The gunman who opened fire at the Ft. Lauderdale airport last year pleaded guilty in a Florida federal court to killing five people and injuring others during the attack, the Justice Department said this week.
Esteban Santiago-Ruiz, a 28-year-old former National Guardsmen, pled guilty to 11 counts of causing injury or death at an international airport, according to his signed plea agreement.
“Today the man responsible for the horrific, devastating, and tragic attack on numerous innocent people at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport was held accountable for his crimes,” said Benjamin G. Greenberg, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, in a statement.
According to court documents, Santiago-Ruiz bought a one-way ticket for a flight from Anchorage, Alaska, to Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. When he flew on Jan. 6, 2017, he only brought one bag, a hard-sided firearm case that he checked. The bag contained a Walther 9mm pistol and a two loaded magazines.
When he arrived in Florida, he retrieved his bag and went into a bathroom where he loaded his pistol. Concealing the gun beneath a jacket, he walked out into the crowded terminal and started shooting at the first people he saw. He continued to fire until he emptied both magazines. Once out of ammo, Santiago-Ruiz dropped the gun and Broward County sheriff’s deputies arrested him.
According to court documents, Santiago-Ruiz had prepared for the attack ahead of time. Leading up to the attack, he bought the hard-sided case after discussing with a salesman the type of case needed to check a gun onto a commercial flight and had attempted to dispose of some possessions, including electronics, he used to plan the attack.
Santiago-Ruiz could face a sentence of life imprisonment for each count of death and 20 years for each count of injury. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 17.
Initially, prosecutors wanted to seek the death sentence, but, per the agreement, death was off the table. In a letter filed to the court, an Illinois writer, Andrew Campbell, asked the court to sentence Santiago-Ruiz to life in prison rather than to death.
Researching serial killers, Campbell said: “I’ve found out most of them end up hating life even more if they get life. lf they get the death penalty it’s like a cheap escape They want to die, but living is like a living hell for them.
“l know it’s hard to believe, even for me to think living would be a worse life than death but for most of these guys it really is. But for some it’s not like that but l’d say most it’s like this,” he continued.