Tag Archives: nightclub

Orlando to buy Pulse nightclub to create a memorial

The city of Orlando, Florida, has announced plans to purchase the Pulse nightclub and eventually convert the site of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history into a memorial.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer told the Orlando Sentinel this week that the city has reached a deal to buy the LGBT nightclub for $2.25 million.

Dyer says the site should probably remain as-is for the next 12 to 18 months, as it has become a gathering place for mourners.

He says the city will reach out to the community for advice on how plans for the memorial should proceed.

The purchase price is $600,000 more than its appraised value.

The June 12 attack left 49 people dead and 53 wounded.

Gunman Omar Mateen was killed by SWAT team members.

Justice Department to review police response at the Pulse

 

The U.S. Justice Department plans a comprehensive review of the Orlando Police Department’s response to the mass shooting June 12 at the Pulse nightclub.

The review will be conducted by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services — known as the COPS Office.

Announcing the review, COPS director Ronald Davis said he commended Orlando Police Chief John Mina for his leadership in asking for the assessment.

“The lessons learned from this independent, objective and critical review of such a high-profile incident will benefit not only the Orlando Police Department and its community, it will also serve to provide all law enforcement critical guidance and recommendations for responding to future such incidents,” Davis said.

U.S. Attorney A Lee Bentley III, assigned to the Middle District of Florida, said, Mina’s decision to seek an independent review of the law enforcement response “is another example of his effective leadership.”

On June 12, on “Latin Night” at the LGBT nightclub in the central Florida city, a gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53 others. He pledged allegiance to Islamic State terrorists in his call to police.

Some raised questions about the police department’s response, specifically whether law enforcement waited too long to storm the club after Omar Mateen’s rampage began.

Mina has said an early exchange of gunfire between Mateen and police forced the gunman into a bathroom at the club, where he held hostages. About three hours passed between those early shots and the police-killing of Mateen.

COPS will assess:

  • OPD’s preparation and response to the mass shooting.
  • Strategies and tactics used during the incident.
  • How the department is managing the aftermath of the massacre.

Similar reviews have been conducted in other cities, including Minneapolis, Minnesota; San Bernardino, California; Ferguson, Missouri; Tampa, Florida; and Pasco, Washington.

In Ferguson, an assessment followed the police-shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, and the mass demonstrations that followed Brown’s death.

The federal review led to a series of recommendations for the city of Ferguson and the police department regarding diversity, officer training and policies for responding to protests.

COPS dates back to 1995 and was established under Bill Clinton’s administration.

Dispatcher: ‘Gunshots closer, multiple people screaming’

Orlando police dispatchers heard repeated gunfire, screaming and moaning from patrons of the Pulse nightclub who called to report that gunman Omar Mateen was opening fire inside the club, according to written logs released on June 28.

The first call of “shots fired” came in at 2:02 a.m. and the caller reported “multiple people down.”

One caller said Mateen had gone upstairs where six people were hiding. Dispatchers heard up to 30 gunshots in the background at another point as callers screamed and moaned.

“My caller is no longer responding, just an open line with moaning,” one dispatcher said in the report.

Another dispatcher wrote, “Hearing gunshots closer, multiple people screaming.”

A caller described Mateen as wearing a gray shirt and brown pants.

Mateen opened fire at the club on June 12, leaving 49 patrons dead and 53 injured in the worst mass shooting in recent U.S. history. In calls with the police after the shooting began, Mateen pledged his allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group, declared himself to be an Islamic soldier and demanded that the United States stop bombing Syria and Iraq, the FBI said.

“Saying he pledges to the Islamic State,” a dispatcher wrote at 2:40 a.m.

The report recounted where patrons hid in the nightclub: in an office upstairs, in a closet, in a dressing room and behind a stage. Ten people were hiding in the handicap stall of a bathroom. One caller described patrons using their hands to stop the bleeding of shooting victims.

At several points, callers relayed misinformation to the dispatchers. One caller said there was a second gunman and another thought Mateen had a bomb.

Mateen “is saying he is a terrorist … and has several bombs strapped to him in the downstairs female restroom,” the dispatcher notes said.

According to the time-stamped calls, nine people were evacuated through the air conditioner window of a dressing room at 4:21 a.m. At 5:07 a.m., dispatchers heard an explosion as SWAT team members tried to knock down a bathroom wall to free 15 hostages. At 5:17 a.m., dispatchers heard: “Bad guy down.”

Emails, inspection reports and texts released by the Orlando Fire Department on June 28 suggested that one of the exits at the Pulse nightclub wasn’t operable weeks before the massacre, but a fire department spokeswoman and an attorney for the club both said that wasn’t true.

