Authorities identified the gunmen who opened fire and killed at least 53 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando as Omar Mateen, who authorities say may have possible ties to terrorism. Mateen, 29, was a Muslim who lived in Forth Pierce, Fla., and was born in the U.S. to parents of Afghan origin.
At least 53 more were wounded in the attack reported minutes after 2 a.m. Sunday at Pulse, which bills itself as “the hottest gay bar” in the city. The nightclub was packed with more than 300 people and only ended hours later when police stormed the building and killed Mateen. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer asked Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency following the attack.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, families and all those affected by this horrific tragedy,” Governor Rick Scott said in a statement. “We are a strong and resilient state and we will devote every resource available to assist with the shooting in Orlando.”
Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., said during a Sunday morning press conference that Islamic ideology was the likely motive.
“It’s not coincidence the attack took place where it did and when it did,” Rep. Grayson said. “More likely than not that it was an ideologically motivated attack.”
Orlando Regional Medical Center called in six trauma surgeons, including a pediatric surgeon, as victims poured in, Dr. Michael Cheatham said. Many of the wounded are “critically ill” due to their injuries, Cheatham said, and the hospital is trying to reach out to their families.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Ron Hopper said when asked if the suspect had ties to Jihadist terror groups that the Bureau was looking into possible threats he made previously in connection to radical Islam groups. He said the agency is still investigating and has yet to confirm any role a terror group may have played in the mass shooting.
“There are allegations the individual made threats in the past to having ties to terrorist organizations,” Special Agent Hopper said. “At this time we’re looking at all angles right now. We do have suggestions that that individual may have leanings toward [radical Islam], that particular ideology. But right now we can’t say definitively so we’re still running everything around.”
Florida law enforcement officials have already made that distinction and note that the attack was well-coordinated.
“The attack is being investigated as an act of terrorism,” said Danny Banks, special agent in charge at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Chief John Mina of the Orlando Police Department said Mateen, who was armed with an “assault-type rifle” and a handgun, was shot and killed in the nightclub at around 5 a.m.
“It appears he was organized and well-prepared,” Chief Mina said, adding that the shooter had “some type of (other) device on him.”