On January 6th, terror erupted in the Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport. Video evidence shows Esteban Santiago standing calmly in the crowded baggage claim, pulling out a gun, and savagely opening fire.
When he was done and ran off, 5 people lay dead and another 6 wounded. Crowds fled the airport as the shooting began and almost 40 would get hurt in the rushed evacuation after the attack. Some suffered sprains and bruises; others had broken bones. Many were trapped inside, unable to run and forced to endure the horror filled minutes as Santiago fired.
The path that brought Santiago to the airport in Florida that day is littered with several missteps on the part of officials. He has most recently lived in Alaska and it was there that he last served in the National Guard. Santiago joined the Puerto Rico National Guard in December 2007, and served with that unit in Iraq from April 2010 to February 2011. He was awarded the combat action badge for his service there
He was in the Army National Reserves before joining the Alaska National Guard in 2014, they said. He served there from November 2014 until August 2016 when he was discharged for unsatisfactory performance.
In either 2012, he was also investigated as part of a child porn investigation. Three weapons and a computer were seized, but no charges were filed.
According to law enforcement, in November, Santiago went to the FBI office in Anchorage, telling agents he was hearing voices and being directed by a U.S. intelligence agency to watch ISIS videos. George Piro, the FBI’s special agent in charge in Miami, told reporters that Santiago was turned over to local authorities and he voluntarily submitted to a mental health evaluation. “His erratic behavior concerned FBI agents.”
Several of Santiago’s family have reported that he suffered from mental illness since he returned from Iraq. Despite all of this evidence, after being evaluated in November, he was released and authorities either didn’t or couldn’t keep track of him.
Santiago flew from Anchorage to Minneapolis to Fort Lauderdale on a Delta Air Lines flight. A Lieutenant with the Anchorage airport police said Santiago had one bag — a handgun case with a pistol inside that he checked. The motive for the attack is still under investigation.
Many lives were affected and changed the day Santiago carried out the attack. One of those was that of mother of two, Annika Dean.
“There was no way I could have escaped. I would have been right in his path if I had tried to evacuate through the doors.” She reported afterwards.
The Florida schoolteacher said she was waiting for her luggage when she heard the shots. There was nowhere to hide so she dropped to the floor and tried to hide the best she could.
That is when her miracle arrived. That hero is a 70 year old resident of Rochester, New York and his name is Tony Bartosiewicz.
Mr. Bartosiewicz was standing near Annika when the attack began. As Santiago drew close to the place where they laid trembling on the floor, Tony made the ultimate sacrifice and chose Annika’s life over his own.
He lay down on top of her and Annika will never forget what he whispered in ear, “I will protect you.”
Annika told reporters, “I knew he might be a victim, but I also knew I would survive.” No doubt thinking about her two children, Angela kept quiet, waiting for the attack to end.
Angela said that after it was clear that the gunman had been detained, she and Tony got up from the floor, miraculously unharmed.
“The first thing I said to him was I thanked him and told him that it was terrifying and what he did brought me comfort, that it was just so comforting. I thanked him throughout the day and told him he was a hero.” Tony Bartosiewicz has not come forward to make any public comments.
Santiago was arrested after he ran out of ammunition and surrendered, lying spread-eagle on the floor until a deputy took him in to custody, his 9mm handgun nearby.
It is highly likely that given his history, Santiago’s lawyers will have him evaluated and may use a mental illness defense. He appeared for the first time in court on Monday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alicia Valle who explained the charges Santiago faces and told him the death penalty could apply.
Valle ordered Santiago to be temporarily detained without bond. A detention hearing has been scheduled for next week.
Santiago’s fate is uncertain. He clearly has a past of mental illness and quite possibly needs to receive the help he was seeking and didn’t get in November.
Annika future is certain, likely including enjoying a lot of time with her children and kind thoughts of the man who made sure she got home safe to them.