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Alleged Fort Lauderdale Shooter Claims He Chatted Online With Islamic State

Esteban Santiago
Esteban Santiago

The man accused of killing five people and wounding six more in a shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport earlier this month told FBI agents he had been communicating with people involved with or inspired by the Islamic State in online chat rooms.

FBI Special Agent Michael Ferlazzo took the stand at Esteban Santiago’s detention hearing Tuesday morning in federal court in Fort Lauderdale. Ferlazzo said Santiago told him in an interview at around 10:30 pm on the day of the shooting that he had been communicating with Islamic State supporters on the dark web.

In interviews earlier that day with the Broward Sheriff’s Office, Santiago had claimed to hear voices and to be a victim of government mind control. He also told this to FBI agents in November, when he went to the FBI offices in Anchorage, Alaska. In the later interview, though, Ferlazzo said he did not mention voices or mind control.

Santiago was hospitalized at the Anchorage Psychiatric Institute for five days after he went to the FBI office in Anchorage. The FBI referred him to Anchorage police, who confiscated his gun and sent him for a mental health evaluation.

Santiago later requested and received his weapon, the same Walther 9 millimeter pistol he allegedly used to shoot people in the airport’s Terminal 2 baggage claim.

At Tuesday's hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Lurana Snow ruled that Santiago should remain in detention until trial on the grounds that he is a danger to the community and a flight risk. Santiago will appear in court again on Jan. 30 at 11 a.m.

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Madeline Fox is a senior at Northwestern University, where she is double majoring in journalism and international studies. She spent most of her time there writing and editing at the Daily Northwestern, her campus paper, before launching a podcast called Office Hours last spring. Though a native of the much-parodied hipster paradise of Portland, Oregon, Madeline has spent the last three years moving around a lot: Chicago for school, a stint covering transportation policy on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. for Medill News Service and a summer covering news at the Wichita Eagle in Kansas. After finally getting her passport about a year and a half ago, she's been working to fill it with stamps, too: She spent a semester in Sevilla, Spain, to study history; traveled to Israel and the West Bank this summer to learn about Middle East reporting and went to France this winter to conduct interviews for her thesis on the Paris suburbs. When she's not reporting, Madeline can be found cooking, reading or wandering around different parts of the city – nearly always with earbuds in, listening to podcasts. A few of her favorites are Crimetown, Radio Ambulante and Radiolab's More Perfect. She's very excited to be living in Miami, with its many new neighborhoods to explore and its famous food and beaches. After graduation, Madeline hopes to continue working in radio or podcasting.
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