The man accused of gunning down almost a dozen people in Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport earlier this month had registered at least four handguns in Puerto Rico, including a 9 mm pistol, the same caliber used in the crime, authorities said.
Police on Monday said they couldn't rule out that Esteban Santiago, the accused gunman, had initially registered the Walther 9 mm used in the Jan. 6 shooting in his hometown of Peñuelas.
"We cannot confirm that it was the same weapon," said Puerto Rico Police spokesman Edward Ramirez. "But we do know he had a license to carry [a 9 mm pistol] and we understand that it's highly probable that it was the same weapon."
More than a week after the shooting, new details are emerging about Santiago, the 26-year-old Iraq war veteran who is accused of killing five and wounding six others after he flew from Anchorage to Fort Lauderdale with nothing but a firearm.
Santiago first received a permit to carry a weapon in Puerto Rico in July of 2011, Ramirez said, citing the island's fire-arms records. That limited permit gave him the right to keep a gun at home and take it to a firing range. In September, Santiago was given additional permission to carry his weapon at all times.
Ramirez said that permit came only after an extensive background check that can take weeks or months.
"There is a thorough investigation to make sure you're not going to cause problems for anyone," Ramirez explained.
At one point, Santiago had four handguns registered in his name in Puerto Rico. While make and model information wasn't available in the documents that Ramirez has access to, "the system showed they were all pistols or revolvers, no rifles," he said.
Then, in mid 2012, Santiago had an unspecified number of weapons confiscated from him due to an investigation. Ramirez said the computerized records don't provide details. "It could have been a domestic violence complaint, a problem with a neighbor, a DUI — or any other serious offense," he said.
Initially, the Peñuelas Police Department said that Santiago, who returned to his childhood home in 2011 after serving 11 months in Iraq, never caused trouble and was not on their radar.
Over the weekend, however, a police officer speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Miami Herald Santiago had been accused of domestic violence in Peñuelas, a town of 24,000. (Santiago faced similar charges in Anchorage, where he had been living before he boarded the plane to Fort Lauderdale).
However, in 2014, after almost two years of investigation, Santiago had all his weapons returned to him, Ramirez said.
Ramirez said he had no way of knowing if Santiago took his Puerto Rican-registered weapons with him when he moved to Alaska but that as long he was complying with that state's laws, there would be no legal prohibition. Santiago's weapons license in Puerto Rico, however, expired in June of 2015.
Santiago's friends and relatives have portrayed him as a shy man who was damaged by his experience in Iraq. Those characterizations could be key as he potentially faces the death penalty in court.