To his family, Esteban Santiago was the ultimate patriot — an Army veteran who served his country in Iraq and later in Alaska.
“He was pro-America,” his brother, Bryan Santiago, told NBC News.
But the alleged Fort Lauderdale airport shooter slowly descended into madness following his tour in Iraq. Finally something snapped in the past few months after he was discharged from the Alaska National Guard.
Santiago walked into an FBI field office in Anchorage about a month ago and admitted that voices in his head were telling him to join ISIS. He also said the government was forcing him to watch the terrorist group’s videos.
Santiago, 26, was taken to a mental hospital, but was soon released.
On Friday, the New Jersey native, who has a concealed-carry permit, took a flight from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale with a gun legally checked in his luggage.
Moments after claiming his luggage, he allegedly pulled out the weapon and killed five people at the baggage claim for no apparent reason.
Santiago, a US citizen with a 3-month-old child, was booted from the Alaska Army National Guard last August for “unsatisfactory performance,” a spokesman told The Post.
Santiago was previously a combat engineer who served a tour in Iraq with the Puerto Rico National Guard from April 2010 to February 2011 before joining the Alaska guard in 2014, the spokesman said.
He was discharged in August.
The ex-soldier has no known terrorism ties, but he had gone online to jihadist forums to post rants and download terrorist videos since 2007, the International Business Times reported.
A photo circulating on social media Friday evening showed Santiago in a kaffiyeh, a traditional Middle Eastern headscarf.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel later said it appeared that Santiago had been a “homegrown violent extremist.”
Santiago was arrested last year for assault after allegedly smashing the bathroom door in his home and trying to strangle his girlfriend, according to the Alaska Dispatch.
He was “receiving psychological counseling in Anchorage” at one point, according to Bryan Santiago.
His aunt, Maria Ruiz, told The Post that he had been in the a facility as recently as last month.
“I know he was sick in the hospital for two weeks,” she said, speaking from her home in Union City, NJ. “He was in isolation.”
He was carrying his military ID card and a Florida driver’s license when he was taken into custody Friday following the 1 p.m. shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, sources said.
NBC Miami reported that Santiago had also lived in nearby Naples at some point.
Court records obtained by the Miami Herald show that Santiago had minor brushes with the law when he lived in Alaska — including being slapped with a $1,000 fine for driving without insurance and another minor infraction for driving with broken taillights.
His landlord evicted him last year after he failed to pay the rent, the records showed.
Sources told ABC that Santiago worked at an Anchorage security company, Signal 88, as a guard of some sort.
Sources told CBS that Santiago had been investigated for child pornography about four or five years ago, but there was not enough evidence to charge him.
Esteban’s aunt said that despite his troubled past, there was nothing that led her to believe he was capable of such bloodshed.
“I never found anything strange with him,” she said. “I spoke to him after the baby was born. He was so happy with him. He sent me pictures. He was caring. He liked to laugh.
“He would tell me, ‘Titi, I’m working.’
“If he had problems, I can’t comment on any of that . . . I can’t believe this. I’m cold.”
Chris Perez, additional reporting by Stephen Yang and Lorena Mongelli, New York Post, January 7, 2017