Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

There's something about these mass shootings that requires us to try to find a pattern in them, even when there doesn't seem to be any good explanation.

And the pattern emerging from the Jan. 6 rampage at the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport is this: All five of the people who died had traveled to Fort Lauderdale to go on a cruise.

What to make of that?

Mere coincidence was my first thought. It could have been five people who were there to check into a beach hotel, or visit Aunt Molly, or go golfing.

It could have been me, for that matter. My family and I were in the baggage pick up area at FLL on Jan. 1 on our way back home from a trip to Puerto Rico.

In this time of terrorism and hate crimes, the motives of Esteban Santiago, who police identify as the suspect in the shootings, so far seem particularly random. A resident of Alaska, Santiago seems to have picked Fort Lauderdale on a whim, as far as anyone can tell.

Santiago had visited the FBI in Anchorage to complain that he was hearing voices, but they were reportedly from U.S. intelligence agencies, and presumably not telling him to target cruise tourists.

What to make of that pattern then?

You might start with the fact that Port Everglades is one of the three biggest cruise ports in the U.S. And the other two, PortMiami and Port Canaveral, are served by airports that attract far more fliers than Fort Lauderdale does.

Miami was the 11th busiest airport in the country in 2015, while Orlando was 14th. Fort Lauderdale ranked 21st.  According to the FAA, about 13 million people boarded a plane in Fort Lauderdale in 2015. And Port Everglades says about 3.6 million people embarked or debarked a multi-day cruise in 2015 (meaning more or less 1.8 million got on a ship).

So roughly 1 in every 7 people moving through the Fort Lauderdale airport is going on a cruise. Or maybe 1 in 10 if you allow for the Port Everglades drive market.

Still, for all five of the victims to be headed out on a ship? As I said, we look for patterns. But there's really no good explanation for that.

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