Orlando club shooting: what we know so far

Witness accounts attempt to piece together information, while families still await confirmation on the status of missing loved ones hours after the attack.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters after the shooting at the Pulse night club in Orlando, Florida.

Updated Jun 13, 2016

After 49 people were killed and 53 were injured at Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, Florida, in the early hours of Sunday, families and officials continue to struggle to make sense of what has been described as the "deadliest mass shooting in America."

Family members are still holding onto the hope that their loved ones are not among the dead, as hospital authorities had released only seven names around 17 hours after the assault.

Some parents can be seen making desperate appeals on television, begging to know what happened to their sons or daughters who were at Pulse at the time of the brutal attack. 

Police cars and fire trucks are seen outside Pulse nightclub where a mass shooting left 49 people dead and 53 injured in Orlando, Florida in the US. June 12, 2016.

Three hours of terror

It was a balmy Saturday night in June, a month declared by President of the United States Barack Obama as "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month." Only a few days ago, Orlando's LGBT community had celebrated the annual Gay Days, setting the tone for the Latin-themed weekend night at Pulse, a club known for being gay-friendly. 

So when revellers heard loud percussive sounds around 2am, no one suspected anything other than drumbeats or special effects.

Christopher Hanson said at first he thought the loud, rhythmic sounds were part of the music "until you heard too many shots. It was like, bang, bang, bang, bang."

He told CNN, "I just saw bodies going down and I was ordering a drink at the bar. I fell down. I crawled out. People were trying to escape out the back." Christopher didn't see the shooter.

"When I got across the street, there were people – blood everywhere."

According to the Orlando Sentinel, an off-duty police officer working at the club heard shots around 2:02am.

At that point Omar Mateen, identified as the perpetrator of the "terror and hate" attack, was outside Pulse, wielding an AR-15 (assault rifle), a gun and an explosive device. At least three police officers tried to engage the 29-year-old attacker but Mateen made it inside. 

At some point, Mateen, according to the FBI, made a call to 911 during the attack and some officials said the killer pledged his support to the "Islamic State, or ISIS."

The management of Pulse quickly posted an emergency warning on its Facebook page.

A screenshot of the message posted by Pulse nightclub on its Facebook page when the massacre started on its premises.

Survivors and accounts collated from social media suggest there was intense firing inside the club, from which patrons struggled to find a way to escape. Several people crawled through the front, others through the back and some managed to climb out of windows.

Yet many unfortunate revellers ended up being holed up in the toilets or entertainers' rooms where it seems many of the deaths took place.

From the text messages shared between Mina Justice and her son Eddie, who was in the club, it seems people were trapped in a toilet with Mateen holding them hostage.

A photograph of Mina Justice's phone, displaying the messages from her son Eddie who was trapped inside Pulse.

It is unclear whether Eddie survived; there were no more messages from him after he replied "yes" at 2:51am in answer to his mother's question if the attacker was also in the toilet. 

In the hours which followed, more law-enforcement officers gathered but it took three interminable hours before they breached the club, mowing down a wall with an armoured vehicle. They eventually shot Mateen dead. 

When they entered the club, one patron was found hiding under a pile of bodies.

By 7am, Orlando Police Chief John Mina, addressing the media, said at least 20 were dead. The death toll rose to 49 and the massacre was categorised as a terrorist act. 

"This is clearly an act of terror," Florida Governor Rick Scott told reporters, declaring a county-wide state of emergency.

Friends and family members embrace outside Orlando Police Headquarters after the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, US June 12, 2016.

Most victims were taken to Orlando hospital, where hundreds of family members still await information, some tight-lipped, some crying. 

By 7pm, only seven victims had been identified.

Waiting for the final word

So far 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; Luis S Vielma, 22; and Kimberly Morris, 37 have been identified as among the dead by the city and hospital authorities.

Edward Sotomayor Jr, one of the victims, in an undated image on Facebook.

Edward's cousin David Sotomayor told the Associated Press the deceased was a "caring energetic man known for wearing a silly top hat on cruises." David added, "He was just always part of the fun."

When families asked officials why there was a delay in revealing identities, they were given no concrete answer.

The city of Orlando will be posting names of victims, after identifying families, here.

According to AFP, Angel Mendez, who was outside the hospital, held up his phone and showed a reporter a photo of his brother. 

"He was inside the club, we're very desperate," he said. "We're looking for him, this is something that has taken Florida by surprise but we know there is a God that can have control over this family."

Janiel Gonzalez who managed to escape Pulse, said he was still looking for three friends, while two were hospitalised with gunshot wounds.

"A place that we normally go to just to hang out, have fun, dance and normally there's no issues, for something like that to happen is just devastating," he said.

Christine Leinonen has not heard from her 32-year-old son Christopher Leinonen, and fears the worst. She drove to Orlando at 4am after learning of the shooting from Christopher's friend who was also at Pulse. 

"These are nonsensical killings of our children," she said, sobbing. "They're killing our babies!"

She said her son's friend Brandon Wolf survived by hiding in a bathroom and running out as bullets flew.

Orlando Police have set up a hotline for family to enquire about victims of the shooting. 


Meanwhile, Orlando health authorities have confirmed the identification of all 44 patients at the hospital.


Mateen; inspired by DAESH or homophobia?

The 911 call made by Mateen not only talked about the DAESH terrorist group but also made mention of the Boston bombers.

The FBI did not confirm whether or not Mateen pledged allegiance to the terrorist organisation as reported by the media until late Sunday night. 

The group released a statement saying the massacre was carried out by one of their "fighters", without elaborating on whether it directly orchestrated the attack. 

