Monday 23 April 2018

British great-grandmother among Florida airport shooting victims

Esteban Santiago has been charged over the Ford Lauderdale airport massacre (Broward Sheriffs Office/PA)
Esteban Santiago has been charged over the Ford Lauderdale airport massacre (Broward Sheriffs Office/PA)

David Wilcock, Press Association

A BRITISH great-grandmother was one of five people gunned down by a former US soldier at a Florida airport.

Olga Woltering, who was in her eighties, has been revealed as one of those killed in the mass shooting at the transport hub in Fort Lauderdale on Friday night.

Police officers help people seeking cover at Fort Lauderdale airport in Florida yesterday after a gunman opened fire in the baggage area. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Police officers help people seeking cover at Fort Lauderdale airport in Florida yesterday after a gunman opened fire in the baggage area. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Mrs Woltering, reportedly originally from Ipswich, Suffolk, lived in Atlanta with her husband Ralph, a former US Air Force serviceman.

The couple are believed to have travelled from their home in Georgia to go on a cruise.

The Catholic Church of the Transfiguration in Cobb County, Georgia, which Mr Woltering had been a member of since 1978, said she was "so charming, calling everybody 'Lovey' or 'Love' in her unmistakable British accent".

Father Fernando Molina-Restrepo said: "Olga was one of the most joyful, loving, caring and committed people I have ever met. This is a horrible tragedy for everyone here at Transfiguration, especially because Olga was so loved.

Esteban Santiago, suspect in the Fort Lauderdale shooting
Esteban Santiago, suspect in the Fort Lauderdale shooting
Sole suspect Esteban Santiago is taken into police custodysurvived Photo: Jim Rassol/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP

"Olga and Ralph have been members of our Transfiguration Family since October 1978.

"May God give consolation to all of the victims of this tragedy and may God give eternal rest to those who died. Especially to our beloved Olga. Peace."

Esteban Santiago, 26, a former National Guard soldier from Alaska and an Iraq War veteran, is accused of carrying out the bloody killing, which also left six people injured.

Friends who attended church with Mrs Woltering spoke of their shock and horror at her killing on social media.

Jerry De Varennes wrote: "Tragedy hit too close to home today. Transfiguration Church lost a very loving and caring woman in the Ft Lauderdale airport attack. Prayers lifted up for the soul of Olga Woltering and her family. Prayers also lifted up for a crazy and cruel world."

Virginia Moran added: "So very sad, Olga's ever present smile was infectious and brightened any day, she will be deeply missed and my prayers are with Ralph, her family, all those she touched, and all who were impacted by yesterday's senseless action."

Diane Friesen said: "Dear Ralph, wish there was something we could do to take away your pain. Olga was loved so much. Our hearts are broken.

"I'll always remember how she would say in her English accent, 'hello love'."

It came as authorities in the US revealed more about the alleged shooter.

The FBI said on Saturday that Santiago had a gun confiscated after walking into the law enforcement agency's office in Anchorage, Alaska, in a distressed state.

However, it was returned to him in December after he underwent mental health checks.

They did not say if it was the same gun as used in the attack at the airport.

The Fort Lauderdale sheriff's office said the attack happened in the baggage reclaim area just before 1pm local time.

Meanwhile, Santiago's brother questioned why he was allowed to keep his gun after US authorities knew he had become increasingly paranoid.

Esteban Santiago, 26, had trouble controlling his anger after serving in Iraq and told his brother that he felt he was being chased and controlled by the CIA through secret online messages, it has emerged.

When he told agents at an FBI field office about his paranoid thoughts in November, he was evaluated for four days, then released without any follow-up medication or therapy.

"The FBI failed there," Bryan Santiago told The Associated Press. "We're not talking about someone who emerged from anonymity to do something like this."

Speaking in Spanish outside his family's house in Penuelas, the brother said: "The federal government already knew about this for months, they had been evaluating him for a while, but they didn't do anything."

Bryan Santiago said he noted that his brother was behaving differently when he returned from Iraq.

"He sometimes couldn't control his anger," he said. "You could tell something had changed."

Bryan Santiago said when he went to visit his brother in Alaska last August, Santiago told him he was hearing voices and felt he was being chased.

The authorities in Alaska have defended their actions. FBI Special Agent in Charge Marlin Ritzman said Santiago broke no laws when he walked into the Anchorage FBI office "making disjointed comments about mind control".

Anchorage police were called to the office by the agency, and were told Santiago was having "terroristic thoughts" and believed he was being influenced by the so-called Islamic State group. He was taken to a mental health facility, city Police Chief Chris Tolley said.

Santiago had left a gun and his newborn child in his vehicle when he went to the FBI office. Police held the gun until Santiago was released and contacted him about picking up the weapon, which he did on December 8.

The authorities would not confirm whether he used the same gun on Friday.

Mr Tolley said: "There is speculation that it is the same gun. I have not received confirmation that it, in fact, is that gun."

In recent years, Esteban Santiago - a new father - had been living in Anchorage. But there were signs of trouble.

He was charged in a domestic violence case in January 2016, damaging a door when he forced his way into a bathroom at his girlfriend's Anchorage home.

The woman told officers he yelled at her to leave, choked her and smacked her on the side of the head, according to charging documents.

A month later, municipal prosecutors said he violated the conditions of his release when officers found him at her home during a routine check. He told police he had lived there since he was released from custody the previous month.

Mr Tolley detailed other complaints of physical disturbances last year involving Santiago but said officers either found no probable cause for arrest or were told by the city prosecutor not to arrest him.

Bryan Santiago said his brother had requested psychological help but barely received any.

"I told him to go to church or to seek professional help," he said.

Family members have said Esteban Santiago changed after serving a year-long tour in Iraq.

Esteban Santiago's mother said her son had been tremendously affected by seeing a bomb explode near two friends while serving in Iraq.

His uncle and aunt in New Jersey were trying to make sense of what they were hearing about Santiago. FBI agents arrived at their house to question them on Friday.

Maria Ruiz told The Record newspaper that her nephew had recently become a father to a son and was struggling.

"It was like he lost his mind," she said of his return from Iraq. "He said he saw things."

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