The last fire inspection at Pulse was conducted in late May when the inoperable exit door was discovered, according to an email exchange between Orlando Fire Marshall Tammy Hughes and Fire Chief Roderick Williams. A follow-up visit was planned but hadn’t been assigned so it wasn’t known if the problem was fixed, the emails said.

But Pulse attorney Gus Benitez said that none of the six exits at the gay nightclub was blocked during the inspection. The inspector only found that a light bulb in an exit sign needed to be replaced and a fire extinguisher needed to be hung on wall. Both items were corrected, Benitez said in a statement.

Fire department spokeswoman Ashley Papagni backed up Benitez’s contention. She said the exit door was deemed inoperable because of the light bulb problem in the exit sign.

Pulse had twice the number of exits needed to accommodate its maximum occupancy of 300 patrons, according to the emails and texts.

The emails and dispatcher notes were released on the same day that a legal tug-of-war broke out over which court should be the venue for determining whether 911 tapes from the Pulse nightclub shootings can be made public.

Nearly two dozen news media organizations — including The Associated Press, CNN and The New York Times — contend city officials are wrongly withholding recordings of 911 calls and communications between gunman Mateen and the Orlando Police Department. Mateen was killed by police after a standoff in the shooting at the Pulse nightclub.

City officials claim the recordings are exempt under Florida law and are part of an FBI investigation.

A hearing had been scheduled this week in a Florida courtroom in Orlando but it was abruptly canceled after the U.S. Department of Justice was added to the case and Justice officials asked for it to be transferred to federal court.

Attorneys for the news media organizations said they will fight to keep the case in state court.

Omar Mateen’s violent tendencies date back to 3rd grade

As early as third grade, the Florida nightclub shooter talked frequently about sex and violence. Before finishing high school, Omar Mateen was suspended for a total of 48 days, including for fighting and hurting classmates, school records showed.

In the years since, other people reported having disturbing run-ins with Mateen, including a bartender who said he stalked her nearly a decade ago and sent so many uncomfortable Facebook messages that she blocked him on the social network.

Mateen, whose attack on the Pulse nightclub left 49 people dead and 53 wounded, enrolled in Florida public schools after his parents moved in 1991 from New York City to Port Saint Lucie, on the Atlantic coast.

Teachers “couldn’t seem to help him,” said Dan Alley, retired dean of Martin County High School. “We tried to counsel him and show him the error of his ways, but it never had the effect that we were hoping for.”

Some of the same behavior followed Mateen into adulthood. His first wife has complained that he beat her, and the security company where he worked once reassigned him after he made inflammatory comments about minorities.

The 29-year-old was killed in a shootout with police as they moved into the gay club, where he was holding hostages in a restroom.

At least some of his suspensions were for fighting that involved injuries. Others were for unspecified rule violations, according to the records.

For elementary and early middle school, Mateen attended class in neighboring St. Lucie County, where teachers said he was disruptive and struggled academically.

A third-grade teacher wrote that he was “very active … constantly moving, verbally abusive, rude, aggressive.” The teacher described “much talk about violence & sex,” with Mateen’s “hands all over the place — on other children, in his mouth.”

In seventh grade, school administrators moved Mateen to another class to “avoid conflicts with other students.” That same report said Mateen was doing poorly in several subjects because of “many instances of behavioral problems.”

In a 1999 letter to Mateen’s father, one of his middle school teachers wrote that the boy’s “attitude and inability to show self-control in the classroom create distractions.”

“Unfortunately, Omar has great difficulty focusing on his classwork since he often seeks the attention of his classmates through some sort of noise, disruption or distraction,” the letter said.

He withdrew from Martin County High School in 2003 and eventually graduated from Stuart Adult Community High School, records show.

In 10th grade, he received a five-day suspension on Sept. 13, 2001, two days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

The records offer no details except to call it a “rule violation.” But in recent media reports, classmates have said it was because he celebrated the attacks.

Mateen’s father, Seddique Mateen, “would not back up the school, and he would always take his son’s side,” Alley said.

Mateen’s father has suggested his son had developed anti-gay feelings after seeing two men kiss. But others have said he was a regular at the Orlando club and that he tried to pick up men there.

Dina McHugh recalled Mateen taunting her about being a lesbian when they were in middle school, before she was even aware of her own sexual orientation.

Now openly gay, McHugh said Mateen’s teasing more than 16 years ago stung deeply enough that she paid him back by kicking him in the crotch.

In an interview Friday near the Port St. Lucie supermarket where she works, McHugh said a teacher who saw the fracas took both students to the dean’s office. McHugh said they were both scolded and told to leave each other alone.

“He was the jerk of the class,” McHugh said. “He just got on everybody’s nerves. He found a way to get underneath everybody’s skin.”

After high school, Mateen attended Indian River Community College, graduating in 2006 with a degree in criminal justice technology.

