Fifty people have been killed in what is officially the worst mass shooting in US history.
The assailant, now identified as 29-year-old Omar Mateen, is a US citizen with Afghan origins. He walked into the Pulse nightclub last night with a handgun and an assault-style weapon and opened fire.
His father, an Afghan native, reportedly told journalists from Al-Jazeera that Mateen had recently seen two gay men kissing and become angered by it. The Pulse nightclub is a well-known LGBT nightclub and bar.
According to Orlando Police Chief John Mina, the shooting started at about 2 a.m. A police officer working at the nightclub responded when he heard the gunshots ring out, and he and Mateen exchanged fire. Mateen forced the officer outside the building, then returned inside, where more shots were fired and a hostage situation developed. The nightclub was crowded. Over 300 people were inside. Mateen killed at least 50 people and wounded at least another 53.
It’s not clear what caused Mateen to stop shooting, but to whatever it was the other 200-plus people are indebted. Police made the decision to enter the building around 5 a.m. to avoid any further loss of life.
“Multiple officers from various agencies responded,” Chief Mina said. “SWAT team responded. At approximately 0500 hours this morning, the decision was made to rescue hostages that were in there.”
Original reports of the shooting indicated that as many as 20 people had been shot and killed. But as time went on, the actual extent of the horror became even more clear, as the body count rose to 40, then 49 persons dead.
Police found Mateen dead when they entered, apparently shot by police, taking the total death toll to this point in time up to 50. The final death toll has not yet been determined; some of the wounded sustained serious injuries.
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Word has leaked out that Mateen pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 call made just before the attack. Authorities say there is no reason, however, to believe any more attacks in Orlando are imminent.
Still, Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency, saying the incident was an act of terror.
“For somebody to go in there and be an active shooter, and take that number of lives … and injure that many people is clearly an act of terror,” Scott said.
Sen. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., whose district includes the area of the massacre, told NBC News that “more likely than not” the shooting spree at the nightclub was ideologically motivated.
TMZ.com reported that it conducted a search of public records, and found that Mateen lived in Port St. Lucie, FL, had a firearm license and received a security officer license in both 2011 and 2013. He did not have a criminal record.
As the details surrounding this event come in or change, we will do our best to update the story to provide current, up-to-date information.