by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Seattle Gay News will feature a special supplemental section dedicated to the victims of the mass shooting and hate crime that took place June 12 in Orlando, Fla., inside Pulse nightclub, a popular Gay bar that was celebrating with a Latin Dance night. Most of the 49 people killed by Omar Mateen were Latino as well as LGBTQ; more than half were of Puerto Rican descent. For this edition of SGN were are not offering commentary, as there are still so many questions left unanswered. Our story here contains what we know, according to the FBI and Orlando authorities.
In the early morning hours of Sunday, June 12, minutes past 2 a.m., FBI officials say Omar Mateen, 29, an American citizen born to parents who immigrated to the U.S. from Afghanistan, committed the worst mass shooting in American history, leaving 49 people dead and 53 wounded, when he began to shoot people on the dancefloor of Pulse, a popular Gay nightclub in Orlando, with bullets from an assault rifle and a handgun. Within the first few minutes of entering the club and firing at his targets, nearly all of the confirmed dead had been shot, although the horror was far from over. After engaging in a shootout with an Orlando police officer employed as security by the club, and surviving another shooting match with police who responded immediately after the carnage began, Mateen held 30 hostages inside one of the nightclub's bathrooms for the next three hours until, minutes after 5 a.m., fearing that he would kill the hostages, SWAT officers blasted and bored a hole into the exterior of the bathroom wall, freed the hostages, and shot Mateen dead.
Survivors and police report that Matten was 'cool and calm' while he talked by phone to law enforcement officials about further carnage during the hostage standoff. He reportedly also claimed allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIL) and praised the Boston Marathon bombers.
Chief John Mina of the Orlando Police Department said Mateen told police negotiators that he had explosives and accomplices at Pulse. Later, police would report that Mateen did not have anyone who helped him during the attack. He was a lone shooter, they said.
Mateen eventually made comments persuading police that 'there would be an imminent loss of life,' Chief Mina said, prompting the chief to end the three-hour standoff and order the assault that killed Mateen and subsequently freed the dozens of people trapped in the club. Many of them had suffered one or more gunshot wounds. Witnesses describe the hostages as being covered in blood as they ran for their lives through a hole in the wall a SWAT team used an armored vehicle and explosives to make.
In a statement Monday, President Barack Obama said the attack was 'an example of the kind of homegrown extremism that all of us have been concerned about,' with a gunman who was inspired by radical material he found online.
'One of the biggest challenges we are going to have is this kind of propaganda and perversions of Islam that you see generated on the Internet,' said Obama.
The shooter, Mateen, is said to have made frightening statements three years ago to co-workers at a local courthouse about being tied to terrorism, which resulted in an extensive FBI investigation that lasted 10 months.
According to James Comey, FBI director, Mateen claimed family connections to Al Qaeda, which, like the Islamic State, is a Sunni Muslim terrorist group, but he also said he was a member of Hezbollah, a Shiite group in conflict with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. None of that made any sense as far as being tactically true, and the FBI says it did not find any tangible evidence linking him to terror organizations.
'He said he hoped that law enforcement would raid his apartment and assault his wife and child so that he could martyr himself,' Comey said.
'Our investigation involved introducing confidential sources to him, recording conversations with him, following him, reviewing transactional records from his communications,' and searching government records for mentions of him, the director said. 'We then interviewed him twice. He admitted making the statements his co-workers reported, but explained that he did it in anger because he thought his co-workers were discriminating against him and teasing him because he was Muslim.'
The FBI closed the investigation and Mateen continued working as a security guard for a private firm G4S.
Additionally, the Florida Department of Corrections revealed on Monday that before working for G4S, Mateen briefly worked as a state prison guard. Alberto C. Moscoso, a department spokesman, said that Mateen worked at Martin Correctional Institution from October 2006 to April 2007, but did not say why he left.
Also, the government of Saudi Arabia reported on Monday that Mateen had traveled to that country twice to make a religious pilgrimage known as the umrah. The Interior Ministry said he had visited in March 2011 for 10 days, and in March 2012 for eight days.
SGN feels it is important to note that neither traveling to Saudi Arabia nor making umrah are considered terrorist activity.
Comey says that there is no known indication that this tragic event was part of a plot directed from outside the United States.
Mateen had a history that included talking about killing people, and he beat his former wife, authorities say. There are also reports that he voiced hatred of minorities, Gays, and Jews.
His father, Seddique Mir Mateen, recalled that his son was particularly enraged by seeing a same-sex couple kiss, though he said in a video posted online that he believed that it was up to God to punish Gays, not his son.
