Esteban Santiago, the 26-year-old Iraq war veteran who killed five people when he opened fire Friday at the airport in Fort Lauderdale, at first planned to travel to New York City. Counterterrorism officials told ABC News that Santiago had bought a ticket to New York on New Year’s Eve — but ended up canceling his flight. He booked his $278 one-way trip from Anchorage, Alaska, to Fort Lauderdale a few days later.
Authorities don’t know what prompted Santiago to change his plans, but they are speculating that the heightened NYPD presence and tight security in the city on New Year’s Eve may have swayed him to do so. Still, it’s unclear if New York City would have been his final destination or a place to transfer to another flight.
The Fort Lauderdale shooter appeared before a federal judge Monday for the first time since his rampage in a baggage-claim area at the Florida airport. He faces three charges right now, two of which make him eligible for the death penalty should prosecutors seek it. Santiago, who is on suicide watch while he’s held in solitary confinement at the jail in Broward County, came into court Monday in shackles and wearing a red jumpsuit.
In court Monday, Santiago responded to the judge’s questions, telling her he only had a few dollars in his bank account and had not worked since November, reports the Sun-Sentinel. The judge appointed him his defense council, and he will be arraigned on January 23.
Santiago’s mental state will likely come up in later hearings, though it did not on Monday. Two months before the shooting, Santiago went to the FBI’s offices in Anchorage, Alaska, telling them his mind was being controlled by CIA. The FBI ordered a mental-health evaluation and confiscated his gun for a month, but returned it. It is believed to be the same one he used in the shooting.