Police say gun was returned to Florida airport shooting suspect last year

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Reuters) - Police in Alaska last year took a handgun from the man accused of killing five people at Fort Lauderdale's airport on Friday, but returned it to him last month after a medical evaluation found he was not mentally ill, authorities said.

Esteban Santiago, a 26-year-old Iraq war veteran, had a history of acting erratically and investigators are probing whether mental illness played a role in America's latest mass shooting.

Related: Shooting at Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport

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Shooting at Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 06: Police direct traffic outside of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and eight wounded in an attack from a single gunman. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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)

Police question people who are evacuating from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport near the tarmac after airport shooting in Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity

Esteban Santiago, the suspect in the mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale International Airport, is transported to the Broward County Main Jail by authorities on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017.

(Jim Rassol/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 06: People wait on the tarmac of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and eight wounded in an attack from a single gunman. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Law enforcement personnel search the grounds after a shoot opened fire at a baggage carousel at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Zachary Fagenson
A man is helped after airport shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017. Courtesy Mike Starobinsky/Maxwillsolutions/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.

Airport security personnel stand in front of one of the entrances to the baggage area of Terminal 2, where yesterday a shooter killed five people and wounded six others before he was taken into custody, at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport on January 7, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The alleged gunman, Esteban Santiago, 26, is reported to have flown from Alaska to Florida with a gun in a checked bag, and after landing used the gun to shoot people.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Shooting victims are unloaded from an emergency vehicle and taken into Broward Health Trauma Center Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Authorities said multiple people have died after a lone suspect opened fire at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. (Taimy Alvarez/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)

Broward County Sheriff officers exit from the escalator that takes people from the baggage area of Terminal 2 where yesterday a shooter killed five people and wounded six others before he was taken into custody, at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport on January 7, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The alleged gunman, Esteban Santiago, 26, is reported to have flown from Alaska to Florida with a gun in a checked bag, and after landing used the gun to shoot people.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A shooting victim is unloaded from an emergency vehicle and taken into Broward Health Trauma Center Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Authorities said multiple people have died after a lone suspect opened fire at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. (Taimy Alvarez/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
A shooting victim is unloaded from an emergency vehicle and taken into Broward Health Trauma Center Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Authorities said multiple people have died after a lone suspect opened fire at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. (Taimy Alvarez/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
A shooting victim is unloaded from an emergency vehicle and taken into Broward Health Trauma Center Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Authorities said multiple people have died after a lone suspect opened fire at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. (Taimy Alvarez/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Travelers and airport workers are evacuated out of the terminal after airport shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity
Travelers are evacuated out of the terminal and onto the tarmac after airport shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Zachary Fagenson
Law enforcement walk outside a terminal after a shooter opened fire at a baggage carousel at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Zachary Fagenson
Law enforcement personnel take cover below a stairwell in a parking garage opposite a terminal after a shooter opened fire at a baggage carousel at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Zachary Fagenson
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 06: Police assist people seeking cover outside of Terminal 2 at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and eight wounded in an attack from a single gunman. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 06: People seek cover on the tarmac of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and eight wounded in an attack from a single gunman. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 06: People take cover outsideTerminal 2 of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and 8 wounded in an attack from a single gunman. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 06: People take cover behind cars outside of Terminal 2 of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and 8 wounded in an attack from a single gunman. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - JANUARY 06: People wait on the tarmac of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport after a shooting took place near the baggage claim on January 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Officials are reporting that five people wear killed and eight wounded in an attack from a single gunman. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Esteban Santiago, the suspect in the mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale International Airport, is transported to the Broward County Main Jail by authorities on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017.

(Jim Rassol/Sun Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)

A shooting victim is unloaded from an emergency vehicle and taken into Broward Health Trauma Center Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Authorities said multiple people have died after a lone suspect opened fire at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. (Taimy Alvarez/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
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Marlin Ritzman, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's office in Anchorage, told a news conference on Saturday that Santiago walked into the office in November and told agents his mind was being controlled by a U.S. intelligence agency. He was turned over to local police who took him to a medical facility for a mental evaluation.

"Santiago was having terroristic thoughts and believed he was being influenced by ISIS (the Islamic State militant group,)" Anchorage Police Chief Chris Tolley told the news conference.

A handgun that was taken from Santiago by police during the evaluation was returned to him early last month, Tolley told the news conference. The police chief said it was not clear if it was the same weapon used on Friday.

Officials in Anchorage said the gun was returned because Santiago had not been adjudicated to be mentally ill.

"As far as I know, this is not somebody that would have been prohibited (from having a gun) based on the information they had," U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler told the news conference.

Investigators have not ruled out terrorism as a motive and say the suspect's recent travel is being reviewed.

Related: Reactions to incident at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport

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Reactions to incident at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport
#breaking reports of shots fired at FLL Live pics from #chopper4 @CBSMiami https://t.co/PkZBiERKo9
>@MxWllSolutions has tweeted a photo of a victim at the FLL airport. "Guy is bleeding profusely."
Yikes, look at this breaking news text I just got... I'm sure this will be all over the news soon... #FLL… https://t.co/zg8wbLGmby
Hope it's inaccurate or wrong but apparently there's a mass shooting at FLL airport, please be safe... prayers for the victims 🙏
NBC NEWS: 9 people shot, 1 dead at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport; shooter is in custody, law enforcement sources say
.@WPLGLocal10 is working to confirm these tweets by former WH Press Secretary @AriFleischer of a shooting at… https://t.co/6JmUfkrI7b
I'm stuck on the FLL airport tarmac in terminal 2 and there's a roadblock on I-95. Apparently there was a shooting… https://t.co/vbnZRSMqz6
I'm at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport. Shots have been fired. Everyone is running.
#BREAKING Suspect in custody after shooting at Ft. Lauderdale Airport https://t.co/XjP9GAV2WU https://t.co/XVCWPP2GvX
Tragic news out of Florida today, with news of an airport shooting. We're 6 days into 2017 and this is our 6th ma… https://t.co/PnqUMkRLKQ
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SIX SUFFERED GUNSHOT WOUNDS

Five people were killed and six wounded in Friday's rampage, while some three dozen were taken to local hospitals with bruises or broken bones suffered in the chaos as passengers fled the crowded baggage claim area.

Authorities say Santiago arrived in Ft. Lauderdale on a connecting flight from Alaska, and that he retrieved a 9mm semi-automatic handgun from his checked luggage before loading it in a bathroom and then shooting indiscriminately.

Witnesses said the gunman, who was wearing a blue "Star Wars" T-shirt, said nothing as he fired, and that he surrendered to police only after running out of ammunition.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told a separate news conference it took the first deputy about 70 to 80 seconds to contact the suspect after the first shots rang out.

Authorities say three of the six victims who suffered gunshot wounds are in intensive care. The others are in good condition. Those killed included a volunteer firefighter in his sixties and a retiree on holiday with her husband.

Santiago served from 2007 to 2016 in the Puerto Rico National Guard and Alaska National Guard including a deployment to Iraq from 2010 to 2011, according to the Pentagon.

A private first class and combat engineer, he received half a dozen medals before being transferred to the inactive ready reserve in August last year.

An aunt said he came back from his deployment "a different person," MSNBC reported.

The attack was the latest in a series of U.S. mass shootings, some inspired by Islamist militants, others carried out by loners or the mentally disturbed.

Last June, Florida was the scene of the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history, when a gunman apparently inspired by Islamic State killed 49 people and wounded 53 at the gay nightclub "Pulse" in Orlando.

(Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York, Alex Dobunzinskis in Los Angeles, and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Chris Reese and Chizu Nomiyama)

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