It was around that time that he met a bartender from Fort Pierce.

“He was one of those guys who wouldn’t leave me alone,” Heather LaSalla told the Associated Press on Friday in an interview in the doorway of her home. She worked at a bar in Port St. Lucie at the time, and Mateen started coming there, mostly by himself.

The tone of Mateen’s Facebook messages made LaSalla uncomfortable, she said, but she never filed a criminal complaint. She ran into him again at a park in November when she was with her young son and Mateen was with his, she said.

“He still had that weird vibe to him,” LaSalla said, but she did not feel threatened as Mateen told her that he had a wife and talked about his son’s soccer league.

A year after graduating from community college, Mateen passed a psychological evaluation as part of his application to be a private security guard.

Florida records show he was deemed mentally and emotionally stable in September 2007, before he went to work for the Wackenhut Corp., later renamed G4S Secure Solutions. The papers indicate he took a written psychological test or had an evaluation by a psychologist or psychiatrist.

In a 2007 application for a gun license, he said he had never been diagnosed with a mental illness nor had any history of alcohol or substance abuse.

As part of the application, he had a medical exam. The paperwork was signed by Dr. Syed Shafeeq Rahman, who is also the imam at the Fort Pierce Islamic Center and has close ties to Mateens’ family. Mateen’s father was a board member at the mosque with about 120 members.

Rahman declined to discuss his relationship with Mateen and his father.

G4S has said that Mateen was subjected to “detailed company screening” when he was recruited in 2007 and was screened again in 2013 with no adverse findings.

But on the job, Mateen ran into trouble. He was removed from an assignment at the St. Lucie County courthouse in 2013 after he made provocative remarks about women, Jews and the shooting at Fort Hood, Sheriff Ken Mascara said.

The FBI investigated Mateen over those comments and again in 2014 because of his ties to a Syrian suicide bomber who went to the same mosque. Both cases were closed without the agency taking action.

The FBI has been investigating how much Mateen’s second wife, Noor Salman, knew about the plot.

On Friday, a person familiar with the investigation said Mateen’s wife text messaged him on the night of the shooting, asking her husband where he was and telling him she loved him.

The person was not authorized to publicly discuss the probe and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Associated Press writers Curt Anderson and Nicole Ashley in Miami, Holbrook Mohr in Fort Pierce, Eric Tucker in Washington, D.C., Michael Sisak in Philadelphia and AP researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.

 

Across the world, shock and condemnation at Orlando massacre

From across the world, officials and public figures are expressing condemnation and shock over the Florida mass shooting at the Pulse Orlando nightclub on June 12, when police say a gunman wielding an assault-type rifle opened fire, killing at least 49 people and wounding dozens.

FRANCE

The Eiffel Tower shined in the colors of a rainbow starting at 10:45 p.m. June 13 to honor victims of the mass shooting at an Orlando gay club.

Paris City Hall paid respects when U.S. and rainbow flags flew.

France feels deeply the horror of deadly attacks after the November terror attacks on a music hall, restaurants and bars and the main sports stadium killed 130. That was preceded by attacks on a satirical newspaper and a kosher grocery store. All were claimed by the Islamic State group.

BRITAIN

J.K. Rowling says one victim of the Orlando killings worked on the Harry Potter Ride at the Universal Studios theme park.

The author tweeted a picture of 22-year-old Luis Vielma in a Hogwarts school tie, and said: “I can’t stop crying.”

Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister David Cameron have sent messages of condolence from Britain for the attack.

Buckingham Palace says the queen sent a message to President Barack Obama saying: “Prince Philip and I have been shocked by the events in Orlando. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been affected.”

GERMANY

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says it’s important to continue with “our open, tolerant life” following attacks such as the mass shooting at an Orlando gay club.

Speaking during a visit to China on June 13, Merkel said that “we have a heavy heart” over the fact that “the hatred and malignancy of a single person” cost so many lives.

She added: “We are firmly determined, even when such murderous attacks put us into deep sorrow, to continue with our open, tolerant life.”

In downtown Berlin, dozens of people came together in front of the U.S. Embassy to mourn the victims of the Orlando shooting. People were setting white lilies and pink roses next to teddy bears in front of a rainbow flag and a U.S. flag.

“We are very much in shock, but we also want to show that nobody will succeed in intimidating us,” Joerg Steinert from the Lesbian and Gay Association said. “We’re here today to condemn this act.”

Djuke Nickelsen, carrying a bouquet of cornflowers and chamomile, said she’d come to show her solidarity with the victims and their relatives.

“I was very touched and sad these people were killed — all they did was embrace and enjoy life.”

UN HUMAN RIGHTS CHIEF

The U.N. human rights chief has denounced the mass shooting.

