A gunman who may have pledged allegiance to ISIS opened fire early Sunday morning in a packed Orlando nightclub, killing 50 people and wounding at least 53 more in a bloody scene that ended hours later when police stormed the building and killed the shooter.
The shooting in Orlando at Pulse, which bills itself as “the hottest gay bar” in the city and was packed with more than 300 people for “Latin Night,” was reported minutes after 2 a.m. Sunday. In addition to those killed inside the club, at least 53 people were taken to area hospitals.
Dozens of partygoers remained hostage in the club for several hours after the initial shooting, prompting SWAT teams to rush inside. Shortly after 6 a.m. local time, Orlando police tweeted that the gunman had been killed. Authorities said there was not believed to be any further threat to the area.
President Obama was set to speak from the White House about the shooting at 1:30 p.m.
House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Rep. Adam Schiff said in a statement that the timing and location of the attack and information coming from local authorities indicated “an ISIS-inspired act of terrorism.”
“The fact that this shooting took place during Ramadan and that ISIS leadership in Raqqa has been urging attacks during this time, that the target was an LGBT night club during Pride, and – if accurate – that according to local law enforcement the shooter declared his allegiance to ISIS, indicates an ISIS-inspired act of terrorism,” Schiff said. “Whether this attack was also ISIS-directed, remains to be determined. I’m confident that we will know much more in the coming hours and days.”
Schiff said earlier on CNN that local police in Orlando told him that Mateen “was heard praying in a foreign language” at some point.
The gunman was identified as Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, Rep. Alan Grayson said during a Sunday morning press conference. Mateen was a U.S. citizen, Grayson said, though that was “not true of other family members of his.” Mateen, 29, lived in Fort Pierce, Fla. He was born in New York to parents of Afghan origin and was a Muslim, Fox News confirmed.
Mateen was married in 2009 to a woman who was born in Uzbekistan, according to the couple’s marriage license, but the two divorced in 2011.
“He was not a stable person,” the ex-wife, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Washington Post. “He beat me. He would just come home and start beating me up because the laundry wasn’t finished or something like that.”
A licensed security officer, Mateen also had a Statewide Firearms License, Fox News reported.
Law enforcement sources close to the investigation told Fox News that Mateen was known to authorities prior to the shooting, but was not under investigation.
These sources could not elaborate on why Mateen was on the U.S. government’s radar.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Ron Hopper said the investigation was looking into possible threats made previously by the suspect in connection to radical Islam groups.
The FBI was scouring Mateen’s cellphone and electronic devices on Sunday afternoon to identify any possible terrorist connections. This includes searching for any traces of propaganda, scrubbing of his web browsing history, and running down communications with individuals via social media and mobile messaging apps.
As victims poured through their doors, Orlando Regional Medical Center officials called in six trauma surgeons, including a pediatric surgeon, Dr. Michael Cheatham said. Many of the wounded were “critically ill” due to their injuries, Cheatham said, and the hospital was trying to reach out to their families.
“I think we will see the death toll rise,” Cheatham told The Associated Press.
Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Orange County following the attack.
“This is an attack on our people,” Scott tweeted around 11:40 a.m. “It’s an attack on Orlando. It’s an attack on FL. It’s an attack on America. It’s an attack on all of us.”
Chief John Mina of the Orlando Police Department said officers were initially engaged in a gun battle outside the club before the suspect, armed with a handgun and “assault-type rifle,” went back into the building, where more shots were fired. He said the gunman then took several hostages.
“It appears he was organized and well-prepared,” Mina said.
Officials said Mateen had some communication with police during this standoff, though they did not reveal what was said.
At least 9 officers were involved in raiding the nightclub, and one officer was injured, according to Banks. The injured officer was hit by a bullet and his Kevlar helmet saved his life, Banks said.
A hotline for victims’ families was set up at 407-246-4357.
Witnesses in the club reported mass chaos after hearing several shots ring out inside the nightclub.
Pulse posted on its own Facebook page around 2 a.m.: “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.”
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.”
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.