Friday’s terror attack at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport (FLL) thrust local Broward leaders into the international spotlight. Esteban Ruiz Santiago, a twenty-six year old veteran, killed 5 people and wounded 8 others in the baggage claim area of the Delta terminal. Santiago is being held at the Broward County main jail in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
From the beginning, Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, FBI SAC George Piro and FLL Airport Director Mark Gale commanded the press spotlight. Israel gave precise information and shut down wild rumors. FBI Special Agent in Charge Piro was forthcoming in information regarding Santiago’s contact with the FBI Alaska. Most importantly, Israel and Piro were careful not to rule out any links to terrorism. Anyone who has witnessed other press conferences following attacks knows how the media eagerly spins the most benign statements to fit their preferred narrative. Israel and Piro avoided the usual traps by controlling the information and the tenor of the press conferences.
Florida Governor Rick Scott continued to show strong leadership by traveling to Fort Lauderdale. The Governor vowed to provide any assistance needed locally. Governor Scott remained on the scene on Saturday.
Now for the bad.
Broward Mayor Barbara Sharief repeatedly gave confusing information to the international media. Sharief appeared, via telephone, on CNN three times. In the six o’clock hour, Sharief told anchor Wolf Blitzer that questions remained whether the suspect in custody was the real Esteban Santiago. More than four hours earlier, Senator Bill Nelson identified the suspect on MSNBC. Blitzer even asked Sharief if CNN should stop referring to the suspect as Esteban Santiago.
In the eight o’clock hour, anchor Anderson Cooper referenced Sharief’s doubts in a conversation with a CNN reporter. When she joined Cooper, Mayor Sharief tried to claim she could no longer talk about it, but she again raised doubts. Finally, at 10pm, Sharief told anchor Don Lemon that the suspect was indeed Esteban Santiago.
On Twitter, Sharief told REDBROWARD, “I was not questioning whether he was the suspect the FBI was actively verifying & asked to confirm that later. I told him that there were conflicts and there were & perpetuating that doesn’t help the situation.”
Mayor Sharief failed to provide any important information to CNN viewers while causing substantial confusing. Not her best moment.
Then there’s the Facebook posts of Chip LaMarca, the diminutive Broward County Commissioner.
Shortly after 2:30pm on Friday, LaMarca wrote:
Latest information I have:
Update: The shooter was a passenger on a Canadian flight with a checked gun. He claimed his bag and took the gun from baggage and went into the bathroom to load it. Came out shooting people in baggage claim. There were 13 total shot, 5 dead, 8 transported to hospital.
A source told REDBROWARD that County Commissioners were given a confidential briefing but were asked not to make information public. When the media sees a statement from a local government official they run with it. Suddenly, media outlets started to investigate the Canadian angle. How did he get a gun from Canada? Was shooter Canadian? Was shooter a Canadian military vet? What is status of security at Canadian airports?
Of course, LaMarca’s information about the Canadian flight was wrong. Santiago flew Delta from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale with one stop in Minneapolis.
This is exactly why early information is kept confidential by law enforcement. LaMarca’s statement forced Air Canada to investigate the matter and issue a statement. The media wasted time investigating the Canadian angle. Later, law enforcement had to answer questions regarding the Canadian angle.
But hey, Sharief and LaMarca got their names in the AP/CNN/BBC ETC.
Hope the fifteen minutes of fame was worth it.