A federal judge has sentenced Esteban Santiago to life in prison for carrying out a 2017 shooting in a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., airport that killed five people and injured six others.
U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom called Santiago’s attack “85 seconds of evil” when she announced the sentence Friday.
Santiago had accepted a plea bargain, admitting guilt on 11 charges in exchange for prosecutors declining to seek the death penalty.
He faced federal charges because the Jan. 6, 2017, shooting was carried out inside of an international civilian airport.
Santiago was living in Anchorage, Alaska, when he flew to Fort Lauderdale with a handgun checked in his luggage. Authorities said he followed the Transportation Security Administration’s protocols for checking the gun, as NPR reported at the time.
After landing, Santiago picked up his bag, went to a bathroom and loaded the gun. He opened fire in the baggage claim area of Terminal 2.
Santiago, who grew up in Puerto Rico, served in the National Guard in Puerto Rico and Alaska. He was deployed to Iraq 2010 to 2011.
“In August , he was discharged by the Alaska National Guard for poor performance, in part for episodes of being absent without leave,” NPR’s Greg Allen reported in January 2017. “Army investigators at the time noted what they called ‘strange behavior.’ ”
That same year, Santiago was reported to police in Anchorage for multiple physical disturbances, including domestic violence, as NPR reported. He also visited an FBI office in Anchorage, where he claimed his mind was controlled by an intelligence agency. Santiago’s behavior was erratic, but he said he didn’t wish to harm anyone, and he was referred to a medical facility for evaluation.
Santiago had a handgun at the time of that visit, which was briefly taken from him. It was returned to him in December, the month before the shooting.
“Santiago was diagnosed after the shooting as schizophrenic but was found competent to understand legal proceedings,” The Associated Press reported Friday. “Doctors say he has improved with antipsychotic medication.”
“Santiago initially told the FBI after the shooting he was under government mind control, then switched to unfounded claims he acted in support of the Islamic State extremist group,” the AP adds.
Santiago “said nothing during his sentencing hearing,” the Miami Herald reports. “But a handful of the airport shooting’s survivors and victims’ family members spoke poignantly about the searing loss and maiming of loved ones, most of whom were elderly and traveling to go on a cruise vacation.”