The Iraq war veteran accused of going on a fatal shooting rampage at a Florida airport has plead not guilty. Esteban Santiago, 26, faces 22 separate charges—10 of which could result in him receiving the death penalty—for the shooting that killed five and injured six earlier this month. NBC news reports that Santiago and his legal team waived the reading of the charges, but U.S. District Court Magistrate Barry Seltzer insisted on reading all 22 charges out loud. When asked if he understood them, Santiago answered, “Yes,” in a muted low-voice.
Esteban Santiago was born in New Jersey but grew up in Puerto Rico, where he joined the Puerto Rico National Guard at the age of 17. In April 2010 he was deployed to Iraq, where he served for 10 months. Family members say Santiago was traumatized by his experience there and began to suffer violent episodes and paranoid delusions. He joined the Alaska Army National Guard in late 2014, but discharged less than two years later for "unsatisfactory performance."
In November, 2016, Santiago walked into an Anchorage, Alaska field office and told him he was a victim of government mind control, which was making him watch videos by ISIS, whom the CIA wanted him to infiltrate. He was held and examined for four days and later released with no psychiatric follow-up. At the time, a gun was confiscated from him but later returned upon his release, according to CBS News. It was the same gun he would use to go on a murderous shooting spree at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport two months later.
Santiago is charged with five counts of causing death at an international airport, six counts of causing serious bodily injury at an international airport, five counts of causing death during a crime of violence and six counts of using a firearm during a crime of violence. While 10 of these charges carry a potential death sentence, the Justice Department has not yet decided whether to seek it in this case. It is assumed Santiago’s mental health will come into play during the trial.