlines do not allow transport of any ammo. Passengers are also required to tell airline employees at the ticket counter that they have a weapon in their checked bag.

Santiago is a U.S. citizen with ties to New Jersey, said two federal officials. Military officials said Friday that a man identified as Esteban Santiago-Ruiz was a combat engineer in the Alaska National Guard until August, when he was granted a general discharge under honorable conditions after going absent without leave several times and being demoted in rank to private first class.

He had previously served with the Puerto Rico National Guard, deploying to Iraq from April 2010 to February 2011 and earning the Combat Action Badge for personally engaging enemy forces. In 2013, he was discharged from the Puerto Rico National Guard with the rank of specialist.

According to federal law enforcement officials, he visited an FBI office in Anchorage late last year, an encounter that prompted authorities to believe he may have mental health issues.

Santiago went to the FBI office to report something and was expressing some incoherent thoughts, officials said. When he was interviewed by agents, he said he thought the federal government was after him and trying to control him, according to officials recounting the visit. The FBI then contacted local authorities to have him undergo a mental health check, but the officials were not sure what happened after that.

Though there had been some early reports that Santiago traveled to Florida from Canada, the Canadian Embassy in Washington said he had not been on a plane traveling from that country. Instead, they said he had flown from Alaska to Florida, with a stop in Minnesota.

“The suspect did not fly from Canada and was not on a Canadian flight,” Christine Constantin, a spokeswoman for the embassy, said in a statement. “We understand from officials he was on a flight originating in Anchorage, transiting through Minneapolis and landing in Ft. Lauderdale. There is no Canadian connection.”

Delta declined to comment on reports that Santiago had been on one of the airline’s flights, but said it was working with investigators and declined to comment further.

Another flurry of nervous activity erupted at the airport later Friday afternoon when there were reports of additional gunfire, but Israel said there was no evidence of a second shooting. Police had said shortly before 3 p.m. that they were searching the airport following “unconfirmed reports” of additional gunfire, but Israel said there was “no second active shooter” and no additional victims.

The FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives responded to the airport Friday, as did officials from Fort Lauderdale, the state Department of Law Enforcement and other agencies.

Police and FBI agents were interviewing the suspected gunman Friday afternoon, according to law enforcement officials.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, no possible motive emerged for this latest spasm of gun violence in a crowded, public place. George L. Piro, the FBI special agent in charge of the bureau’s Miami division, said federal authorities were aiding local law enforcement “until we make a determination on the nature and motive of this.”

A federal law enforcement official familiar with the investigation said that the gunman did not appear to say anything during his first interactions with police suggesting a political or terrorism-related motive, though the official said it is still early in the process.

The shooting took place in the baggage claim at the airport’s Terminal 2, home to departures and arrivals for Delta and Air Canada, according to the airport. Footage from the scene inside the building captured the brutal aftermath of the shooting in the baggage area, which is on the airport’s lower level. (Warning: This footage is graphic.)

Jay Cohen was dropped off at the airport for a flight, and he arrived after the gunfire had already stopped, finding an unusual scene at the usually bustling facility.

“The airport was like a ghost town,” Cohen, 51, a consultant, said in a telephone interview. “I didn’t see anyone around.”

It wasn’t until he walked all the way up to the Delta counter without encountering a line or a single soul that he noticed about 20 people huddled together behind a nearby concrete wall. He peeked over the counter and saw the Delta employees on the ground trying to cover their heads with their hands.

“Hurry up get behind here,” someone whispered to him. “Active shooter! Active shooter!”

As he looked around the terminal he previously thought was abandoned, he now could see people hiding under benches, squished up against windows. Then Cohen saw police running full speed through the terminal, some with guns drawn, others with their hands on their holsters, while police cars began screaming up to the curb.

“It went from eerie quiet from when I walked in to pure mayhem in just minutes,” he said. “It was chaos.”

Many of those at the airport expressed frustration with the lack of information Friday. Hundreds were stranded on the tarmac and not allowed off the premises for hours as authorities sought to clear the airport, looking for other danger.

Sophia Macris, 35, on her way to vacation in Florida, was still on her just arrived plane from New York when the shooting occurred.

“They held our plane on the tarmac,” she said in an interview, still standing on the tarmac outside the terminal. “First, they told us there was fire alarm in terminal 2. Then they said emergency situation.”

After the shooting, dozens of cars had pulled over onto the shoulder of nearby Interstate 595, as hundreds of people waited alongside the highway, family members and friends repeatedly trying to call loved ones who were scheduled to be on arriving flights.

Saintnatus Adition was pacing along the highway, police cars racing past with sirens blaring. His 71-year-old father had just landed from Haiti when the chaos began. “He called and said it got very busy all of the sudden,” Adition said. He’s been frantically calling him to find out if he’s okay, but now he can’t reach him. “Of course I am very scared,” Adition said. “He is very old.”

All flights were suspended following the shooting and the airport was closed, officials said. The airport had initially posted on Twitter about “an ongoing incident” at the baggage claims in one of the terminals, but did not provide further information. Airport representatives could not be immediately reached for further comment.

Officials at other major airports across the country, including those in Los Angeles and Chicago, said they were beefing up security in response to the shooting in Florida.

President Obama was briefed on the situation at Fort Lauderdale on Friday afternoon and will be updated as new information is available, according to Ned Price, spokesman for the National Security Council.

“This is a senseless act of evil,” said Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), who traveled to the airport to make his latest public remarks in the aftermath of a shooting rampage in his state.

Scott said he had spoken with President-elect Trump as well as Vice President-elect Pence about the shooting.

“We have our units on site and around the perimeter to provide assistance and support, and we remain ready, willing, and able to provide additional assistance, support and resources,” Fort Lauderdale Mayor John P. “Jack” Seller said in a statement. “Our community extends its thoughts, prayers, and support to the victims and their families.”

The Federal Aviation Administration said shortly after 3 p.m. that flights were not being allowed to head to or from Fort Lauderdale, and some planes were diverted elsewhere in Florida. All flights originally scheduled for Fort Lauderdale have been grounded, according to the agency.

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