- Shooter identified as Omar S. Mateen
- Death toll rose to 50 people
- Governor Rick Scott declares a state of emergency in Florida
- President Barack Obama said shooter was ‘filled with hatred’
- So-called Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack
- Names of victims are starting to be released
ORLANDO, Fla. – Omar S. Mateen has been identified as the gunman who killed 50 people and injured 53 others when he opened fire inside Pulse Nightclub, a crowded Florida gay nightclub, early Sunday morning.
The massacre is the worst mass shooting in United States history.
Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in Florida saying officials “will devote every resource available to assist with the shooting in Orlando.”
Police Chief John Mina also said the shooter had an assault rifle, a handgun and some sort of “suspicious device.” He said the suspect exchanged gunfire with an officer working at the club around 2 a.m., then went back inside and took hostages among more than 320 people inside.
Around 5 a.m., authorities sent in a SWAT team to rescue the hostages, and the suspect then died in a gunfight with those officers. Mina said police have not determined an exact number of casualties, but that over 50 people are dead.
At least 53 other people were hospitalized, most in critical condition, officials said. Dr. Mike Cheatham is a trauma surgeon at Orlando Regional Medical Center where 46 patients were taken.
“I think we will see the death toll rise,” Cheatham said.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said all of the dead were killed with the assault rifle.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Ron Hooper said there’s no further threat to Orlando or the surrounding area.
Police have identified the gunman of the Florida nightclub shooting as Omar Mateen.
Mateen, born in 1986 in New York, is a U.S. citizen from Port Saint Lucie, FL. His family was from Afghanistan before they moved to Florida.
Hooper of the FBI says Mateen purchased at least two firearms legally within the last week or so.
Mateen’s ex-wife, Sitora Yusufiy, told reporters that her former husband was bipolar and “mentally unstable.”
Mateen was short-tempered and had a history with steroids, she said in remarks televised from Boulder, Colorado. She described him as religious but not radical. He wanted to be a police officer and applied to a police academy, but she had no other details.
The couple was together for only four months, and the two had no contact for the last seven or eight years, she said.
Islamic State claims responsibility for attack
US Senator Bill Nelson told reporters Sunday afternoon that an Islamic State-affiliated news agency has released a statement claiming responsibility for the attack.
Intelligence group SITE also confirmed that the terrorist group said an “IS fighter was behind the deadly shooting.”
FBI spokesperson Ron Hooper said at the press conference Sunday afternoon that Mateen was known to police for having ties to the so-called Islamic State, and had been dealt with on two separate occasions.
A law enforcement official said the gunman made a 911 call from the club in which he professed allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The official was familiar with the investigation, but was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Family members had previously stated that the attack didn’t have anything to do with religion.
At noon on Sunday, a SWAT truck and a bomb disposal unit were on the scene of an address associated with the man named as the shooter. There was a media staging area set up about a block away from the apartment complex in a residential neighbourhood.
Police had said previously on Twitter that there was a “controlled explosion” at the scene of the shooting at Pulse Orlando. Mina said that noise was caused by a device intended to distract the shooter.
A woman who was outside the dance club early Sunday was trying to contact her 30-year-old son, Eddie, who texted her when the shooting happened and asked her to call police. He told her he ran into a bathroom with other club patrons to hide. He then texted her: “He’s coming.”
“The next text said: ‘He has us, and he’s in here with us,”‘
“That was the last conversation.”
The city of Orlando is publishing the names of those killed in a massacre at a gay nightclub on its website after their families have been contacted.
As of 10:30 p.m. Sunday, the list had eight names. Fifty people were killed.
Shooter Omar Mateen was killed, but his name is not on the list.
Fifty-three more were hospitalized.
The city’s website includes the #PrayforOrlando hashtag and says officials are “working tirelessly” to get information to families.
Orlando officials said families looking for information on victims can call a hotline for updates.
Families are also asked to go to the main entrance of Orlando Regional Medical Centre.
The ORMC went under lock down at the beginning of the incident, and will remain on lockdown due to patient safety.