This raises one of the biggest questions surrounding the investigation: was Mateen directed or inspired by DAESH? Or was he, like statements from his father suggest, reacting out of homophobia-spurred hate? 

An undated photo from a social media account belonging to Omar Mateen, who Orlando Police identified as the perpetrator in the mass shooting at Pulse, June 12, 2016.

And it seems this is not the first time Mateen has been linked to terrorism. 

The FBI first opened an investigation into Mateen in 2013 when his colleagues accused him of having ties with terrorists.

In 2014, he was investigated again over having ties to Al Nusra suicide bomber Moner Muhammad Abusalha, the first known American suicide bomber in Syria. According to Al Jazeera, FBI Orlando head Ron Hopper said the Bureau considered his interaction with Abusalha as minimal and a non-threat. 

The Bureau is now investigating the Orlando massacre as an act of terror, and are looking into Manteen's ties with DAESH.

Both the 2013 and 2014 investigations were closed and Mateen remained under the employment of G4S, the world's largest security services firm, since 2007. According to a statement by the company, Mateen was an armed G4S security officer. 

Various accounts offered by friends, colleagues and an imam at Mateen's local mosque seem to suggest the attacker kept to himself.

Islamic Center of Fort Pierce imam Syed Shafeeq Rahman has known Mateen since he was a rowdy child. But as an adult, according to Rahman, Mateen was "unusually quiet at the mosque and did not appear to have a single close friend in the community."

Rahman argued he never thought Mateen could be radicalised at the mosque, even though Abusalha had visited the same mosque. 

Imam Syed Shafeeq Rahman, the imam of the mosque that mass shooter Omar Mateen attended, speaks to the media in Fort Pierce, Florida, on June 12, 2016.

"[Mateen] was working security, he was working for the police department, so we assumed there was a background check. Why would we think anything like that? We were thinking that he might be a safety factor for us," he said.

Mateen's ex-wife, Sitora Yusufiy, said he physically abused her periodically during their relationship, at times over things as trivial as household chores, the BBC reported. The couple married in 2009 and the relationship only lasted a few months until Yusufiy's family rescued her. 

The son of Afghan immigrants, Mateen was born in New-York but lived two hours south of Orlando, Florida. He had an associate's degree in criminal justice and according to his ex-wife and friends he had expressed an interest in becoming a police officer. 

His father Mir Seddique told NBC News the family was recently in Miami when Mateen saw two men kissing in front of his current wife. "He got very angry." 

Seddique apologised and said they were also in shock. He insisted Mateen's actions had "nothing to do with religion."

Seddique is also not free of controversy; he hosts a Dari-language political show, broadcast from California, which can be found on YouTube. According to The Washington Post, Seddique supports the Afghan Taliban. His shows often border on the incoherent. In one episode, he suggests the presence of the Taliban in Waziristan, Pakistan can help resolve the issue of the Durand Land, the contested border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

Gun control

Sunday's massacre has once again brought gun control to the fore. Mateen is said to have legally bought the weapons used in the shooting a few days prior to the planned siege.

Gun violence claims thousands of lives in the United States every year – dozens in police violence, hundreds in mass shootings and thousands in homicides and suicides. An in depth piece by Vox explains a study which reveals countries with legal restrictions on guns see a drop in gun violence.

Yet those against gun control argue guns save lives. 

The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates there are roughly 5 million to 10 million AR-15 rifles owned in the United States, a fraction of the 300 million firearms owned by Americans. Most owners say they use the rifle for target shooting and home defence, although they can be used for hunting as well.

US President Barack Obama speaks following the mass shooting in US history at the White House in Washington. June 12, 2016.

US President Barack Obama, in his statement on the LGBT attack, said:

"This massacre is a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that's the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well."

One of the more powerful messages was from the mother of a young man still unaccounted for after the attack on Pulse.

The debate exploded on social media, where some people expressed doubt that tighter gun control laws could have prevented the massacre: 


Others felt guns were not the problem, terrorism was:

Yet the more pervasive sentiment online was one of shock and grief that even the loss of 49 innocents did not prompt action against weapons.



Man apprehended with explosives en route to LA pride parade 

Thousands marched in grief and defiance through the streets of Los Angeles for a Gay Pride parade held hours after the deadly Orlando shooting, as police arrested a man over an unrelated plot to attack the California event.

Police in nearby Santa Monica arrested a heavily-armed man who said he wanted to "harm" the Los Angeles parade, taking place under tight security after the massacre at the Pulse club in Florida that left 49 people dead and 53 wounded.

James Howell, 20, was detained at dawn with a car full of weapons, ammunition and powder for explosives, according to police who said he had no apparent connection to the carnage in Orlando.

Authorities said they considered calling off the parade in Los Angeles but decided to go ahead with the festivities with a beefed up police presence.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who marched waving a rainbow-coloured flag and carrying a sign that read "We love Orlando," said the violence once again showed the heavy price paid from easily accessible weapons.

"We are here to march, to celebrate, and to mourn," he told the crowd, estimated at 150,000 strong.

Kristen Jaeger holds a sign of remembrance for mass shooting victims in Orlando, at the 46th annual Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade in West Hollywood, California, US. June 12, 2016.

"We won't be silenced and we won't be curtailed no matter what kind of aggression they throw at us," said Marpa Franzoni, 28, as he marched through the heart of Hollywood.

"I'm in shock. It's more important than ever to show our visibility and support for our community." 

Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies are seen behind a girl riding in a bus at the 46th annual Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade in West Hollywood, California, after a gunman opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, June 12, 2016.

TRTWorld and agencies