ORLANDO, Fla. — Dozens of bodies were removed overnight Monday from a popular gay nightclub here as investigators tried to piece together what had led to a shooting rampage 24 hours earlier that left 50 people dead, including the gunman, and 53 wounded.
At hospitals and gathering spots nearby, relatives and friends of the clubgoers who remained unaccounted for began to lose hope that their loved ones had somehow survived the mass shooting by the gunman, identified as Omar Mateen, who was killed by the police at the club early Sunday morning. And those who had already learned that their loved ones had died began to plan for funerals.
“We don’t know for sure,” said JP Cortes, a friend of Christopher Leinonen, known as Drew, who was still not on the official list of the dead. But Mr. Cortes added that they were bracing for the worst: Mr. Leinonen’s boyfriend, Juan Ramon Guerrero, had died at the club and was one of the first names released.
Interactive Feature | Latest Updates Times editors and reporters are following the latest developments on the shooting in Orlando, Fla.
By early Monday morning, 48 of the 49 victims had been identified, Mayor Buddy Dyer of Orlando said at a news conference, and families of 24 victims had been notified.
“I cannot imagine being one of the parents or knowing your loved one may be among the deceased and waiting to find out,” Mr. Dyer said. The authorities adjusted the death toll on Monday, saying that the 50 people killed included the gunman. Orlando Health, which has a network of medical facilities in the area, said 43 victims remain in the hospital, including six that would undergo operations on Monday.
Law enforcement authorities said that Mr. Mateen, wielding an assault rifle and a pistol, stormed the club and called 911 from inside to declare his allegiance to the Islamic State, the brutal group that has taken over parts of Syria, Iraq and Libya. Mr. Mateen had been investigated in the past for possible terrorist ties, but the F.B.I. ultimately found no evidence. Still, he was believed to be on at least one watch list.
Mr. Mateen’s father, Seddique Mir Mateen, posted a video on his Facebook page early on Monday in which he expressed regret and confusion about why his son had carried out the mass killing.
“I don’t know what caused this,” said Mr. Mateen, speaking in Dari, a language spoken in Afghanistan. “I did not know and did not understand that he has anger in his heart.”
“My son, Omar Mateen, was a very good boy, an educated boy, who had a child and a wife, very respectful of his parents,” he said.
At Monday’s news conference, A. Lee Bentley, the United States attorney for Central Florida, said the investigators had collected a large amount of electronic and criminal evidence and were trying to determine whether Mr. Mateen acted alone.
“If anyone else was involved in this crime,” Mr. Bentley said, “they will be prosecuted.”
The attacker, a 29-year-old who was born in New York, turned what had been a celebratory night of dancing to salsa and merengue music at the crowded Pulse nightclub into a panicked scene of unimaginable slaughter, the floors slicked 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.
Joel Figueroa and his friends “were dancing by the hip-hop area when I heard shots, bam, bam, bam,” he said, adding, “Everybody was screaming and running toward the front door.”
Pulse, which calls itself “Orlando’s Latin Hotspot,” was holding its weekly “Upscale Latin Saturdays” party. The shooting began around 2 a.m., and some patrons thought at first that the booming reports they heard were firecrackers or part of the loud, thumping dance music.
Some people who were trapped inside hid where they could, calling 911 or posting messages to social media, pleading for help. The club posted a stark message on its Facebook page: “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.”
A three-hour standoff followed the initial assault, with people inside effectively held hostage until around 5 a.m., when law enforcement officials led by a SWAT team raided the club, using an armored vehicle and explosives designed to disorient and distract. Over a dozen police officers and sheriff’s deputies engaged in a shootout with Mr. Mateen, leaving him dead and an officer wounded, his life saved by a Kevlar helmet that deflected a bullet.
Graphic | What Happened Inside the Orlando Nightclub Accounts of what happened from officials and witnesses.
At least 30 people inside were rescued, and even the hardened police veterans who took the building and combed through it, aiding the living and identifying the dead, were shaken by what they saw, said John Mina, the Orlando police chief. “Just to look into the eyes of our officers told the whole story,” he said.
