A brief update on the Ft. Lauderdale shooting

We know considerably more about Esteban Santiago, the man who killed five people at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport yesterday, and the emerging picture suggests a man with some sort of profoundly violent mental illness. Santiago, 26, was a combat engineer in the National Guard in Puerto Rico and then Alaska before being discharged last year for “unsatisfactory performance.” He served in Iraq in 2010-2011 and family members apparently began noticing troubling changes in his behavior when he came back:

His aunt, Maria Ruiz Rivera, tells The Record of New Jersey that after he returned, she noticed changes in his mental health.

“He lost his mind,” Ruiz Rivera told the newspaper in Spanish. “He said he saw things.”

In October he was reported to Anchorage police twice on domestic violence allegations, and it’s really past time for us to have a conversation about the links between DV and later mass violence. At some point after that, Santiago walked into an FBI office in Anchorage and variously said that he was being mind-controlled by a US intelligence agency and that he was being influenced by ISIS. He was taken to a mental facility for observation but an investigation turned up nothing to connect him to ISIS or any other terrorist organization.

The mere mention of ISIS is obviously enough to send people into a frenzy, and the absence at this point of any motive at all (he may have been mentally disturbed, but something motivated him to carry out this particular attack in a place that was not, for somebody living in Alaska, a target of opportunity) is the big question mark surrounding this whole event. But barring the discovery of something more than the ravings of a seemingly disturbed individual, there’s not much to go on if you’re looking to label this Islamic terrorism. And I’ll stick to that even if ISIS winds up taking credit for the attack, because, frankly, there’s no reason to take their word for it.

The fact that Santiago flew from Anchorage with his gun in checked luggage specifically to carry out this attack is going to raise some questions about gun control or at least allowing guns on planes. While second amendment issues aren’t a focus of this blog I would like to suggest that maybe, just maybe, it ought to raise some red flags when a man flies on his own from Alaska to Florida with no luggage at all other than the gun he checked. I guess there might be circumstances under which that can be explained, but in general it probably warrants some kind of special attention.

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