Domestic Violence Allegations Were A Missed Red Flag Before Florida Mass Shooting

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In the year before Esteban Santiago allegedly opened fire on unsuspecting travelers at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Friday, killing five and injuring six others, he had at least five run-ins with police in Anchorage, Alaska.

Many involved allegations of domestic violence, including two reports of strangulation that don’t appear to have been taken seriously.

In January 2016, Santiago was arrested after his girlfriend told Anchorage police he attacked her while she was in the bathroom. He broke the door, forced his way in and began to strangle her, she said.

“She stated that he continued to yell at her to ‘get the fuck out bitch’ while strangling her and smacking her in the side of the head,” the responding police officer wrote.

Strangling his girlfriend ― impeding her ability to breathe ― shows a capacity to kill, experts say. Years of research has established that the act of strangulation is an important predictor of future lethal violence: If a woman has been choked by an intimate partner, she is seven times more likely to become a homicide victim in the future.

Strangulation, defined as cutting off air supply or blood circulation by applying pressure to the neck, can lead to neurological damage within seconds and death in under five minutes. Despite its danger, strangulation often leaves no visible injuries, making it particularly difficult to prosecute. Because of that, experts say, the offense has historically been treated as minor, akin to a slap or a punch.

But over the past 10 years, most states, including Alaska, have passed laws to treat strangulation as a serious, felony-level offense ― even in cases where there are no observable injuries.

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