PHOENIX - An Arizona man served with the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting suspect in Iraq, and in a bizarre twist, he was also in the airport during the deadly rampage.
Luis Ortiz-Sanchez said he and his wife were on their way home from vacation last week. He said they drove from Tampa to Fort Lauderdale to fly back to Phoenix after spending the holidays with family. While he doesn't want to show his face on camera, he did say he's been in touch with police and is volunteering to give them any information they need.
“Like a second, ‘Bang, bang, then everybody looked back, we see the TSA and we start running,” he said, describing the terror of the shooting. “We heard ... we heard the shot.”
Ortiz-Sanchez and his wife Alejandra heard the chaos when they were waiting to go through security. Then they heard a TSA agent.
“Screaming at us, ‘Run, run! Active shooter!” he said.
Ortiz-Sanchez started streaming what he was hearing and seeing live on Facebook.
“I told my wife to stay low, close to the wall,” he said. “When you train, you know what’s going to happen, because you know that you are in this training. But in real life, you don’t expect that and less in the airport, when we’re supposed to be safe.”
Ortiz-Sanchez and his wife eventually ended up in a hangar. That’s when he learned who the shooter is. A friend in Iraq texted him a picture.
“They told me ‘Hey … Zombie is the shooter and I said ‘No, it’s not -- it’s not true,” he said.
Ortiz-Sanchez was in disbelief until he saw a picture of Esteban Santiago. They served in Iraq together. He last saw him in the spring of 2011.
“He was my friend and I know him,” he said.
Ortiz-Sanchez says Santiago used to talk a lot about zombies, so he and other friends nicknamed Santiago “Zombie.”
“He read a lot about zombies and how to kill zombies,” he said. “One time he told me ‘Hey, this is the way that you kill zombies.’ And I said ‘Hey, I don’t care about that because you’re never going to see one.’”
Now he wonders if Santiago was having mental issues. After all, they served and trained together for a year and a half.
“If I could ask him a question, I would ask him about the Soldier’s Creed,” he said. “He knows the Soldier’s Creed and he knows that we joined the military to protect the people in the United States and to protect the Constitution.”
“Why are you going to shoot innocent people?” he said.
Ortiz-Sanchez said when they got home from deployment, anyone that needed mental or physical evaluation sought help from the VA or on their own. He wishes Santiago would have been able to get the help he needed. Again, Ortiz-Sanchez said he has been in touch with police and volunteering to give them any information they need.