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Arizona man recalls serving alongside suspected Fort Lauderdale airport shooter

Luis Ortiz-Sanchez (right) is shown with alleged Fort Lauderdale airport shooter, Esteban Santiago (second from left). (Luis Ortiz-Sanchez Photo)

PHOENIX — An Arizona man recalled this week what it was like to serve alongside Esteban Santiago, the man accused of opening fire in the Fort Lauderdale airport.

Luis Ortiz-Sanchez, who was inside Terminal 2 at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport when shots rang out, said he was surprised to hear about the shooting but it got him thinking.

“When I heard it was him, I started thinking about everything he told me back then,” Ortiz-Sanchez. “Who knows if at that moment he thought the people were zombies. I don’t know what went through his mind.”

Santiago’s family said he “lost his mind” after serving in Iraq. Ortiz-Sanchez, who served with Santiago in the Army in 2010 and 2011, said Santiago was obsessed with the idea of zombies taking over the world.

“There was a point where he was obsessed with zombies,” he said. “Things like that. He liked that kind of stuff. He would read about how to kill zombies.”

Ortiz-Sanchez said he did not pay much attention to the zombie talk, but his unit gave Santiago the nickname “Chago Zombie” because of his obsession.

“I would tell him, ‘That’s never going to happen. You’re never going to see a zombie.’ He would say ‘Yes, one day I will.’”

Despite his zombie fixation, Ortiz-Sanchez described Santiago as a “serious person” who was “quiet, calm.”

“He followed the orders that were given to him,” Ortiz-Sanchez said.

Santiago, 26, told investigators that he planned the attack, buying a one-way ticket to the Fort Lauderdale airport, a federal complaint said. Authorities don’t know why he chose his target and have not ruled out terrorism.

Santiago was charged with an act of violence at an international airport resulting in death — which carries a maximum punishment of execution — and weapons charges.

Ortiz-Sanchez spoke to KTAR News 92.3 FM in Spanish. His answers have been translated.

KTAR’s Griselda Zetino and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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