Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has withheld comments about the Fort Lauderdale shooter on Sunday but recognizes that 26-year-old Estan Santiago is an Iraq war veteran and stated that post-traumatic stress in the military is a major and ongoing problem. Santiago was the only suspect in the shootings that took place at the baggage claim of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Friday. Santiago killed five people and injured at least six. It is unclear whether Santiago has been given or requested legal representation at this time, or if mental competence might be used as a defense to save him from the death penalty.
Carter was on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and said for returning troops that have served since the September 11th Terror Attacks, “The mental wounds are very real”.
Carter couldn’t say what the Fort Lauderdale shooters motives were or his mental stability, but said “the so-called invisible wounds” of combat were factors “we do take seriously and have to take seriously.” “It matters a great deal to me that we take care of wounded warriors. We keep learning more about how to deal with this kind of illness, we’re going to do more and we need to do more as we learn more, absolutely. We owe it to these people.” Carter said.
Family members of the shooter said Esteban, an Army National Guard veteran of Iraq, returned from Iraq a different person, his was deeply distraught over witnessing two of his friends die from an improvised explosive device. Santiago’s dates of service were from December 2007 to August 2016. In that time he received many awards and medals for his service.
Santiago was the recipient of the Combat Action Badge, the Army Commendation Medal; Army Good Conduct Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Iraq Campaign Medal with campaign star; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Armed Forces Reserve Medal w/ “M” Device; Army Service Ribbon; Overseas Service Ribbon; and Driver and Mechanic Badge – Wheeled Vehicle, the Army said.
According to the Defense Department, Santiago served with Puerto Rico Army National Guard in Iraq from April 2010 to February 2011. His job was as a combat engineer. Santiago left the Puerto Rico National Guard in 2013 and later re-entered service with the Alaska National Guard. August 2016 he received a general discharge under honorable conditions. The conditions were for “continuous and willful absence” from his duties with the Alaska National Guard. A spokesman for the Alaska National Guard said his rank was reduced from Specialist to Private First Class upon discharge.