Fort Lauderdale Police, Airport Officials Faulted for Their Handling of January Airport Shootings
By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida was the scene of mass murder and chaos on January 6, 2017, when a gunman calmly opened fire on travelers. Five persons were killed and six others were wounded.
The alleged gunman, later identified as Esteban Santiago, aimed and shot travelers waiting for their luggage in the baggage claim area of Terminal 2.
The shooting incident caused panic that quickly spread to the airport’s other terminals. Rumors of additional shooters prompted thousands of passengers and airport employees to flee onto the tarmac, where they were stuck for hours without food, water or shelter.
Review Finds Limited Coordination between Airport Officials and Law Enforcement
A newly released review of the mass shooting found that coordination between airport and law enforcement officials “was limited and it was not clear who was in charge of the response,” the Orlando Sentinel reported Tuesday.
The report, created by an outside consultant hired by the county, concluded that law enforcement’s response was “disjointed, misinformed and conflicting” due to a lack of information. It says that the Broward Sheriff’s Office circumvented tasks that should have been left to airport officials..
The airport’s emergency plans to efficiently evacuate passengers and care for them also came in for criticism. In one example, emergency management officials in nearby Port Everglades “were initially told they needed to accommodate 900 evacuees, instead of the actual number of approximately 10,000.” About 700 people ended up spending the night at a makeshift rescue center there.
The report noted that law enforcement officials held 22 planes on the tarmac for hours because passengers on those flights “could have witnessed the shooting.” But the report said those passengers should have been let off the aircraft and taken to a designated area within the airport.
About 2,000 officers from different departments across South Florida responded to the shooting incident, creating a massive influx of responders “that led to havoc at the airport and confusion about who was in charge,” the Miami Herald said, citing the report. “The airport became an ‘impassible parking lot’ after officers abandoned their vehicles.”
The report also found fault with “an overwhelmed, 30-year-old county radio system that crashed several times after the shooting.” At times, messages were shortened or distorted, adding to the hysteria, according to the Herald. The report found that at one point, reports of victims in Terminal 1 led police “on a wild hunt for additional shooters.”
County commissioners, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel and Aviation Department director Mark Gale discussed the report in a closed meeting Tuesday at the county’s offices in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
In June 2017, The Sun Sentinel obtained a draft of the Sheriff’s Office review of its own response to the shooting. That review criticized the Aviation Department’s refusal to stop operations in Terminal 2 after the mass shooting, suggesting that officials prioritized revenues over lives.
The Sheriff’s Office review said the Aviation Department did not understand that its role was to support the Sheriff’s Office response to the mass shooting incident.
Airport officials disputed the Sheriff’s Office criticisms. They said Sheriff’s officials did not interview them or discuss any aspects of the Sheriff’s draft report before it was released, an airport spokesman said at the time.