50 dead at gay club in America’s worst mass shooting
Orlando (AFP): Fifty people died and another 53 were injured early today when a heavily-armed gunman opened fire and seized hostages at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, police said in the worst mass shooting in US history.
Terrified survivors — who moments before were laughing and dancing with friends — described how the gunman named by media as a US citizen of Afghan descent raked the club with bullets, prompting a police SWAT team to storm the venue.
“We have cleared the building, and it is with great sadness that I share we have not 20, but 50 casualties in addition to the shooter,” Mayor Buddy Dyer told a mid-morning news briefing in Orlando, more than doubling the previously given death toll.
“There are another 53 that are hospitalised.”
President Barack Obama was being kept up to date by his homeland security and counterterrorism aide on what Florida officials are investigating as a terrorist attack.
FBI official Ronald Hopper told reporters officials were “confident” there was no immediate further threat to the area, or to the US.
Because of the scale of the crime, however, Orlando’s mayor declared a city-wide state of emergency and has asked the Florida governor to take the same measure state-wide. The federal government has offered its full support with the probe.
Police have yet to officially identify the gunman but US TV networks quoting law enforcement sources named him as Omar Mateen, who was born to Afghan parents in 1986 and lives in Port St Lucie, Florida, about two hours drive from Orlando.
It was reported that Mateen — who died in a shootout with police after the siege — has no apparent criminal history.
Hopper said authorities were looking into whether the suspect had “leanings” toward Islamic extremism, but Florida officials also invited a local Islamic leader to address the media in a bid to preempt a possible backlash against the Muslim community.
The chaotic events unfolded over a three hour period, beginning at around 2 am (0600 GMT) when shots rang out amid the throbbing music at the Pulse Orlando nightclub near closing time.
Police said the shots were fired by a gunman armed with an assault rifle and a handgun.
A police officer working “extra duties” at the club responded, joined by two other officers, who engaged the suspect in a gun battle, Orlando police chief John Mina said.
“The suspect at some point went back inside the club where more shots were fired. This did turn into a hostage situation,” he told reporters.
“At approximately 0500 hours (0900 GMT) this morning, the decision was made to rescue hostages that were in there.”
Police then stormed the venue, using explosives and breaking through a wall with a wheeled armoured vehicle known as a BearCat. Mina said about 30 people were rescued during the operation.
‘Nothing To Do With Religion’, Says Orlando Gunman’s Father
Orlando (AFP): The father of the suspected gunman in today’s Orlando mass shooting said he believed his son was motivated by hatred of gays — not by his Muslim religion.
“This had nothing to do with religion,” Mir Seddique told NBC News. He said his son, Omar Mateen, recently lashed out in his presence after witnessing a gay couple embracing in downtown Miami, and suggested the incident may have triggered the atrocity.
“He saw two men kissing each other in front of his wife and kid and he got very angry,” Seddique told the network.
50 Killed, 53 Injured In Florida Nightclub Shooting, Says Orlando Mayor
Orlando (Agencies): A gunman wielding an assault-type rifle and a handgun took hostages and opened fire inside a crowded Florida nightclub, killing 50 people and wounding 53 others before dying in a gunfight with SWAT officers, Orlando authorities said on Monday.
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 club around 2 a.m., 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, but that “approximately 20” people were dead inside the club.
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 was a lone wolf.
“This is an incident, as I see it, that we certainly classify as domestic terror incident,” said Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings.
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.
Mina Justice was outside the club early Sunday 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,'” she said. “That was the last conversation.”
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.”
Police said local, state and federal agencies were investigating.
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.”
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.”