Confusion about who was in charge and an uncontrolled self-evacuation added to the chaos during the January shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, according to a new report released Tuesday.
The 82-page report, prepared by a consulting firm and released by the Broward County Aviation Department, analyzed the response to the January 6 shooting, which left five people dead and six wounded.
The report said a unified command was "never established causing confusion as to who was in charge." The lack of unified command led to "a lack of information regarding resource needs and disjointed, misinformed, and conflicting mission development."
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Police say 27-year-old Esteban Santiago flew from Alaska to the airport and opened fire in a crowded baggage claim area. Santiago has pleaded not guilty to a 22-count indictment in the shooting.
"Speculation of additional firearm discharges in other areas within FLL caused an uncontrolled self-evacuation throughout the airport," the report said. "The self-evacuation of people into secure areas led to the complete closure of FLL, passenger delays, traffic control issues, and personal property claim issues."
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel strongly disputed the report, saying he, airport manager Mark Gale and the FBI agent in charge quickly took command of the situation shortly after the shooting. He conceded he hadn't read the report, saying he had received it Monday night.
"It's just not accurate," Israel told a press conference Tuesday. "Critics are going to criticize, but I was out there."
He admitted there was no plan for staging and deploying that many officers at the airport, but said a lot of the confusion and perceived lack of command was caused by the overwhelmed radio system. He said staging plans are being improved and a new radio system is being purchased.
"Command was unified, we knew what was going on (but) it wasn't perfect," he said.
Authorities say Santiago, an Iraq war veteran from Anchorage, Alaska, surrendered 85 seconds after the first shot was fired. The report praises the initial response and capture of Santiago, who admitted the shooting to investigators.
But chaos broke out again 90 minutes after Santiago's barrage when false reports of a second shooter sent people stampeding, injuring 40. The report says that could have been largely avoided if police officers had earphones to listen to their radios without civilians overhearing them.
More than 12,000 passengers were at the airport during the shooting. Many of them ran out through emergency exits onto the airfield after the false second report. There was also terror caused by plainclothes police and deputies, some wearing masks to protect their identities, running through the airport with their guns drawn as they responded to the false report. That could have resulted in uniformed officers accidentally shooting them.
Overall, Israel, Gale and county officials said they are proud of the response but will implement the report's 132 recommended changes as needed.
"It is clear we have some work to do," Gale said. "That is not to say we performed poorly that day, not by a long shot. But we do recognize that as professionals we need to continually improve our performance."
The FBI says Santiago admitted committing the shootings in recorded interviews with agents. His federal trial has been delayed until at least January as prosecutors decide whether to seek the death penalty. Santiago, a diagnosed schizophrenic, told FBI agents he acted under government mind control and then claimed inspiration by the Islamic State extremist group. No terrorism links have been found.