Zeid Ra’ad Hussein, commenting at the opening of the three-week Human Rights Council session in Geneva, chronicled a number of human rights abuses and concerns.

He added: “I also condemn with the greatest possible force the outrageous attacks by violent extremists on innocent people, chosen at random, or because of their presumed beliefs, or opinions, or — as we saw — their sexual orientation.”

CYPRUS

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades has condemned the Orlando attack, saying that such “cowardly attacks” incite the revulsion of the international community.

In a written statement, Anastasiades said the killings further galvanize the world’s determination to combat terrorism.

Anastasiades also expressed his and his government’s condolences to the victims’ families, the government and the American public.

ISRAEL

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin says in a letter to President Barack Obama that Israel stands “shoulder to shoulder with our American brothers and sisters” after the attack on the LGBT community. Rivlin sent his condolences, saying there is “no comfort for those who have had their loved ones torn away from them.”

The Orlando attack has dominated news in Israel, which has seen a wave of Palestinian attacks in recent months.

PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah says the mass shooting in U.S. history is a “senseless act of terror and hate” and that “Palestinians stand with the American people in this difficult time.”

The statement made no direct reference to the LGBT community. Homosexuality is deeply taboo in the conservative Palestinian society. Gay Palestinians tend to be secretive about their social lives and some have crossed into Israel to live openly safely.

The sentiment is reflected throughout the Arab and Muslim world. In Saudi Arabia, judges can issue the death penalty for same-sex relations.

AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah told the Cabinet as he opened the weekly meeting live on television on June 13 that the Orlando attack “tells us that terrorism knows no religion, boundary and geography. Terrorism must be eliminated.”

He says that Afghans “do not support terrorism but the victims of terrorist attacks” and offered his condolences to the people and government of the United States. “Our hearts and minds are with our U.S. partners.” He also urged “collective actions to end such attacks.”

PAKISTAN

Pakistan’s former military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf condemned the Orlando shooting, saying ‘this is a sobering reminder that extremism and terrorism are on the rise.’

Musharraf, who is facing court cases at home but left Pakistan in March for treatment abroad, says on his Facebook page the world must “address the root causes of global terrorism to suck the oxygen out of the extremist narrative of hate, intolerance, bigotry and the promotion of obscurantist ideology that is radicalizing vulnerable Muslims around the world.”

KUWAIT

Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry says the government strongly condemns the “terrorist attack” that took place in Orlando, adding that the escalation of such assaults requires a doubling down of efforts on the part of the international community to eliminate “this disgusting phenomenon.”

Last year, 27 people were killed by an Islamic State suicide bomber in Kuwait during prayer at a mosque in the capital.

QATAR

Qatar’s Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the Orlando mass shooting and called for concerted international efforts to “face criminal acts that target civilians.”

EGYPT

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry condemned the Orlando attack “in the strongest possible terms,” and offered condolences to the American government and people. “Egypt stands next to the American people in these difficult times, offering sincere condolences to the families of the victims and wishing the injured a speedy recovery.”

Egypt’s statement urged for international solidarity and a “firm, comprehensive approach to confronting terrorism, which knows no borders or religion, and is incompatible with all humanitarian principles and values.”

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

The United Arab Emirates condemned “the terrorist attack” in Orlando, expressed its solidarity with the United States and called on the international community to work to “eliminate the scourge of terrorism.”

LEBANON

Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry is strongly condemning the “cowardly” attack in Orlando, expressing solidarity with the victims and the U.S. government and blaming the massacre on the Islamic State group. It says no country or person is safe from “this global blind terrorism.”

The ministry statement says that “once more, this terrorist organization carries out a sordid terrorist act that clearly reflects the truth of its existing project based on animosity to civilization and humanity.”

The Islamic State’s radio on June 13 called the Orlando mass shooter “one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America,” though IS has not officially claimed the attack.

The Lebanese statement doesn’t explicitly mention attacks on homosexuals. But the religiously-mixed Lebanon is the most liberal among the region’s Arab nations regarding same-sex relationships, with an active LBGT community. Although technically homosexuality is against Lebanese law, activists have strongly challenged it in courts.

CHINA

China’s official Xinhua News Agency issued a statement saying President Xi Jinping had telephoned his American counterpart Barack Obama to express his condolences over the Orlando shootings.

Xi was quoted as saying that “on behalf of the government and people of China, I convey to President Obama and the American government and people my deepest sympathies, sincere condolences and deep grief for the victims.”

JAPAN

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has condemned the Orlando nightclub attack and expressed condolences to the victims and their families.

Abe told reporters in Oita that “Japan stands together with the people of the United States” and that “this despicable act of terror cannot be tolerated.”

