Fort Lauderdale airport shooter Esteban Santiago Ruiz was denied bond during a brief hearing on Tuesday where new details emerged about his mental state that prompted the Jan. 6 rampage that left five dead and six injured.
Santiago, 26, an Iraq veteran who lived in Anchorage, Alaska, didn’t request bond. Even if he had, U.S. Magistrate Lurana Snow indicated she would not grant it.
“There’s no choice. Much of the danger to the community is on camera,” she said, referring to airport video that shows Santiago methodically gunning down travelers near the baggage claim area in Terminal 2 of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Further, facing the death penalty or at least life in prison, Santiago has no reason to stay and stand trial, she said.
While news outlets have reported that Santiago went to the Anchorage FBI office in November to report that he was hearing voices and believed his mind was controlled by the CIA, Special FBI Agent Michael Ferlazzo testified that the former U.S. Army reservist wasn’t prescribed any psychotropic medicine when he was committed to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute for evaluation.
“He was released with no medical prescriptions,” he testified. While in the hospital Santiago was treated with anti-anxiety drugs. “He was deemed stable,” he said of Santiago’s hospital discharge papers. A gun he turned over to Alaskan authorities – the same one used in the airport shooting – was returned to him, the agent said.
While Santiago initially told Broward County sheriff’s deputies that voices told him to kill, when he was interviewed by the FBI hours later, talk turned to his interest in ISIL, Ferlazzo said. “We were discussing jihadist chat rooms he visited” on the “dark web,” the agent said.
During interviews, Santiago said he was in contact online with those affiliated with the Islamic terrorist organization – “like-minded individuals who were all planning attacks,” Ferlazzo said. No foreign group has accepted responsibility for the shooting rampage and Ferlazzo didn’t say whether Santiago’s claims had been verified. He did say that Santiago’s computer and those of his family, who live in Naples and Puerto Rico, had been seized.
Assistant Public Defender Robert Berube interviewed Ferlazzo at length while Santiago sat at a table dressed in a red jail jumpsuit, indicating he is considered high risk. The only time Santiago spoke was when the magistrate asked him if he agreed to a delay in a preliminary hearing. “Yes,” he answered, giving permission for the hearing to be delayed until Jan. 30.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ricardo Del Toro said Santiago confessed to planning the killing spree. In October, Santiago bought the gun and practiced at an Anchorage area shooting range. Then, he bought a one-way ticket on a Delta flight to Fort Lauderdale. It left Anchorage with one stop in Minneapolis. His only luggage was a gun case that contained a Walther 9-millimeter handgun.
Once Santiago retrieved the gun from airline officials, he went into a bathroom near the baggage claim area, loaded it and stuck it in the waistband of his pants, Del Toro said. “He pulled the gun out of his waistband and fired 15 rounds, aiming at victims heads,” Del Toro said. The five who died ranged in age from 57 to 84 years old. The injured were 40 to 70 years old.
“There’s no conditions or combination of conditions that can secure the safety of the community,” he said.