‘Voices’ in Fort Lauderdale Shooter’s Head Were From ISIS, Mental Health Ignored

We’ve heard all of this before, tweeted it, meme’d it, shared it on all our platforms. The media’s response to anyone who engages in violence which kills innocent people, and happens to be White, is mentally disturbed – while a person of color, or Muslim, is a terrorist or thug.

On January 6th, CNN reported that a man named Esteban Santiago flew from Anchorage, Alaska to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. There he picked up his checked baggage and took out his gun and started shooting, killing 5 people and injuring 8.

George Piro, the FBI agent in charge, stated, “the FBI has not ruled out terrorism” and investigators are looking at terrorism as a possible motive.

Photo credit: Broward Sheriff’s Office (NBC News)

However, placing possible terrorism aside, it seems two issues are more pressing.

So, to everyone who says “guns don’t kill people – people do,” we sure are making it very easy for people to kill using guns that “don’t kill people.” 

First, Santiago was not in any violation of any gun laws. In fact, laws allow you to check in a gun on a plane in a locked case. Not only that, but individuals can also bring along ammunition as long as they declare it.

“Florida law prohibits guns inside terminals unless they are still in their case; but there is a bill before the State Legislature to allow guns in public places such as airports.”

So, to everyone who says “guns don’t kill people – people do,” we sure are making it very easy for people to kill using guns that “don’t kill people.” (I’m so done here.)

The most important point that should be examined, however, is Santiago’s mental health status. NPR reported that 26-year-old Santiago was serving as a combat engineer for the National Guard in Puerto Rico and Alaska, but was discharged from service because of his behavior, which included absences without leave.

Prior to that he was deployed to Iraq in April 2010 thru February 2011. His aunt, Maria Ruiz Rivera, spoke with NJ.com and said she noticed a change in his mental health when he came home. She said, “He lost his mind.”

After his tour it was reported that he was hospitalized for mental problems. He later traveled to Puerto Rico where his father was ill and eventually died. There, in Puerto Rico, Santiago was in therapy.

Not long after his return to Alaska, Santiago fathered a baby in September 2016. During the past year, according to NPR, he was repeatedly reported to the police for acts of domestic violence.

In November 2016, Santiago went to the FBI office in Alaska to report that his mind “was being controlled by a U.S. intelligence agency.” FBI special agent Marlin Ritzman, described Santiago’s report as “terroristic thoughts in which he believed he was ‘being influenced by ISIS.'”

…out of the 1.7 million veterans that came from Iraq, at least 20% which is 300,000 veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or major depression.

After investigating, and finding he had no ties to terrorism, he was released and cleared in December.

According to the American Psychology Association, out of the 1.7 million Veterans that came from Iraq, at least 20%, which is 300,000, suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or major depression.

It’s a simple matter of understanding – someone who has only “heard of war” enlists and is deployed to one of these war-torn countries. They see death and destruction and then sent back home. And we expect them to adjust back into society as if they never witnessed any catastrophic events.

Unfortunately, Veterans aren’t given the help they need when they come home and have higher unemployment rates. The stigma for mental health treatment is greater, with less than 40% actually getting the help they need. And, to top it off, suicide rates and substance abuse are higher in comparison to civilians who never witnessed war.

This is a serious issue. By raising your eyebrow at his keffiyeh in Santiago’s picture, or placing ties to terrorism while ignoring his mental health, you are shunning a very serious issue that many face: People are not receiving the mental health help they need.