By Debbie Gregory.
Could a sense of loss and grief have been at the root of the recent airport shooting in Ft. Lauderdale?
On Jan. 2, 2011, Jose Cintron Rosado and Jose Delgado Arroyo, members of the Puerto Rican Army National Guard, were in a lead vehicle near Taji, Iraq, that was locating and disarming roadside bombs.
The two were best friends, as well as father figures to the younger soldiers who were members of the 1013th Engineering Company, 103rd Battalion, out of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.
When Rosado and Arroyo were killed in a roadside blast, their deaths hit the tight-knit unit hard.
Among those in the unit was Esteban Santiago, who has been charged with killing five people during the shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
The shooting came almost six years to the day after their deaths.
Santiago, who was born in New Jersey but raised in Peñuelas, Puerto Rico, flew to South Florida on a one-way ticket from Alaska.
Investigators have been trying to piece together the path that led the 26-year-old former National Guardsman to Fort Lauderdale.
For Bryan Santiago, his brother’s military service led to serious mental-health problems that coincided with his return from the war.
“You could just sense that he’d changed,” said Santiago, who still lives in Peñuelas.
He added that he didn’t know whether his brother knew Rosado or Arroyo, but he said his sibling, who was once “calm and humorous” suddenly becoming bitter and withdrawn.
Esteban Santiago’s tour ended in April 2011, and he remained in the National Guard Reserves until February 2014.
Santiago then moved to Alaska and joined the Alaskan National Guard.
Bryan Santiago said the last time he talked to his brother was on Christmas Day. He gave no indication he would snap 12 days later.
“We were just wishing each other Merry Christmas,” his brother said. “He was completely normal, but people with mental problems can seem completely normal, too.”