On January 6, 2017, Esteban Santiago, a war veteran with schizophrenia, took a one-way Delta flight from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale. He traveled lighter than most, his only luggage a Walther PPS 9mm semiautomatic pistol and ammunition that he checked in. During the flight, he was unruly and aggressively argued with other passengers in view of airline employees.
Airport policy is to deliver the checked firearm to the passenger when he or she is outside of the building. However, this policy was not followed. Santiago retrieved his gun, concealed himself in a restroom to load the weapon, and then opened fire in the baggage claim area. He killed five and injured six more.
Among the slain was Olga Woltering. The 84-year-old woman had flown to Fort Lauderdale with her husband, Ralph Woltering, to take a family cruise and celebrating Ralph’s 90th birthday. She was shot in the head while sitting in her wheelchair, dying instantly. Her husband, standing next to her, survived.
Olga’s family have hired an attorney, David Di Pietro, to represent them in court. A lawsuit has been filed in Broward Circuit Court against several entities including Delta Air Lines and Broward County Commission. The family is asking for damages for pain and suffering.
In the months after the shooting, multiple criticisms have been leveled against the Fort Lauderdale Airport and responding agencies. The Broward County Sheriff’s Office released a report in June 2017 scrutinizing official response to the shooting. Some criticisms include:
- Although Santiago was reached and restrained by in-airport officers within 85 seconds, the rest of the official response was far less efficient and orderly.
- Miscommunication over the county radio system led responders to believe there were multiple shooters in different airport terminals.
- No emergency number was set up, which resulted in the 911 system being overwhelmed with calls.
- Witnesses to the shooting were held within view of the victims.
- Passengers on the tarmac were held for up to 10 hours without water, food, shelter, or information on what was happening.
Delta Air Lines has expressed sadness over the shooting but has no other comment on the incident or pending lawsuit.
Santiago is currently in Miami’s Federal Detention Center. He is scheduled for trial in June.