AUSTRALIA

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that the Orlando mass shooting was “an attack on all of us — on all our freedoms, the freedom to gather together, to celebrate, to share time with friends.”

He said he spoke with the U.S. ambassador to Australia, John Berry, “and formally conveyed to him Australians’ sympathy, condolences and resolute solidarity in the face of this shocking act of hate and terror.”

“Together, at home and abroad, we continue the fight against terrorism and stand up for the values of our free nations,” Turnbull said.

SINGAPORE

The mass shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub happened shortly after a same-sex kiss was removed from a production of the musical “Les Miserables” in Singapore, and after the government said it would look into rules of foreign funding for gay pride parades like Pink Dot.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam said on Facebook: “Another senseless shooting. … It just goes on and on. The madness is not going to stop.”

MALAYSIA

The prime minister of Muslim-majority Malaysia, Najib Razak, said he was “horrified” by the Orlando mass shooting. “Islam abhors killing of innocent people,” he tweeted.

A few Malaysians, using pseudonyms, wrote on social media that they approved of the attack at the gay nightclub because the victims were “sinners,” but they were quickly condemned by many others.

Authorities investigating whether Pulse gunman had any help

Authorities on June 13 were investigating whether a gunman who killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando and declared his allegiance to Islamic State militants had received any help in carrying out the massacre.

The FBI and other agencies were looking at evidence inside and in the closed-off streets around the Pulse nightclub, where New York-born Omar Mateen perpetrated the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, and the worst attack on U.S. soil since the Sept. 11, 2001.

Mateen, the 29-year-old son of Afghan immigrants, was shot and killed by police who stormed the club early June 12 with armored cars after a three-hour siege.

Law enforcement officials were looking for clues as to whether anyone had worked with Mateen on the attack, said Lee Bentley, the U.S. attorney for the middle district of Florida.

“There is an investigation of other persons. We are working as diligently as we can on that,” Bentley said at a news conference. “If anyone else was involved in this crime, they will be prosecuted.”

Officials stressed they believed there had been no other attackers and had no evidence of a threat to the public.

Mateen’s rampage began about 2 a.m. June 12, when the club was packed with some 350 revelers. Many fled as the gunman raked the crowd with bullets from an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle and a pistol.

An initial wave of officers charged into the club and trapped Mateen in a bathroom, Orlando Police Chief John Mina told reporters. That action allowed many patrons to flee, although others were trapped in the restroom with Mateen, leading to the standoff.

“We were able to save and rescue dozens and dozens of people,” Mina said. Police negotiated with Mateen for about three hours before breaking a hole in the wall, which allowed hostages to escape.

Mateen also emerged from the hole and was shot dead by officers, police said.

Officials said on June 12 the death toll was 50. On June 13, they clarified that the figure included Mateen. Some 53 people were wounded and 29 remain hospitalized at Orlando Regional Medical Center, the hospital said on Twitter.

‘HAVEN’T HEARD ANYTHING’

By the morning of June 13, all but one of those killed had been identified and about half the families of the dead had been notified, officials said.

Other family members were desperate for news about their missing loved ones.

Julissa Leal, 18, and her mother drove to the Florida city from Lafayette, Louisiana, in search of her brother, 27-year-old Frank Hernandez. They knew he was at the club with his boyfriend, who lost him in the chaos.

“We haven’t heard anything, don’t know anything,” Leal said, fighting back tears. “I’m going to see him again. I’m going to see him again.”

Mateen called emergency services during the shooting and pledged allegiance to the leader of the militant Islamic State group, officials said.

Mateen’s father said his son was not radicalized but indicated the gunman had strong anti-gay feelings.

Mateen’s ex-wife described him as mentally unstable and violent toward her.

Islamic State reiterated on June 13 a claim of responsibility. “One of the Caliphate’s soldiers in America carried out a security invasion where he was able to enter a crusader gathering at a nightclub for homosexuals in Orlando,” the group said in a broadcast on its Albayan Radio.

The group’s claim of responsibility does not mean it directed the attack, as it offered nothing to indicate coordination with the gunman.

CANDIDATES DEBATE RESPONSE

President Barack Obama denounced the attack as an act of terror and hate and said on June 13 that the gunman seemed to have been inspired by extremist ideas.

“It appears that the shooter was inspired by various extremist information that was disseminated over the internet,” Obama told reporters at the White House. “It does appear that at the last minute he announced allegiance to ISIL (Islamic State), but there is no direct evidence so far that he was directed.”

The attack reignited the debate over how best to confront violent Islamist militancy, and immediately became a sharp point of disagreement in the campaign for the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, speaking on MSNBC, said the United States should walk a fine line in bolstering security without demonizing Muslims, and also called for tougher gun safety measures.

