MIAMI -- US authorities on Saturday charged the Iraq war veteran accused in a deadly shooting rampage at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport with offenses that could carry the death penalty, while continuing to probe whether terrorism was a potential motive.
Esteban Santiago, 26, was accused of killing five, wounding six and sending thousands scrambling for safety on Friday before authorities shut down the airport in Florida, a major gateway to the Caribbean and Latin America.
Federal prosecutors charged Santiago with firearms offenses and carrying out an act of violence at an airport, US Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said in a statement. If convicted, he could face the death penalty or life in prison.
The suspect was scheduled to make an initial court appearance on Monday.
Murder charges could be forthcoming from state prosecutors, but no decision has been made yet, a spokesman for Broward County State Attorney Mike Satz told the local Sun Sentinel newspaper.
Santiago had traveled from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale on Friday. After retrieving a 9mm semi-automatic handgun and ammunition that he had declared and stowed inside his checked luggage, he allegedly loaded the weapon in a bathroom and opened fire in the crowded baggage claim area of Terminal 2.
“Santiago started shooting, aiming at his victims’ heads until he was out of ammunition,” Ferrer said.
FBI special agent George Piro said law enforcement was continuing to investigate motives for the attack, including “continuing to look at the terrorism angle.”
Piro said the suspect appeared to be acting alone and that “every indication is that he did follow (Transportation Security Administration) procedures in flying with the weapon.”