Fla. airport gunman served in Iraq and lost his mind, NJ aunt says
UNION CITY — The suspect in the fatal Friday shooting at Ft. Lauderdale airport shooting on Friday was a recent father and an Iraq war veteran who suffered from mental illness, his aunt told reporters.
"He lost his mind," Maria Ruiz, a city resident, is quoted by NJ.com as saying in Spanish.
Authorities identified the suspect as Esteban Santiago, a 26-year-old resident of Alaska who served in the Alaska National Guard. He was born in New Jersey and moved to Puerto Rico with his family as a child, she said.
Five people were killed and eight others injured in the shooting. The gunman was arrested and was uninjured. Police did not open fire.
A motive for the attack was not clear.
"This could well be someone who is mentally deranged, or in fact it could be someone who had a much more sinister motive that we have to worry about every day, and that is terrorism," said Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida. "We can't conclude that."
His aunt told NorthJersey.com that her nephew "said he saw things."
“Like a month ago, it was like he lost his mind,” she's quoted as saying.
The Union City resident could not be reached for comment Friday by New Jersey 101.5.
A military spokeswoman says Santiago, who has also been identified as Santiago-Ruiz, received a general discharge in August from the Alaska Army National Guard last year for unsatisfactory performance.
Puerto Rico National Guard spokesman Maj. Paul Dahlen said that Santiago was deployed to Iraq in 2010 and spent a year there with the 130th Engineer Battalion, the 1013th engineer company out of Aguadilla.
In her interview with NJ.com, Ruiz said her nephew was treated for mental illness after his service in Iraq.
CBS News cited law enforcement sources who said Santiago was hospitalized after he went to an FBI office in Alaska in November to say that he was being forced to fight for ISIS.
In recent years, Santiago had been living in Anchorage, Alaska, his brother, Bryan Santiago, told The Associated Press from Puerto Rico. Bryan Santiago said his brother's girlfriend had recently called the family to alert them to his treatment, but he didn't have further details. He said his brother never spoke to him directly about his medical issues.
"We have not talked for the past three weeks," Bryan Santiago said. "That's a bit unusual ... I'm in shock. He was a serious person ... He was a normal person."
Esteban Santiago was born in New Jersey but moved to Puerto Rico when he was 2, his brother said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was updated to correct the last name of the shooting suspect.