Continue reading 2016 Rewind: Tragedy at Pulse, but love overcomes hate
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Audio captures police strategizing about Pulse shooter
Police negotiators talking to the Orlando nightclub gunman at first weren’t sure if the person they had on the phone was actually in the Pulse nightclub, according to audio recordings.
The recordings between police negotiators and shooter Omar Mateen don’t stray from transcripts of conversations released previously by the city of Orlando.
But they do capture police officials strategizing among themselves about how to talk to Mateen, who hung up several times during the three-hour standoff at the gay nightclub.
Circuit Judge Margaret Schreiber ruled this week that Mateen’s calls should be made public.
But she won’t rule on releasing other 911 calls from the mass shooting until she has listened to them.
More than two dozen news groups, including The Associated Press, have been fighting the city in court over the release of more than 600 calls dealing with the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
The city has released about two-thirds of the calls but is still withholding the 232 calls that lawyers for the city say depict suffering or killing and are exempt from Florida’s public records laws.
The media groups have argued that the city’s application of the exemption is too broad and that the 911 calls will help the public evaluate the police response to the shooting at the gay nightclub.
In one of the calls released, a police official can be heard early on saying he’s not convinced the person on the call is in the club.
At another point, the lead police negotiator, named “Andy,” said, “He sounds like he is in a very sterile environment, like he’s at a home or an apartment.”
But another police official said Mateen could be in an office or bathroom.
The recordings also show how the negotiators were feeling out whether they had accurately identified the suspect.
“We called him Omar,” said Andy, who was then interrupted by another police official who says, “He didn’t deny it.”
Between calls, they mulled over what Mateen had told them, such as his refusal to answer if he had an accomplice.
They discussed Mateen’s claims that he was wearing a vest and that he had explosives in a car outside the nightclub. He wasn’t wearing a bomb vest and there were no explosives in a car, but police officials didn’t know that at the time.
“He said the bombs are in a car in the parking lot. He’s not confirming anything,” a police official can be heard saying in the background as Andy implores Mateen to respond.
Andy tells another police official that Mateen had claimed to be wearing a vest but he didn’t know what type.
“A dress vest. A bulletproof vest, or a bomb vest. That’s all I got. We questioned him on it and he shut down,” the police negotiator said.
The judge allowed family members of the 49 patrons who died to testify about whether they wanted the remaining 911 calls made public. Some opposed the release while others were OK with the transcript being made public.
“It would be extremely difficult for family and friends to listen to these calls,” said Jessica Silva, whose brother, Juan Rivera Velazquez, died with his partner in Pulse. “Just listening to one of the calls … We can recognize voices. Just listening to them screaming … How are we going to feel?”
The FBI has offered no indication of when the probe into the shooting that also left 53 people seriously wounded will be done.
An FBI spokeswoman didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment.
Aileen Carillo, whose brother, Simon Adrian Carillo Fernandez, died in the nightclub, said she would like to listen to the calls to help her understand what happened, but didn’t want them to be made public.
“I would like to know what happened. We haven’t really heard what happened. We are unaware of the facts,” Carillo said on the witness stand through a Spanish interpreter.
Anti-gay pastor who denounced Orlando victims charged with molestation
A anti-gay Christian pastor who said victims of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting got “what they deserve” faces charges of molesting a young male member of his congregation.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested Ken Adkins, 56, on one count of aggravated child molestation and one count of child molestation on Aug. 26. He’s currently being held at the Glynn County Jail.
A special agent told The Florida Times Union that the investigation is focused on molestations that allegedly occurred at Adkins’ church, in a vehicle and at a victim’s home.
On June 16, Adkins tweeted, “Been through so much with these Jacksonville Homosexuals that I don’t see none of them as victims. I see them as getting what they deserve!!” The tweet has since been removed and Adkins’ Twitter account is now private.
Adkins has a history of anti-gay activism. He opposed expansion of Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance to include LGBT people. Adkins posted crude cartoons on Twitter of people who backed the expansion, including one depicting pro-expansion officials in a bathroom stall.
The anti-gay pastor is also an outspoken supporter of the North Caroline “bathroom bill,” which forces transgender people to use public facilities designated for their birth sex rather than their sexual identity.
Adkins also has a history of public controversies. Last month a Georgia Court rejected Adkin’s latest bankruptcy filing and accused him of perjury in relation to the case.