His father appeared teary-eyed on Monday and told reporters that he had no inkling of what was to come.
'If I knew one percent about what he was doing, I would have called the FBI,' the elder Mateen said. 'He went against my principles as a father and as a U.S. citizen.'
The assault began, according to Chief Mina, at about 2 a.m. Sunday. Officers rushed to the scene, he said, and entered the nightclub, where they engaged in a gun battle with Mateen, forcing him to retreat to a bathroom where officers believed he had four to five hostages. About 15 to 20 people were in another bathroom.
At that time Orlando police were able to save and rescue dozens and dozens of people and get them out of the club while a SWAT team was called in and took up positions in a bathroom across from where Mateen had taken cover.
Mateen turned a night of dancing to salsa and merengue music at the crowded Pulse nightclub into a panicked scene that left the floors smeared with blood, the dead and the wounded piled atop one another. Terrified people poured onto the darkened streets of the surrounding neighborhood, some carried wounded victims to safety, and police vehicles were pressed into service as makeshift ambulances to rush people to hospitals.
From that point, 'it kind of stabilized and the suspect had barricaded himself in the bathroom,' and there was no shooting during the subsequent standoff, the chief said.
Mateen called 911, beginning a series of calls and conversations with the police. Officials say he declared allegiance to the Islamic State, the terrorist group that has taken over parts of Syria, Iraq, and Libya. The attackers who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., in December - had also stated their allegiance to the group.
Chief Mina says crisis negotiators did talk to the suspect and tried to get as much information as possible, and focused on what they could do to resolve the situation. However, he added, Mateen wasn't asking for a lot, and police were doing most of the asking.
Chief Mina says that reports that Mateen was laughing or celebrating during the phone conversations with authorities are false.
'There was talk about bomb vests, about explosives, throughout,' and eventually 'there were statements made about imminent loss of life.'
That is when law enforcement officials began to mount an assault on the club. The explosive placed on the wall did not penetrate completely, so officers used an armored vehicle to punch a hole about two feet off the ground, allowing hostages to flee, the chief said.
Mateen also came through the breach in the wall, Chief Mina said, and was killed in a shootout with the police.
A. Lee Bentley, the U.S. attorney for Central Florida, said the investigators had collected a large amount of electronic and criminal evidence and were trying to determine whether Mateen acted alone.
'If anyone else was involved in this crime,' Mr. Bentley said, 'they will be prosecuted.'
It has been discovered that his ex-wife knew of his plans for the attack and could soon be charged as an accomplice, a law enforcement source said.
The source told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday that a federal grand jury had been convened and could recommend charges against Omar Mateen's wife, Noor Salman, as early as Wednesday.
'It appears she had some knowledge of what was going on,' said U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which received a briefing on the attack on Tuesday.
'She definitely is, I guess you would say, a person of interest right now and appears to be cooperating and can provide us with some important information,' King told CNN.
Citing an FBI source, media reports said prosecutors were seeking to charge Mateen's wife as an accessory to 49 counts of murder and 53 counts of attempted murder, plus failure to notify law enforcement about the pending attack and lying to federal agents.
Salman told federal agents that she tried to talk her husband out of carrying out the attack. But she also told the FBI that she once drove him to the Pulse nightclub because he wanted to scope it out.
Officials say the Orlando attack was the worst act of terrorism on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001, and the deadliest attack on a Gay target in the nation's history, surpassing the never-solved arson attack that killed 32 at the Upstairs Lounge, in New Orleans, on June 24, 1973. The toll is larger than the number of murders in Orlando over the previous three years. Of an estimated 320 people in the club, nearly one-third were shot. The casualties far exceeded those in the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, where 32 people were killed, and the 2012 shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., where 26 people died.
To make matters even more complicated, reports have surfaced that Mateen had frequented the club dozens of times over a period of up to three years before the attack. He is also said to have hooked up with men using apps like Jack'd. Several Orlando-area men came forward to turn in their mobile phones and hookup-app accounts over to the FBI, adding to a growing pile of evidence that points to severe problems, on both a social and mental health level, that Mateen was suffering from.
All over the world, including in Seattle, which saw one of the largest crowds of all (thousands of people filled Cal Anderson Park on Sunday night as Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, and leaders from the local LGBTQ community spoke out to condemn the attack), candlelight vigils were held to mourn the dead and call for gun reform, specifically a ban on semi-automatic rifles like the Sig Sauer MCX used by Mateen.
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