Blood donation company OneBlood has put out a news release asking for people with O negative, O positive and AB blood types to donate. Gov. Scott also urged people to donate.
The ORMC tweeted that there is enough blood on hand, but donations are always appreciated.
Journalists on scene say counsellors are being called in to help victims and friends cope with the devastating event.
Paul Brinkmann, a reporter with the Orlando Sentinel, says an LGBT community centre in the area has a hotline set up for counselling.
Orlando police are also offering a live chat for people who need emotional support.
Also, on Sunday morning Facebook added a “Facebook Safety Check” for people to find out whether friends and family have tagged themselves as safe. The social network is using the heading “The Shooting in Orlando, Florida.”
At a press conference Sunday afternoon, President Barack Obama said the attack was “an act of terror and an act of hate.”
He also said the shooter was “a person filled with hatred.”
Support for the victims and condemnation for the attack has been pouring in from all corners of the world.
Close to home, Florida’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations offered a statement:
“We condemn this monstrous attack and offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all those killed or injured. The Muslim community joins our fellow Americans in repudiating anyone or any group that would claim to justify or excuse such an appalling act of violence,” said Rasha Mubarak, Orlando regional coordinator.
Abroad, many world leaders have expressed their support for the United States and the victims.
“Our heart is with our American brothers,” Italian Premier Matteo Renzi tweeted.
French President Francois Hollande said in a statement he “condemns with horror” the mass killing in Florida and “expresses the full support of France and the French with America’s authorities and its people in this difficult time.”
In a release Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is shocked and saddened by the attack.
Trudeau says he and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, are offering condolences and prayers to the families and friends of those lost and wish full recovery to those who were injured in the attack.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said her thoughts were with the entire LGBTQ2S community.
Stuart Milk, co-founder of the Harvey Milk foundation, released statement Sunday Morning
“These victims of a hate crime targeting LGBT club had their futures stolen, had their dreams stolen, their potential contributions stolen from us all,” Milk said.
Eye witness accounts
Dozens of police vehicles, including a SWAT team, swarmed the area around the club. At least two police pickup trucks were seen taking what appeared to be shooting victims to the Orlando Regional Medical Center.
Pulse Orlando posted on its own Facebook page around 2 a.m.: “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.” Just before 6 a.m., the club posted an update: “As soon as we have any information we will update everyone. Please keep everyone in your prayers as we work through this tragic event. Thank you for your thoughts and love.”
The owner of Pulse Nightclub, Jackie Orozco, released a statement on the massacre expressing her “profound sadness and condolences all who have lost loved ones.”
“Like everyone in the country, I am devastated about the horrific events that have taken place today,” Orazco wrote. “From the beginning, Pulse has served as a place of love and acceptance for the LGBTQ community.”
Jon Alamo said he was at the back of one of the club’s rooms when a man holding a weapon came into the front of the room.
“I heard 20, 40, 50 shots,” Alamo said. “The music stopped.”
Club-goer Rob Rick said it happened around, 2 a.m., just before closing time.
“Everybody was drinking their last sip,” he said.
He estimated more than 100 people were still inside when he heard shots, got on the ground and crawled toward a DJ booth. A bouncer knocked down a partition between the club area and an area in the back where only workers are allowed. People inside were able to then escape through the back of the club.
Christopher Hansen said he was in the VIP lounge when he started hearing gunshots. He continued to hear shooting even after he emerged, where police were telling people to back away from the club. He saw injured people being tended to across the street.
“I was thinking, are you kidding me? So I just dropped down. I just said please, please, please, I want to make it out,” he said. “And when I did, I saw people shot. I saw blood. You hope and pray you don’t get shot.”
He continued to hear shooting even after he emerged, where police were telling people to back away from the club. He saw injured people being tended to across the street.
The incident follows the fatal shooting late Friday of 22-year-old singer Christina Grimmie, who was killed after her concert in Orlando by a 27-year-old Florida man who later killed himself. Grimmie was a YouTube sensation and former contestant on “The Voice.”
*With files from Kevin Nielson, The Associated Press