Sunday, January 08, 2017

"We Just Had to Leave our Stuff and Run"

"The person next to me fell to the ground and then I started hearing other pops. And as this happened, other people started falling and you could hear it and smell it, and people on either side of me were going down and I just dropped to the ground."
"The firing just went on and on."
"I was down on the floor, when we finally looked up there was a policeman standing over me. That's when I assumed it was safe."
John Schilcher, traveller, Fort Lauderdale airport, Florida

"At first we thought it was firecrackers. Everyone started screaming and running. The shooter made his way down through baggage claim. He had what looked like a 9mm and emptied his entire clip. People were trying to run."
"[He said nothing as he] went up and down the carousels of the baggage claim, shooting through luggage to get at people that were hiding."
Mark Lea, 53, financial adviser, Minneapolis, at Terminal 2, Fort Lauderdale airport

"We were told it was people on our flight who were victims. I grabbed our kids and we ran out on to the tarmac, to hide behind some luggage cars. We were maybe between the baggage claim and security -- maybe 50 yards. We were out there for 45 minutes, maybe an hour, before we went back in."
"It looked like a war zone - suitcases everywhere, hats on the ground."
Eric Whiteside, traveller, Fort Lauderdale airport, Florida
People take cover behind vehicles at Fort Lauderdale's International Airport
People took cover behind vehicles parked outside the terminal   AP

As the neighbour in knocking-door distance from the United States, whenever anything of this magnitude occurs, somehow eyes seem to swivel toward Canada in the belief that aggressive belligerents make their way to the United States through Canada where they find easy access through a porous border. So with the first reports that came out of Fort Lauderdale Friday was that someone off an Air Canada flight had committed mass murder.

"We understand from officials he was on a flight originating in Anchorage, transiting through Minneapolis and landing in Ft. Lauderdale", responded Christine Constantin, a spokeswoman at the Canadian Embassy, emphasizing that the man later identified as Esteban Santiago, an American citizen, had no connection to Canada. And though American authorities would ideally like to find fault with others to explain their own ineptitude, screening checkpoints in baggage claims areas, check-in counters and passenger pickup zones have lax-to-no security.

Compound that with the inexplicable fact that this assailant had done nothing illegal until he began firing. The man flew to Fort Lauderdale, an unloaded handgun in his checked luggage, and that gun was the only item in his luggage. Wouldn't that have raised alarm bells? Shouldn't it have? U.S. federal regulations permit airline passengers to "transport unloaded firearms in a locked hard-sided container as checked baggage only": Transportation Security Administration.

"You're a sitting duck. Nobody is checking anything. You can't have (more than) 3.4 ounces of shampoo, but we're allowing people to travel with guns?" Peter Tarlow, a security expert from Texas, said incredulously. Evidently passengers are stopped at security checkpoints when they attempt to bring guns onto planes; 2,653 firearms were found in carry-on bags in 2015 at checkpoints across the U.S.; accounting for over seven firearms daily.

Passengers run for cover in Terminal 1 at Fort Lauderdale's
Passengers ran for cover as news of the shooting spread  AP

And then there's the issue of what went before, when authorities were forewarned of potential problems with this individual in a very graphic manner as he presented himself at the Anchorage FBI office "making disjointed comments about mind control". Which those hearing him out dismissed as a "walk-in complaint" of which their offices are daily acquainted with. The FBI for their part alerted the Anchorage police of Santiago's ravings of having "terroristic thoughts" influenced by Islamic State.

And then he was discharged from his temporary stay in an Anchorage prison, and on his release was informed he was expected to pick up his gun which had been taken from him. Since he was a member of the state national guard before he was dismissed, perhaps it seemed natural that a raving lunatic possessed a firearm. "There is speculation that it is the same gun", said Anchorage city police Chief Chris Tolley. "I have not received confirmation that it, in fact, is that gun".

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