Still, Adkins holds influence in Jacksonville and south Georgia politics. Florida Politics reported that the city’s chief financial officer tapped the pastor as part of his campaign team when he ran for mayor in 2006. A judicial candidate paid Adkins for consulting his campaign; Adkins and others in his faith community hurled charges of racism at the candidate’s opponent.
The June 12 attack on Pulse nightclub, which served a primarily LGBT clientele, was the largest mass shooting in the nation’s history. Gunman Omar Mateen killed 49 people and injured another 53 before he was shot and killed by local police.
Autopsies suggest killer targeted victims at Pulse nightclub
More than a third of the 49 patrons killed during the Pulse nightclub massacre were shot in the head, and most of the victims had multiple bullet wounds, according to autopsy reports released this week.
Only two victims at the LGBT club had traces of soot, gunpowder or stippling, meaning most of the victims were likely more than 3 feet away when they were shot in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
The autopsies show that about half of the victims had five wounds or more, and one victim had 13 wounds.
Gunman Omar Mateen was killed during a shootout with law enforcement officers following a three-hour standoff June 12.
“It shows he shot a lot and had a lot of ammo,” said Dr. Stephen Cina, a Colorado-based forensic pathologist, who has no connection to the case.
The large number of head injuries and multiple wounds on victims suggests Mateen was targeting his victims rather than shooting randomly, said Josh Wright, a former Florida Department of Law Enforcement firearms analyst who now has a forensics consulting firm in Tallahassee.
“I wouldn’t expect to have those many hits on those many people if you weren’t actually trying to take aim and make sure you hit your target rather than running around, spraying bullets,” said Wright, who also has no connection to the case.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating whether anyone died from friendly fire during the shootout at the gay nightclub.
Officers knocked down a wall and stormed the club, killing Mateen in hail of gunfire. Mateen, who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, was shot eight times by police.
Cina said without evidence of stippling — particles of gunpowder in the skin — it’s difficult to know if the victims were shot in the head point-blank.
Michael Knox, a Jacksonville-based firearms expert, said the large number of victims with multiple wounds could also suggest Mateen was firing rapidly at groups of people in the crowded nightclub.
The unusual paths of some gunshots support eyewitnesses who said people were crouching under tables and hiding in toilet stalls.
“Some tried to run or hide under tables so you’re going to have these weird bullet paths,” he said.
Largest LGBT-rights group urges steps to curb gun violence
The Human Rights Campaign, the largest U.S. LGBT-rights organization, on Friday called for several measures to curb gun violence in the aftermath of the attack that killed 49 patrons and staff at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
HRC endorsed steps to limit access to assault-style rifles, expand background checks, and limit access to firearms for suspected terrorists and people with a history of domestic abuse.
But despite the worldwide outrage over the June 12 attack in Orlando by a gunman armed with an assault rifle, there is no indication as yet that tougher federal gun-control measures are forthcoming to address the nation’s epidemic of gun violence.
In the Senate, a filibuster by Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut did little to break GOP obstruction in Congress over gun restrictions. Republicans are standing firm against any new legislation unless the National Rifle Association, which represents the financial interests of weapons and ammunition makers, first approves it.
President Barack Obama, who visited the victims’ families in Orlando, called on lawmakers to act.
“Those who defend the easy accessibility of assault weapons should meet these families and explain why that makes sense,” Obama said.
HRC’s board of directors approve the resolution on the gun measures Thursday evening at a special meeting. The organization said it was the first time in its 36-year history that it had called such a meeting to address a policy matter that extended far beyond the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The HRC’s president, Chad Griffin, blamed the massacre on “a toxic combination of two things: a deranged, unstable individual who had been conditioned to hate (LGBT) people, and easy access to military-style guns.”
The safety of LGBT people “depends on our ability to end both the hatred toward our community and the epidemic of gun violence that has spiraled out of control,” Griffin said.
The HRC noted that according to the latest FBI statistics, more than 20 percent of hate crimes reported nationally in 2014 targeted people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
It also repeated its call for Congress to pass an LGBT-inclusive federal nondiscrimination law, and for legislatures to do likewise at the state level. At present, only 18 states have comprehensive statewide laws banning discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity.
Equality California, a major LGBT-rights group in California, also called for new gun-safety measures on Friday, urging action at both the federal and state level. It endorsed a package of bills in the California legislature, including measures that would require federal licensing of ammunition vendors, ban possession of large-capacity magazines, fund a center for research into firearm-related violence, and require anyone whose firearm is lost or stolen to notify law enforcement within five days of the loss.
