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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Friends and family grieve Sunday after a list of hospitalized victims was released near the Orlando Regional Medical Center in Orlando, Fla., after a gunman opened fire inside a crowded nightclub, killing at least 50 and wounding 53 more.

  • Associated Press Family members await word from police Sunday after a shooting with multiple fatalities at Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

Monday, June 13, 2016 11:35 am

Nation in shock after worst mass shooting

Washington Post

ORLANDO – The gunman who opened fire inside a crowded nightclub here Sunday morning, launching a rampage that killed 50 people and injured 53 others in the deadliest shooting spree in the country’s history, had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State before the attack, according to U.S. law enforcement officials.

In a rampage that President Barack Obama said the FBI is investigating as an act of terrorism, this gunman fired a barrage of bullets inside Pulse, a popular gay bar and dance club, forcing people to drop to the floor and rush out through a back entrance during the club’s "Latin night."

After the first round of gunshots, police said the shooter held hostages for about three hours until officers stormed inside to rescue people and killed him in a shootout, although many details remained unclear about the standoff and the final confrontation.

Witnesses and others said the shooting left a gruesome scene behind, with the bloodshed 20 minutes away from Disney evoking the carnage seen in war zones. One doctor at a nearby hospital said that victims came in with their bodies riddled with gunshots, while others "had their calves and forearms blown off."

The gunman, identified as 29-year-old Omar Mateen, made a 911 call before the attack identifying himself and declared allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State, according to U.S. law enforcement officials who asked not to be identified to discuss the ongoing investigation. Mateen, whose family is from Afghanistan, also cited the 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon during that call.

Details about Mateen’s background began to emerge slowly on Sunday. Much like Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older of the two brothers who carried out the Boston attack, Mateen had been the focus of an FBI investigation before launching an attack.

Ron Hopper of the FBI said that Mateen had twice been investigated by the bureau and that in both cases, he was interviewed before the probes were concluded. In 2013, Hopper said agents investigated Mateen after he made "inflammatory comments to co-workers alleging possible ties to terrorists." Mateen was interviewed twice and, when investigators were unable to verify the details of his comments, the FBI closed the probe, Hopper said.

Mateen was investigated again in 2014 by the FBI. This time, they looked into potential ties connecting Mateen to Moner Mohammad Abusalha, the first American to carry out a suicide attack in Syria. Like Mateen, Abusalha lived in Fort Pierce, Fla.

"We determined that contact was minimal and did not constitute a substantive relationship or a threat at that time," Hopper said.

Mateen’s pledge on the 911 call echoes what happened after the attack in San Bernardino, Calif., last December. Just after a husband and wife killed 14 people last December in an attack there, one of the shooters went on Facebook and pledged her allegiance to the emir of the Islamic State, a militant group also known as ISIS or ISIL. Officials later said the posting was made on behalf of both attackers.

The Islamic State-linked Amaq News Agency said in a message Sunday that the Orlando shooting "was carried out by an Islamic State fighter." The same news agency had released a message showing the Islamic State claiming some credit for the San Bernardino attack two days after that occurred, while Amaq posted a statement from the group asserting responsibility for the Brussels attacks in March within hours.

The Islamic State has repeatedly executed gay people and then released videos showing these gruesome executions.

Hopper said Sunday that the FBI was still working to determine a motive. He said officials had not found any indications of outside help or another suspect, and added that they were confident there were no additional threats.

Mina said it appeared the gunman was armed with "a handgun and an AR-15-type assault rifle" and had additional rounds on him.

"It appears he was organized and well-prepared," Mina said.

Mateen legally bought the two guns believed to be used in the attack within "the last few days," Trevor Velinor of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Sunday.

An AR-15 is the civilian variant of the military M-16 rifle. It is one of the most popular weapons in the United States and can be customized with a variety of accessories including different grips and sights. A standard magazine for it carries about 30 bullets.

Authorities did not initially outline what exactly occurred in the club after the first shots were fired at about 2 a.m. and before police stormed the building. Some information did begin to slowly emerge during the day. Police had said in the morning that 20 people were killed before saying later that the toll was significantly higher. Until Sunday, the 2007 rampage at Virginia Tech – which saw 32 people killed and 30 others injured – was the country’s worst mass shooting.

Police did not immediately offer details on the three-hour standoff, but a senior U.S. law enforcement official said officers were being cautious as an active-shooter scene turned into a hostage negotiation. When the gunman was inside during the hostage standoff, he was on the phone with police and no gunshots were heard, the official said.