How Police Confusion Led to 12 Hours of Chaos at FL Airport

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Poor communication by the Broward County, Fl., Sheriff’s Office and the Broward County Aviation Department, along with other mistakes after a deadly January shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, led to mass chaos for the estimated 12,000 people trapped at the airport, according to the sheriff’s office’s draft report, the Miami Herald reports. The report assessed the response to the Jan. 6 rampage by war veteran Esteban Santiago. He has been charged with emptying 14 rounds of ammunition into a baggage claim area, killing five and injuring six others. About 2,000 officers from different departments responded to the incident, creating a massive influx that led to havoc at the airport and confusion about who was in charge. The report said the airport became an “impassible parking lot” after officers abandoned their vehicles

Compounding the problem was an overwhelmed, 30-year-old county radio system that crashed several times after the shooting. Messages were shortened or distorted, adding to the hysteria. At one point, reports of “victim in Terminal 1,” turned into “gunshot victim in Terminal 1,” leading police on a wild hunt for additional shooters. Although officers were able to reach and detain Santiago 85 seconds after the initial shots were fired, they failed to set up a large enough crime scene or to confine the investigation to the terminal involved. Witnesses were held in an area within view of the shooting victims, adding to the trauma. The situation worsened 90 minutes after the initial shots rang out, when reports emerged of shootings in other terminals, additional victims and then of a potential male suspect in a white shirt. Although all turned out to be false, the miscommunication led to 12 hours of chaos.

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