See also: 20-plus years of the NRA’s anti-gay hate
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.
Orlando shooter used gay apps, frequented Pulse nightclub
Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen used gay apps and regularly visited Pulse before he shot more than 100 people inside, killing 49, according to multiple news sources.
That raises the the possibilities that Mateen either was acting out of self-loathing or casing the nightclub for an attack and trying to find victims online.
Another possible motive: the American-born Muslim was radicalized online by militant Islamic groups. He phoned police to pledge allegiance to ISIS at some point during his murderous rampage at the club.
The FBI is investigating those angles, while experts say there are probably multiple motives and no single answer to explain the largest mass shooting in the nation’s history. They say the true answer is likely to be all of the above.
Cruising or scouting?
Investigators have recovered Mateen’s phone and will use location data to verify whether he previously visited the club, said an official who was not authorized to discuss the case and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Palm Beach Post reported that at least five people have come forward saying they saw Mateen at gay clubs.
One former classmate of Omar Mateen’s 2006 police academy class told The Palm Beach Post that he believed Mateen was gay, saying Mateen once tried to pick him up at a bar.
According to the report, the classmate said that he, Mateen and other classmates sometimes went to gay nightclubs after classes at Indian River Community College police academy.
“We went to a few gay bars with him, and I was not out at the time, so I declined his offer,” said the former classmate, who asked that his name not be used.
“He said, ‘Well if you were gay, you would be my type.’”
Jim Van Horn, 71, told The Associated Press that he had seen Mateen repeatedly at Pulse and talked to him once.
“He was a homosexual and he was trying to pick up men,” Van Horn said. “He would walk up to them and then he would maybe put his arm around ’em or something and maybe try to get them to dance a little bit or something.”
At least four regular customers of Pulse, the LGBT nightclub where the massacre took place, told the Orlando Sentinel they believed they’d seen Mateen there before.
Other gay men reported that Mateen had contacted them on gay apps. Owners of the app Jack’d said they’ve been unable to confirm so far that Mateen had a profile on the service. Grindr officials said they “will continue to cooperate with the authorities and do not comment on ongoing investigations.”
Adam4Adam said the company is looking at conversations and profiles on gay apps in the Orlando area for any activity by Mateen but hasn’t found anything yet.
Repression and mental illness
Mateen’s father, Seddique Mateen, denied his son was gay and said that if he had been in the nightclub before, he may have been “scouting the place.” The elder Mateen, who lives Port St. Lucie, Florida, said that apart from the time his son got angry a few months ago over seeing two men kissing, he never saw any anti-gay behavior from him.
Psychological studies have shown that some men with repressed same-sex desires express anti-gay views, especially if they grew up in families that opposed homosexuality.
On Monday, drag performers Chris Callen and Ty Smith said Mateen got drunk at Pulse and complained about his father’s strict ways. They said Mateen had been escorted from the club several times.
Tampa Bay Times reported that Mateen visited his father one last time before embarking on what appears to be a well-planned execution.
Seddique Mateen, 59, told TBT that he grieved for his son’s victims and said he wishes that he had noticed some sign that would have led him to stop his son before it was too late.
But CBS news said the gunman’s father has well-known anti-American views and is an ideological supporter of the Afghan Taliban. A message posted by the father on Facebook early Monday morning also makes it clear he could have passed anti-homosexual views onto his son. He wrote, “God will punish those involved in homosexuality,” saying it’s, “not an issue that humans should deal with.”
“People who are struggling to come to terms with their sexual identity do at times react to that by doing the exact opposite, which could be to become more masculine or more vocal about their ideals of a traditional family,” Michael Newcomb, a Northwestern University psychologist, told AP.
The attack early Sunday ended with Mateen being shot to death by a SWAT team. Of the 53 people wounded, six were listed in critical condition Tuesday and five others were in guarded condition.
Mateen’s ex-wife, Sitora Yusufiy, said earlier in the week that he was mentally ill, controlling and abusive. Amid the latest reports about his clubgoing, she told CNN: “Well, when we had gotten married, he confessed to me about his past that was recent at that time and that he very much enjoyed going to clubs and the nightlife and there was a lot of pictures of him.”
“I feel like it’s a side of him or a part of him that he lived but probably didn’t want everybody to know about,” she said.
Investigators working to determine whether anyone had advance knowledge of the attack have spoken extensively with Mateen’s wife, Noor Salman, and are working to establish whether she and Mateen were recently at or inside the club, the official said. The official said investigators have not ruled out charging others, including the wife.