US & Canada

Fort Lauderdale shooting suspect's gun 'given back after health tests'

This booking (arrest, custody, mugshot) photo provided by the Broward Sheriff"s Office shows suspect Esteban Ruiz Santiago, 26, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017, in Fort Lauderdale, Image copyright AP
Image caption Suspect Esteban Santiago is an Iraq war veteran

A handgun taken from the suspect in Florida's deadly airport shooting during a mental health evaluation last year was returned to him a month later, police say.

Alaskan police said it was unclear if it was the gun used in the attack.

Esteban Santiago, 26, opened fire in Fort Lauderdale airport after flying from Alaska with a gun in his luggage.

Five people died, among them Georgia resident Olga Woltering, originally from Ipswich in eastern England.

Mr Santiago had walked into an FBI office in Alaska in November, agitated and incoherent, the FBI and Anchorage police said.

He was carrying a loaded magazine but had left his handgun in his car, with his newborn child.

Media captionFBI's George Piro said terrorism had not been ruled out

During the later mental health evaluation, he told the FBI he was hearing voices and believed he was being controlled by a US intelligence agency.

But the authorities found no wrongdoing, and the gun was returned in December.

Karen Loeffler, the US attorney for Alaska, told journalists: "As far as I know this is not a person that would have been prohibited from having a gun."

She explained that federal law only allows for gun rights to be taken away from someone on mental health grounds if they are "adjudicated mentally ill".

FBI agent George Piro said earlier that the suspect had travelled to Fort Lauderdale specifically to carry out the attack.

There was no sign of any altercation on the flight or at the airport before the attack began, Mr Piro said.

Federal charges have been filed against Mr Santiago and they should be outlined in detail later on Saturday.

Mr Piro said: "We continue to look at all avenues and all motives for this horrific attack. We are continuing to look at the terrorism angle in regards to the potential motivation."

Image copyright EVN
Image caption The suspect is a former member of the Puerto Rico and Alaska National Guard

Mr Santiago is a former member of the Puerto Rico and Alaska National Guard, according to the Pentagon.

He served in Iraq from April 2010 to February 2011, and ended his service in August 2016.

US media reported that he had received a general discharge from the Alaska National Guard for unsatisfactory performance.

His brother said he had been receiving psychological treatment recently.

His aunt told a local newspaper he had "lost his mind" while serving in Iraq.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Passengers ran for cover as news of the shooting spread

Olga Woltering, a devout Catholic in her 80s, was named as a victim by her Atlanta church, the Catholic Church of the Transfiguration. It described her as a "joyful, loving, caring and committed" person.

"This is a horrible tragedy for everyone here at Transfiguration, especially because Olga was so loved," it said.

Ms Woltering, from Marietta near Atlanta, was in Florida on her way to a cruise to celebrate her husband's 90th birthday. He was unharmed in the shooting.

Another victim, 57-year-old Iowa man Michael Oehme, was named by his sister, Elizabeth Oehme-Miller.

A third victim was named as Terry Andres, 63, a volunteer fireman from Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Fort Lauderdale Airport reopened on Saturday but Terminal 2, where the shootings happened, remains closed.

Airport officials say they still have 20,000 items of luggage to return to their owners.

A tweet from the airport account said this was a "complex and time-consuming process". When the gunman opened fire, many people rushed out on to the tarmac.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The suspect was taken into custody unharmed, police said
Image copyright AP
Image caption People took cover behind vehicles parked outside the terminal

A White House spokesman said President Barack Obama had expressed his condolences to the relatives of the victims.

In a tweet, President-elect Donald Trump sent his "thoughts and prayers".

Flying with firearms is legal in the US as long as the guns are kept in a locked, hard-sided container as checked baggage only, under rules of the Transport Security Administration (TSA).

Ammunition is also allowed only in checked luggage.

The attack was the latest in a series of mass shootings in the US in recent years, carried out by people who said they were inspired by jihadist groups, were loners or mentally disturbed, who had easy access to weapons under US gun laws.

Last year, in the worst shooting in recent US history, a man apparently inspired by so-called Islamic State killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

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