Fox: A gunman who federal authorities say had possible ties to terrorism opened fire early Sunday morning at 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.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer asked Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency following the attack.
The gunman was identified as Omar 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 the U.S. to parents of Afghan origin and was a Muslim, Fox News confirmed.
Authorities were going through Mateen’s belongings on Sunday morning trying to identify a motive for the attack, Grayson said.
“More likely than not that it was an ideologically motivated attack,” Grayson said, though he said it was unclear if Mateen was linked to any terror groups.
“It’s not coincidence the attack took place where it did and when it did,” Grayson said.
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 were “critically ill” due to their injuries, Cheatham said, and the hospital was trying to reach out to their families.
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, 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 party-goers remained hostages 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.
The shooter was “trained in the use of weapons,” Rep. Peter King told Fox News, though King didn’t elaborate on what type of training that entailed.
The gunman “may have leanings” toward radical Islam, FBI Special Agent in Charge Ron Hopper said when asked by Fox News whether the suspect had ties to Jihadist terror groups. Hopper said the investigation was looking into possible threats made previously by the suspect in connection to radical Islam groups.
“There are allegations the individual made threats in the past to having ties to terrorist organizations,” Hopper told Fox News.
“At this time we’re looking at all angles right now,” Hopper said. “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.”
The incident “is being investigated as an act of terrorism,” said Danny Banks, special agent in charge at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Banks said the shooter was armed with an “assault-type rifle” and a handgun.
Chief John Mina of the Orlando Police Department said officers were initially engaged in a gun battle outside the club before the suspect went back into the building, where more shots were fired. He said the gunman then took several hostages.
Officials said Mateen had some communication with police during this standoff, though they did not reveal what was said.
“It appears he was organized and well-prepared,” Mina 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 Orlando 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.
He estimated more than 100 people were still inside when he heard shots, got on the ground and crawled toward a DJ booth. A bouncer knocked down a partition between the club area and an area in the back where only workers are allowed. People inside were able to then escape through the back of the club.
Christopher Hansen said he was in the VIP lounge when he started hearing gunshots. He continued to hear shooting even after he emerged, where police were telling people to back away from the club. He saw injured people being tended to across the street.