Wealthy businessman and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, in interviews with CNN and Fox News, criticized the U.S. Muslim population for not reporting suspicions to authorities, and reiterated his call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.

The carnage early on June 12 occurred in the heart of Orlando, about 15 miles northeast of the Walt Disney World Resort. The city is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, drawing some 62 million visitors a year.

FATHER: ‘I DON’T FORGIVE HIM’

Mateen was an armed guard at a gated retirement community and had worked for a global security firm for nine years. He had cleared two company background screenings, the latest in 2013, according to G4S, the firm.

Mateen’s father, Seddique Mir Mateen, said in an interview at his home in Port Saint Lucie, Florida, that he was angered by his son’s actions.

“Even though he is my son I admit this is terrorist act. This is terrorizing. I don’t forgive him,” the father said. “If you see his wife, what she is going through his poor wife and his son 3-1/12 years old, such a nice son, he should’ve thought about that.”

Mateen’s former wife, Sitora Yusufiy, told reporters near Boulder, Colorado, that she had been beaten by Mateen during angry outbursts in which he would “express hatred towards everything.”

Authorities said on June 12 that Mateen had been twice questioned by FBI agents in 2013 and 2014 after making comments to co-workers about supporting militant groups, but neither interview led to evidence of criminal activity.

Mateen visited Saudi Arabia in 2011 and 2012 for religious pilgrimages, a government spokesman said.

The attack in Orlando came six months after a married couple in California — a U.S.-born son of Pakistani immigrants and a Pakistani-born woman he married in Saudi Arabia — killed 14 people at an office holiday party in San Bernardino. The couple, who were inspired by Islamic State, died in a shootout with police hours after the mass shooting.

The most deadly attack on the nation’s soil inspired by violent Islamist militancy was on Sept. 11, 2001, when al Qaeda-trained hijackers crashed jetliners into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, killing some 3,000 people.

Additional reporting by Barbara Liston and Yara Bayoumy in Fort Pierce, Fla., Zachary Fagenson in Port St. Lucie, Fla., Omar Fahmy in Cairo, Michelle Martin in Berlin and Susan Heavey, Caren Bohan, David Alexander and Jonathan Landay in Washington; Writing by Roberta Rampton and Scott Malone.

People attend a candlelight vigil held in San Francisco. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach
People attend a candlelight vigil held in San Francisco. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach

Governor seeks emergency declaration after massacre

Florida Gov. Rick Scott on June 13 requested a federal emergency declaration under the Stafford Act in the wake of the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando.

“Yesterday’s terror attack was an attack on our state and entire nation,” Scott said in a news statement. “This morning, I have asked President Obama to declare an emergency so that the full resources of the federal government can be made available for all those impacted by this horrific massacre.”

The governor, added, “I have remained in constant communication with federal, state and local law enforcement. I have spoken with our hospitals who are caring for those who are wounded and recovering. I have also been in contact with some of the victims’ families to let them know we are grieving with them and will be there for them every step of the way. Our state is mourning, but the Orlando community is strong. We are all coming together, and we will get through this together. I ask every American to continue to pray for our state and nation and all those affected by this terror attack.”

Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera also issued a statement. He said, “We are devastated, angry and disgusted by the horrifying act of domestic terrorism that took place here in our state. I have been on the ground in Orlando, and the sense of community and love we see here is proof that we are a resilient people. We as Americans have shown and will continue to show that we cannot and will not be intimidated into changing our way of life by evil. The state of Florida has offered all resources available, and will continue to be in constant contact with all agencies involved. Our prayers are with those and their families devastated by last night’s act of terror, and we will be doing everything possible to support.”

Scott has tried to avoid acknowledging the Pulse is a gay dance club and that the many victims are from the LGBT community.

He’s been an ardent opponent of same-sex marriage and defended the state ban on such marriages in federal and state courts. Most recently the Republican governor signed legislation protecting clergy who want to refuse services to LGBT people.

Largest mass shooting in U.S. history, shooter known to FBI

A gunman armed with an assault rifle killed 50 people at a packed gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida on June 12 in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history which authorities described as a possible act of terrorism.

Fifty-three people were wounded in the rampage. It was the deadliest single U.S. mass shooting incident, eclipsing the 2007 massacre of 32 people at Virginia Tech university.

“Today we’re dealing with something that we never imagined and is unimaginable,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said, more than doubling an earlier estimate that about 20 bodies had been found.

Police killed the shooter, who was identified as Omar S. Mateen, a 29-year-old Florida resident and U.S. citizen. A top U.S. congressman said Mateen may have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State militant group.

U.S. officials cautioned, however, that they had no immediate evidence of any direct connection with Islamic State or any other foreign extremist group, nor had they uncovered any contacts between the gunman and any such group.

