Esteban Santiago did not utter a word as he pulled out his handgun and opened fire on people around him, nor did he show any emotions, according to witnesses, and when the weapon was empty, he cast it aside and dropped to the ground.
The 26-year-old US army veteran, who was born in New Jersey and moved to Puerto Rico when he was two, was dealing with mental health issues and had been under treatment but nothing in his behaviour had pointed to the Friday shooting.
“We don’t know what happened with this guy,” Nelson Cruz, a Puerto Rican politician told The New York Times. “He was an intelligent, brilliant young man who came back affected. When he came back from the conflict, he did not return well.” Santiago had joined Puerto Rico’s National Guard, a reserve component of US armed forces maintained separately by each state, in 2007 and deployed to Iraq in 2010 as part of an engineer battalion, which swept and cleared roads for explosives. Two men from his team were killed in insurgent attacks but there were no reports Santiago was in combat. He had joined the Army Reserves, a federal force of reservists who get the same training as active-duty personnel but don’t deploy.
Santiago joined the Alaskan Army National Guard in 2014 and left 2016 as combat engineer. Along the way he picked up a Meritorious Unit Commendation for his Iraq tour and a Good Conduct Medal. He got a “general discharge” for “for unsatisfactory performance”, Tampa Bay Times reported.
His brother, Brian Santiago, has said Esteban was receiving treatment for psychological problems in Alaska, but he wasn’t sure what for.
The shooter once told FBI agents in Alaska that the government was controlling his mind, and forced him to watch Islamic State videos.
Santiago’s family has said he had seemed troubled after his return from Iraq, but appeared happy recently after the birth of a child.