US veteran pleads guilty to Florida airport killings
Esteban Santiago, is shown in this booking photo provided by the Broward County Sheriff's Office in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, January 7, 2017. Courtesy Broward County Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS

A U.S. veteran of the war in Iraq on Wednesday pleaded guilty to fatally shooting five people to death at Fort Lauderdale International Airport in January 2017, in a deal approved by a federal judge that spared him the death penalty.


Esteban Santiago, 28, agreed in U.S. District Court in Miami to a plea deal that calls for him to serve five consecutive life sentences followed by 120 years in prison without a right to appeal. He is due to be sentenced on Aug. 17.

 Santiago flew from his home in Anchorage, Alaska, to Fort Lauderdale, retrieved a Walther 9mm pistol and two clips of ammunition that he had checked on the flight and opened fire near a luggage carousel. Six people were wounded in addition to the five he killed, according to court papers.

After running out of bullets, he placed his weapon on the ground and surrendered to police. At the end of Wednesday’s court hearing, U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom asked Santiago why he committed the violent act.

 “I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking about it at the time,” Santiago, shackled in a beige jumpsuit, said in court as he choked through his words. “There were a lot of things going on in my mind, messages.”

Reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Miami; writing by Gina Cherelus; editing by Scott Malone and G Crosse