A police officer working as a security guard inside the Pulse nightclub exchanged fire with the suspect at about 2 a.m., authorities said. Pulse was crowded with some 350 revelers at a Latin music night.

“Everyone get out of pulse and keep running,” the club’s management wrote on Facebook as the incident unfolded.

A hostage situation developed, and three hours later SWAT team officers used armored cars to storm the club before shooting dead the gunman. It was unclear when the victims were killed.

Dozens of terrified patrons, some of whom had been hiding in restrooms, were rescued. One officer was injured when he was hit in his helmet while exchanging fire with the gunman, police said.

Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on a congressional intelligence committee, noted that the Orlando shooting took place during Ramadan, and that Islamic State leaders who control territory in Syria and Iraq have urged attacks during this time.

According to local law enforcement, the shooter had declared his allegiance to Islamic State, Schiff said in a statement, all of which “indicates an ISIS-inspired act of terrorism.”

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted a brief statement after the attacks, but did not speculate on the motives of the gunman.

ALLEGIANCE, INSPIRATION

FOX News Channel reported that Mateen was known to the FBI as recently as 2013, citing an unnamed source.

If confirmed as an act of terrorism, it would be the deadliest such attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001, when al Qaeda-trained hijackers crashed jetliners into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, killing some 3,000 people.

A pair of ethnic Chechen brothers killed three people and injured more than 260 with a pair of homemade pressure-cooker bombs at the Boston Marathon in April 2013.

Asked if the FBI suspected the gunman might have had inclinations toward militant Islamism, including a possible sympathy for Islamic State, Ronald Hopper, an assistant FBI agent in charge, told reporters: “We do have suggestions that the individual may have leanings toward that particular ideology. But right now we can’t say definitively.”

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who sits on the Senate intelligence and foreign relations committees, told CNN he understood that the gunman had worked for a security company and so would have undergone some background checks.

President Barack Obama ordered the federal government to provide any assistance needed to Florida police investigating the shooting, the White House said.

The attacker was carrying an AR-15 style assault rifle and a handgun, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said. He was also carrying an unidentified “device”, said Orlando Police Chief John Mina.

Video footage showed police officers and civilians carrying some people away from the club and bending over others on the ground. Dozens of police cruisers, ambulances and other emergency vehicles could be seen in the area.

Dyer said 39 people were killed inside the club, two outside, and nine others died after being rushed to hospital.

The choice of target was especially heart-wrenching for members of the U.S. lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, said LGBT advocacy group Equality Florida.

“Gay clubs hold a significant place in LGBTQ history. They were often the only safe gathering place and this horrific act strikes directly at our sense of safety,” the group said in a statement. “We will await the details in tears of sadness and anger.”

Orlando has a population of more than 270,000 and is the home of the Disney World amusement park and many other tourist attractions that drew 62 million visitors in 2014.

It was the second deadly shooting at an Orlando night spot in as many nights. Late Friday, a man thought to be a deranged fan fatally shot singer Christina Grimmie, a former contestant on “The Voice,” as she was signing autographs after a concert.

Man arrested in California

A man was arrested in California with assault weapons and possible explosives on Sunday and told authorities he was in the Los Angeles area for the gay Pride festival, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Additional reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Chris Michaud in New York and Mary Milliken in Los Angeles; Writing by Frank McGurty, Scott Malone and Daniel Wallis.

Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse night club.  — PHOTO: REUTERS/Steve Nesius
Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse night club. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Steve Nesius
Demetrice Naulings sobs outside the Orlando Police Headquarters where police are interviewing witnesses in the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Steve Nesius
Demetrice Naulings sobs outside the Orlando Police Headquarters where police are interviewing witnesses in the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Steve Nesius
Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Steve Nesius
Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Steve Nesius

 

 

LGBT rights groups respond to mass shooting, killer identified

Equality Florida, a statewide LGBT civil rights group, issued a statement following the mass shooting early June 12 at the Pulse, a gay dance club in Orlando.

The shooting occurred just days after the conclusion of the area’s Gay Days LGBT Pride celebration. Authorities identified the killer as 29-year-old Omar Mateen of Fort Pierce, Florida.

Equality Florida, in its statement, said, “We are reeling from the tragic news that a gunman opened fire on the 2am capacity crowd at Pulse….

“We are heartbroken and angry that senseless violence has once again destroyed lives in our state and in our country.

“Gay clubs hold a significant place in LGBTQ history. They were often the only safe gathering place and this horrific act strikes directly at our sense of safety. June commemorates our community standing up to anti-LGBTQ violence at the Stonewall Inn, the nightclub that has become the first LGBTQ site recognized as a national monument.

