United States

Man Who Served With Suspected Fort Lauderdale Airport Shooter in Iraq Was in Airport During Shooting

Friends called Esteban Santiago "Zombie," Arizona man says

An Arizona man who served in Iraq with the suspect in the Fort Lauderdale Airport shooting and happened to be in the airport when the gunfire erupted said he and his friends had given the alleged gunman the nickname "Zombie," according to a new report.

Luis Ortiz-Sanchez said he and his wife were on their way home from vacation last week and were in Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on their way back to Phoenix when Esteban Santiago allegedly opened fire in a baggage claim area, 12 News reported.

Ortiz-Sanchez and his wife Alejandra were waiting to go through security when the shooting began.

"Like a second, 'Bang, bang,' then everybody looked back, we see the TSA and we start running," he told 12 News. "We heard...we heard the shot."

Ortiz-Sanchez said his military training helped him to a certain point.

"I told my wife to stay low, close to the wall," he said. "When you train, you know what’s going to happen, because you know that you are in this training. But in real life, you don’t expect that and less in the airport, when we’re supposed to be safe."

Authorities say Santiago shot and killed five people and wounded six others in the airport. He remains jailed without bond on federal charges.

Ortiz-Sanchez said after he and his wife were safely in a hangar, a friend in Iraq texted him a picture of Santiago.

"They told me 'Hey, Zombie is the shooter and I said ‘No, it’s not -- it’s not true," he said.

Ortiz-Sanchez said he and Santiago served in Iraq together and he had last seen him in the spring of 2011. He said Santiago used to talk a lot about zombies, so that's how he earned his nickname.

"He read a lot about zombies and how to kill zombies," Ortiz-Sanchez said. "One time he told me 'Hey, this is the way that you kill zombies.' And I said 'Hey, I don’t care about that because you’re never going to see one.'"

Ortiz-Sanchez said he wonders if Santiago was having mental issues.

"If I could ask him a question, I would ask him about the Soldier’s Creed. He knows the Soldier’s Creed and he knows that we joined the military to protect the people in the United States and to protect the Constitution," he said. "Why are you going to shoot innocent people?"

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