In what police are calling the worst shooting in American history, a lone gunman killed 50 people and injured at least 53 others after opening fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
Authorities say Omar Mateen stormed the downtown Pulse nightclub around 2 a.m. Sunday before taking dozens of people hostage and killing dozens more.
So far, seven victims who lost their lives have been identified by the City of Orlando. They are Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34, Stanley Almodovar III, 23, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20, Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36, Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22, and Luis S. Vielma, 22.
Orlando Police Chief John Mina said at a press conference that SWAT officers exchanged gunfire with the suspect, killing Mateen. Mina said Mateen “appeared to be carrying a rifle, an assault-type rifle and a handgun and had some type of device on him.”
Mateen purchased two guns — a handgun and a “long gun” — approximately a week before the shooting, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Despite being questioned by the FBI in 2013 for suspected terrorist ties, then again in 2014, Mateen was still able to obtain the guns legally.
At 2 a.m., Mateen entered the club with an AR-15-type assault rifle. He began shooting, and at one point entered a gunfight with an armed, off-duty officer. Mateen left the building, then went back in, where the violence turned into a hostage situation, Mina said.
Around 5 a.m., authorities decided to attempt to rescue the hostages, leading to a gunfire exchange that ended in the suspect’s death, Mina said.
“We are investigating this from all points of perspective as an act of terrorism,” said Special Agent Danny Banks, who’s in charge of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. “Any time we have potentially dozens of victims in any of our communities, then I think we can qualify that as terrorism activity. Whether that is domestic terrorism activity or an international one is certainly something that we will get to the bottom of.”
A total of 11 officers exchanged fire with Mateen, and all have been removed from duty, as is protocol for officer-involved shootings.
Family members are still desperately trying to find out how their loved ones are doing:
“We don’t know why he chose our club,” Cheresse Young, a resident DJ at Pulse who has worked there for five years, told HuffPost. “The club is totally safe. … We don’t need a lot of security and we only have three to four security guys and that’s it. It’s a safe space and everyone knows that.”
In a statement from Pulse’s owner, Barbara Poma expressed her “profound sadness” over the tragedy.
“Like everyone in the country, I am devastated about the horrific events that have taken place today,” Poma said. “Pulse, and the men and women who work there, have been my family for nearly 15 years. From the beginning, Pulse has served as a place of love and acceptance for the LGBTQ community. I want to express my profound sadness and condolences to all who have lost loved ones. Please know that my grief and heart are with you.”
Hours after the shooting, President Barack Obama publicly addressed the nation about the tragedy, saying it was an “especially heartbreaking day” for the LGBTQ community.
“The place where they were attacked was more than a nightclub, it was a place of solidarity and empowerment,” for the LGBTQ community, Obama said.
Witnesses recalled hearing a barrage of gunfire at the start of the violence. The dance club urged patrons to “get out” and “keep running” in a post on its Facebook page. Mina noted that one officer was injured when a bullet hit his Kevlar helmet.
Pulse shooting: In hail of gunfire in which suspect was killed, OPD officer was hit. Kevlar helmet saved his life. pic.twitter.com/MAb0jGi7r4
It was the second deadly shooting at an Orlando venue in as many nights. Late Friday, a man thought to be a troubled fan fatally shot Christina Grimmie, a rising singing star and a former contestant on “The Voice,” while she was signing autographs after a concert in the Florida city.
There was an outpouring of support from the community as they took in the morning’s horrors.
Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida, which advocates for gay and lesbian rights statewide, said Sunday morning they were holding off judgment until more information was released.
“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,” she said in a statement.
Imam Muhammad Musri, who leads the Islamic Society of Central Florida, asked for prayers for the families of the victims.
“No one could have predicted this, no one could have prepared for it,” he said on Sunday. “This could have happened anywhere. It’s like lightning … Whatever faith you follow please pray for the victims and their families in this hour, in this Sunday morning.”
Equality Florida set up a GoFundMe account for the victims of the shooting. The donation page had raised more than $400,000 as of Sunday afternoon.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has asked for a moment of silence across the nation at 6 p.m. EST.
With News Wire Services
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Gov. Scott Walker asking for a moment of silence. Scott Walker is the governor of Wisconsin; Rick Scott is the governor of Florida.
source: huffingtonpost.com by Nina Golgowski, Sebastian Murdock, Andy Campbell