FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CN) - The Iraq War veteran accused of killing five people at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport last week made his first court appearance Monday, appearing to shake and take a series of deep breaths as he was told he could face the death penalty.
Esteban Santiago, 26, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alicia Valle, who ordered him held until his next hearings and appointed public defenders to represent him.
Valle then set a detention hearing for Santiago on Jan. 17, followed by an arraignment for entering a plea for Jan. 23.
He is accused of opening fire in a baggage area of the airport last week, an incident that also left several people injured.
Shackled in a red prison jumpsuit, Santiago answered Valle's questions with mostly a yes or a no, doing so in a clear voice. He said he understands the federal charges against him, including causing death with a firearm, use of a firearm in a crime, and committing violence at an international airport resulting in serious bodily injury.
During the hearing, Santiago offered the first glimpses of his life prior to his alleged horrific acts on Friday afternoon.
Saying he earned about $15,000 a year in the military, Santiago noted that his expenses included about $560 a month in rent. He said he was working for a security company, Signal 88, in Anchorage, Alaska, until November, making about $2,100 a month.
Santiago also told the judge he owns no property and has only about $10 in the bank.
As he appeared before the judge, more than a dozen officers kept watch outside the courthouse, carrying rifles and wearing bulletproof vests. There were also mounted police and K-9 units.
Santiago's appearance followed disclosures over the weekend that he had undergone a mental health evaluation two months ago after telling an FBI agent in Alaska that his mind was being controlled by a U.S. intelligence agency.
Santiago walked into an Anchorage FBI office last November and displayed "erratic behavior" that prompted agents to turn him over to local law enforcement, FBI agent George Piro said in a news conference.
Santiago proclaimed during the November encounter that he was a victim of government mind control, the FBI said.
"During the interview, Mr. Santiago appeared agitated and incoherent, and made disjointed statements," Agent Marlin Ritzman of Anchorage said in a statement.
Santiago's newborn child was with him at the time. Law enforcement confiscated the firearm Santiago had in his vehicle.
Once the FBI turned Santiago over to local police in Alaska, he was taken to a medical facility for a psychiatric evaluation.
"There have been concerns raised about why Mr. Santiago was not placed on a no-fly list," Ritzman said. "I want to be clear ... we found no known ties to terrorism. He had broken no laws when he came into our office making disjointed comments about mind control."
Anchorage Police Chief Chris Tolley claimed, however, that during the November encounter Santiago had expressed "terroristic [sic] thoughts and believed he was being influenced by ISIS," an abbreviation for the Islamic State terrorist group.
On Dec. 8, roughly one month later, Santiago's gun was returned to him by the Anchorage Police Department, Tolley said.