“We have received a steady stream of emails and messages from those seeking to help or to make sense of the senseless. We make no assumptions on motive. We will await the details in tears of sadness and anger. We stand in solidarity and keep our thoughts on all whose lives have been lost or altered forever in this tragedy.”

Also early June 12, Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, issued this statement, “We are deeply shocked by this appalling act of violence against the LGBTQ community and our friends. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones and with the injured. While the motive behind this crime remains unclear, our resolve to live openly and proudly remains undiminished. Now is a time for the whole nation to stand together against violence.”

At about 10:30 a.m. on June 12, the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group, issued a statement on the mass shooting and on hate crimes in America.

HRC president Chad Griffin said, “We are grieving for the victims and our hearts are broken for their friends, families, and for the entire community. This tragedy has occurred as our community celebrates pride, and now more than ever we must come together as a nation to affirm that love conquers hate.”

He continued, “We are grateful that President Obama has directed the FBI and other federal agencies to support the investigation of this attack and the LGBTQ community during this time.”

HRC said while the shooting in Florida had not yet been labeled a hate crime, more than 20 percent of hate crimes reported nationally in 2014 targeted people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the most recent FBI statistics available.

Hate crimes based on sexual orientation currently account for 22 percent of all hate crimes in Florida, according to a report by Equality Florida, trailing only race as the most common motivation.

As a percentage of the state population, LGBTQ Floridians are at the highest risk of being targeted with a hate crime. Florida law provides increased penalties for hate crimes based on sexual orientation.

A response from GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis: “Our hearts are broken for the victims and families of the horrific tragedy in Orlando. This unimaginable atrocity has not only robbed countless people of their loved ones, it has also stolen a sense of safety within the LGBTQ community. As we mourn the victims of this unspeakable attack, we are also reminded that the work to end hate in all its forms must continue.”

From Lambda Legal acting executive director Fran Goldstein: “Lambda Legal joins the people around the country in expressing our sorrow and outrage at the terrible and deadly attack on patrons at a gay bar in Orlando, Florida. Our first thoughts, as they must be, are with the loved ones of those who were killed and with those who were injured or who witnessed this horrific assault. We offer our deepest sympathies and our hopes that those who were wounded will recover.

“Though little is known at this hour about the attacker, the police have characterized this as an act of domestic terrorism and news reports indicate that it was a hate crime. It occurred during LGBT Pride Month, only days after 150,000 people participated in a pride celebration in Orlando.

“As an organization that fights every day for justice for LGBT people and people living with HIV, we also raise our voice this morning to say, ‘No more hatred and violence against our community!’ We will continue to stand up for the dignity and equality of every member of the communities we represent – to demand fair and effective responses from police and the criminal justice systems; to fight for laws that prohibit discrimination, not encourage or require it; and to expect public officials and leaders across the country to unite us in justice.”

Please check back for updates to this story.

President briefed after mass shooting at Orlando nightclub

President Barack Obama was briefed early June 12 by Lisa Monaco, assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, on the shooting in Orlando, Florida.

The White House issued this statement: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of the victims. The president asked to receive regular updates as the FBI, and other federal officials, work with the Orlando Police to gather more information, and directed that the federal government provide any assistance necessary to pursue the investigation and support the community.”

The Associated Press reported early June 12 that a gunman wielding an assault-type rifle and a handgun took hostages and opened fire inside the crowded Pulse nightclub, killing as many as 50 of people and wounding dozens of others.

The gunman died in a gunfight with SWAT officers, police said.

Police Chief John Mina also said the shooter had some sort of “suspicious device.” He said the suspect exchanged gunfire with an officer working at the gay dance club around 2 a.m. June 12, then went back inside and took hostages.

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.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement Special Agent in Charge Danny Banks said during a news conference that the mass shooting is being investigated as an act of terrorism. He says authorities are looking into whether this was an act of domestic or international terror and if the shooter acted alone.

Later in the morning, authorities identified the killer as 29-year-old Omar Mateen of Fort Pierce, Florida.

At about 10 a.m. on June 12, Equality Florida, the statewide LGBT civil rights group, issued this statement, “We are reeling from the tragic news that a gunman opened fire on the 2am capacity crowd at Pulse….

“We are heartbroken and angry that senseless violence has once again destroyed lives in our state and in our country.

“Gay clubs hold a significant place in LGBTQ history. They were often the only safe gathering place and this horrific act strikes directly at our sense of safety. June commemorates our community standing up to anti-LGBTQ violence at the Stonewall Inn, the nightclub that has become the first LGBTQ site recognized as a national monument.

“We have received a steady stream of emails and messages from those seeking to help or to make sense of the senseless. We make no assumptions on motive. We will await the details in tears of sadness and anger. We stand in solidarity and keep our thoughts on all whose lives have been lost or altered forever in this tragedy.”