Mass Shooting At Orlando Gay Nightclub: The Latest
A gunman opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., early Sunday, killing at least 50 people and wounding at least 53 others. It's the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
The death toll far exceeds initial estimates. Orlando Police Chief John Mina had initially said "around 20" people succumbed to gunshot wounds inside the Pulse Orlando nightclub, but later said police found far more victims once they gained full access to the scene. He said the suspected gunman is also dead.
The suspect has been tentatively identified as Omar Mateen, two law enforcement officials tell NPR's Carrie Johnson. No further information about Mateen was immediately provided. FBI Assistant Special Agent In Charge Ronald Hopper declined to identify the suspect, saying that they are still notifying the next of kin.
The shooter opened fire at Pulse, a popular gay nightclub, at approximately 2 a.m. EST, which later developed into a hostage situation. Mina describes how the events unfolded:
"At approximately 0202 hours this morning, we had an officer working at Pulse nightclub, who responded to shots fired. Our officer engaged in a gun battle with that suspect. That suspect at some point went back inside the club, where more shots were fired. This did turn into a hostage situation. Obviously multiple officers from various agencies responded, SWAT team responded. At approximately 0500 hours this morning, the decision was made to rescue hostages that were in there."
Police were being contacted by people trapped inside the nightclub, he says, and "our biggest concern was future loss of life. We want to save those people."
Law enforcement used explosive devices and an armored vehicle to blast through a wall, he says, where a gun battle ensued with the suspect, ultimately killing him.
"There were at least 30 people who were saved during that rescue," Mina says.
The suspect "appeared to be carrying a rifle — an assault-type rifle — and a handgun, and had some type of device on him," Mina adds.
Law enforcement officials say they have cleared the area and are in the process of clearing the suspect's van.
A police officer was injured in the shooting of the suspect, Mina says, saying that his Kevlar helmet likely saved his life. Eight other officers were involved in that shooting.
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings says they are classifying this as a "domestic terror incident."
Authorities have released very few details about the suspect. Hopper said they are looking into "all angles" regarding motivation for the attack. When asked whether the suspect had a connection to radical Islamic terrorism, he said that they have "suggestions that the individual might have leanings toward that ideology," without providing details.
Mina says it appears the shooter was "organized and well-prepared." He added that they're in the process of identifying victims and that it could take some time.
According to a search of public records, Mateen is 29 years old and listed as living in Port St. Lucie, Fl. The search shows that Mateen had a firearm license and he received a security officer license in both 2011 and 2013. The search did not turn up any criminal record.
"Everyone get out of pulse and keep running," Pulse Orlando posted to its Facebook page at 2:09 a.m.
Authorities say it is not clear whether Pulse Orlando was targeted specifically because it is a gay nightclub. "We don't know that that had any specific impact on the actions taken this evening, at least not yet," Hopper says.
Terry DeCarlo, head of the GLBT Center Of Central Florida, told WMFE reporter Catherine Welch that they're opening crisis hotlines to help the LGBT community.
"We can't confirm — and I've talked extensively with the police department — that it was a direct hate crime against the LGBT community, it could have just been a person looking for a packed nightclub to go in and start shooting. We can't confirm that yet," he says. He adds that his main concern now is providing support for community members and their families.
The Human Rights Campaign says it has lowered its flag to half mast.
"This tragedy has occurred as our community celebrates pride, and now more than ever we must come together as a nation to affirm that love conquers hate," HRC President Chad Griffin says in a statement.
A statement from the White House said that President Barack Obama has "directed that the federal government provide any assistance necessary to pursue the investigation and support the community." It adds: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of the victims."
Likewise, Florida's governor Rick Scott said, "We are a strong and resilient state and we will devote every resource available to assist with the shooting in Orlando."
This comes a day after a gunman shot and killed singer Christina Grimmie at an Orlando concert venue, though police emphasized that they see no indication the two events are connected.
This is a developing story. Some things that get reported by the media will later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from police officials and other authorities, credible news outlets and reporters who are at the scene. We will update as the situation develops.
Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.