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Fort Lauderdale attacker’s mental problems may not explain shooting

Posted on 01-13-2017 Posted in Mental Health - 0 Comments

On Jan. 6, 2017 at 12:55 p.m., at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, passengers near the baggage claim area ran for cover as the sound of gunfire from a semi-automatic handgun filled the air. The shooter, 26-year-old Alaskan resident Esteban Santiago-Ruiz, emptied two magazines, shooting indiscriminately, killing five people and injuring eight others. Around 30 others suffered injuries in the ensuing stampede.

Having run out of ammunition, the suspect then lay down on the floor of the terminal and was quickly apprehended by the police without further incident.

The investigation revealed that Santiago-Ruiz had a history of mental difficulties. According to his mother, while serving in Iraq in 2010, her son had been “deeply shaken” after witnessing a bomb explosion next to two of his friends. Family members recalled that he seemed “different” upon his return home.

Santiago-Ruiz had recently become a father. However, he was unemployed and had no funds. His brother Bryan reported that last August, Esteban mentioned that he was hearing voices and the following month he appeared at an FBI field office announcing that the federal government was controlling his mind and forcing him to watch Islamic State videos.

At that time, he was formally evaluated and his handgun seized. He was released after four days and his gun returned to him.

The suspect had made a reservation for a flight to New York on New Year’s Eve which he later canceled. Investigators believe that the large number of police normally deployed on that evening may have worked as a deterrent. Santiago-Ruiz had traveled from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale.

Shooting and mental illness may not be related

Although such incidents are often attributed to mental illness, it may not be the case always. There is, as yet, no motive for the crime and terrorism is yet to be ruled out.

Dr. Paul Applebaum, a professor of psychiatry at the Columbia University in New York, cautioned against jumping to the conclusion that the shootings were a result of mental illness. His opinion is that most behaviors have multiple causes which can change in intensity. Appelbaum said, “There may still be other influences on him that affected his behavior in a material way.”

Edward Mulvey, a psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine who studies violence and mental illness, said, “While mental health troubles could turn out to play a role in the case, it’s unusual for symptoms to drive violence.”

Sovereign Health understands that mental illness is often mistakenly equated with violence, which creates a stigma around mental health and prevents many patients from seeking the treatment they need. Our facilities across the country provide modern and effective modalities to offer adolescents and adults a road to recovery from mental health disorders, substance abuse and co-occurring disorders. Call our 24/7 helpline to learn more.

About the author

Veronica McNamara is a content writer for Sovereign Health. She is a former nurse who enjoys writing about the causes and treatment of addictions and behavioral health disorders. She is a proponent of further public education on the subject of mental illness which, unfortunately, still bears an unwarranted stigma. For questions and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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