It 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, though officials said it was not clear whether some victims had been accidentally shot by law enforcement officers.
Gov. Rick Scott of Florida said on Monday that he had asked President Obama to issue a federal emergency declaration for his state.
“Yesterday’s terror attack was an attack on our state and entire nation,” Mr. Scott said in a statement. “This morning, I have asked President Obama to declare an emergency so that the full resources of the federal government can be made available for all those impacted by this horrific massacre.”
In a letter to Mr. Obama, Mr. Scott sought two forms of federal aid: “provision of health and safety measures,” as well as “management, control and reduction of immediate threats to public health and safety.” An emergency declaration by Mr. Obama would give Florida up to $5 million in initial federal funding.
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.
“In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another,” Mr. Obama said in a special address from the White House. “We will not give in to fear or turn against each other. Instead, we will stand united as Americans to protect our people and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us.”
As he had done after several previous mass shootings, the president said the shooting demonstrated the need for what he called “common sense” gun measures.
“This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school or a house of worship or a movie theater or a nightclub,” Mr. Obama said. “We have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. To actively do nothing is a decision as well.”
The shooting quickly made its way into the presidential campaign. Donald J. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, who has accused Mr. Obama of weakness on radical Islam and has called for barring Muslim immigrants, suggested on Twitter that the president should resign.
“Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism,” he wrote. “I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!”
Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, released a statement saying: “We need to redouble our efforts to defend our country from threats at home and abroad. That means defeating international terror groups, working with allies and partners to go after them wherever they are, countering their attempts to recruit people here and everywhere, and hardening our defenses at home.”
Interactive Feature | Mass Shootings in the U.S. This partial list dates to 2007, the year of what used to be the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
Fears of violence led to heightened security at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender events and gathering places around the country. Law enforcement officials in Santa Monica, Calif., confirmed the arrest on Sunday of a heavily armed man who said he was in the area for West Hollywood’s gay pride parade. The authorities, however, said they did not know of any connection between the California arrest and the Orlando shooting.
The F.B.I. investigated Mr. Mateen in 2013 when he made comments to co-workers suggesting he had terrorist ties, and again the next year, for possible connections to Moner Mohammad Abusalha, an American who became a suicide bomber in Syria, said Ronald Hopper, an assistant agent in charge of the bureau’s Tampa Division. But each time, the F.B.I. found no solid evidence that Mr. Mateen had any real connection to terrorism or had broken any laws.
Mr. Mateen, who lived in Fort Pierce, Fla., was able to continue working as a security guard with the security firm G4S, where he had worked since 2007, and he was able to buy guns. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Mr. Mateen had legally bought a long gun and a pistol in the past week or two, though it was not clear whether those were the weapons used in the assault, which officials described as a handgun and an AR-15 type of assault rifle.
A former co-worker, Daniel Gilroy, said Mr. Mateen had talked often about killing people and had voiced hatred of gays, blacks, women and Jews.
Hours later, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, claimed responsibility in a statement released over an encrypted phone app used by the group. It stated that the attack “was carried out by an Islamic State fighter,” according to a transcript provided by the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks jihadist propaganda.
But officials cautioned that even if Mr. Mateen, who court records show was briefly married and then divorced, was inspired by the group, there was no indication that it had trained or instructed him, or had any direct connection with him. Some other terrorist attackers have been “self-radicalized,” including the pair who killed 14 people in December in San Bernardino, Calif., who also proclaimed allegiance to the Islamic State, but apparently had no contact with the group.
The Islamic State has encouraged “lone wolf” attacks in the West, a point reinforced recently by a group spokesman, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, in his annual speech just before the holy month of Ramadan. In past years, the Islamic State and Al Qaeda ramped up attacks during Ramadan.
American Muslim groups condemned the shooting. “The Muslim community joins our fellow Americans in repudiating anyone or any group that would claim to justify or excuse such an appalling act of violence,” said Rasha Mubarak, the Orlando regional coordinator of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Let’s block ads! (Why?)
Powered by WPeMatico