Gunman pledges allegiance to ISIS before attacking Orlando club
Shooting | Investigators are looking into shooter’s possible connections to international terror group
In what has been deemed the worst U.S. terrorist attack since 9/11, a gunman opened fire in an Orlando nightclub, killing 50 people and wounding at least 53 more. Before launching his attack, the gunman called 911 and pledged allegiance to Islamic State.
The terror began at 2 a.m. Sunday. After a brief shootout with law enforcement officers, the gunman went inside the club, where more than 300 people had gathered, and held hostages before opening fire.
People in the club used cell phones to tell police about what was happening. Many crawled under tables or tried to escape out the back door.
“I was thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?’ So I just dropped down. I just said, ‘Please, please, please, I want to make it out,’” said Christopher Hansen, who was at the club when the shooting started. “And when I did, I saw people shot. I saw blood.”
Officials identified the gunman as 29-year-old Omar Mateen from Ft. Pierce, Fla. Mateen was “on the radar” for U.S. officials but not a target of investigations.
Investigators have “suggestions the individual has leanings towards (Islamic terrorism), but right now we can’t say definitely,” said Ron Hopper, assistant special agent with the FBI’s Orlando bureau. The FBI is investigating Mateen’s possible connections to radical Islam. No international terror group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but officials say it’s an act of terror nonetheless.
“This is clearly an act of terrorism,” said Florida Gov. Rick Scott. “It should make every American angry.”
Mateen held club-goers hostage for three hours until a SWAT team used an armed vehicle to break into the building at 5 a.m. Mateen died in a shootout with police. One bullet struck a police officer in the head, but his helmet saved his life.
“It’s absolutely terrible,” Orlando Police Chief John Mina said. “Fifty victims in one location, one shooting, is absolutely one of the worst tragedies we’ve seen.”
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer declared a state of emergency in the city. Blood drives are opening and counseling hotlines are available for victims and their families.
Prior to Sunday, the deadliest shooting rampage in American history was the 2007 Virginia Tech attack, which killed 32 and injured 30. Sunday’s events now mark the worst mass shooting in American history.
“Confronting the threat of violent homegrown radicalization is one of the greatest counterterrorism challenges our law enforcement and intelligence community faces,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
The Pulse, where the shooting took place, is popular with the LGBTQ community in Orlando. June is gay pride month, and Orlando recently concluded its annual week-long Gay Days celebration with more than 150,000 persons in attendance. Officials are considering whether the massacre can be deemed a hate crime.
The attack follows the fatal shooting of Christina Grimmie, a former contestant on the popular television show The Voice. According to investigators, a mentally unstable fan shot and killed Grimmie at an Orlando concert late Friday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.