Police say approximately 20 people have been killed inside a Florida nightclub, and at least 42 were wounded after a gunman opened fire. (June 12) AP
Omar Mateen, 29, has been identified as the gunman who opened fire at Pulse nightclub Sunday morning, killing at least 50 people and wounding 53 others.
"It is with great sadness that I share with you that we have not 20 but 50 casualties," said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. "In addition to the shooter, there are another 53 that are hospitalized.
"Because of the scale of the crime, I've asked the governor to declare a state of emergency. We're also issuing a state of emergency for the city of Orlando."
Federal, state and local law enforcement are at what may be the home of the assailant in the Orlando mass shooting early Sunday, according to law enforcement officials.
They are at a home in the 2500 block of South 17th Street, Fort Pierce, said police spokesman Ed Cunningham.
The agencies at the apartment complex include the FBI, the Florida Division of Law Enforcement, St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office and Fort Pierce Police Department, he said.
The home is registered to an Omar Mateen.
Orlando Police Chief John Mina said the tragedy began at 2:02 a.m., when three police officers engaged in a gun battle with a suspect outside the club. A hostage situation then took place inside, and a SWAT team was called in, Mina said.
Police received updates from patrons trapped in the club, and decided to storm the club at about 5 a.m.
"Our biggest concern was further loss of life," Mina said. "We exchanged gunfire with the suspect, and he was dead at the scene."
The University of Central Florida Police Department was among the agencies that responded to the shooting, said UCF spokeswoman Courtney Gilmartin. UCF's Victim Services is currently at Orlando Regional Medical Center to attend to those who were hurt.
The attack comes just six days after Orlando wrapped up its annual weeklong Gay Days festival, one of the largest gay pride events.
Mina said 42 people were transferred to local hospitals, and one officer was wounded. He said at least 30 people were rescued.
"Tonight our community witnessed a horrific crime... that will have a lasting effect on our community," a solemn Dyer said.
FBI Special Agent Ronald Hopper said the case was being investigated as a possible act of terrorism, either domestic or international. It was not clear if the shooter acted alone, he said. He said authorities were trying to determine if there was a connection with radical Islam.
"We do have suggestions that the individual may have leanings toward that particular ideology," Hopper said.
Terry DeCarlo, executive director of The GLBT Center of Central Florida,speaks with Chris Bonnano of Florida Today about the weekend attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando. Video by Chris Bonanno, Florida Today
A federal law enforcement official told USA TODAY investigators were reviewing the attacker’s possible utterances that may provide more specific information about a terror ideology or affiliation. The official, who was not authorized to comment, characterized the attack as “certainly’’ terrorism. It was not immediately clear whether investigators were aware of the attacker prior to the assault.
Mina said the gunman was armed with an assault rifle, a handgun and some sort of unidentified device. Officers from multiple agencies and dozens of emergency vehicles responded to the scene. Orange County Fire and Rescue called for gurneys to move victims from the club.
Many of the casualties were rushed to Orlando Regional Medical Center, which was placed on lockdown.
"We can confirm this is a mass casualty situation. Support from local/state/federal agencies," Orlando police tweeted about four hours after events began to unfold. Then, a short time later: "Pulse Shooting: The shooter inside the club is dead."
The White House said President Obama was getting updates on the case from Homeland Security.
Mina said there was no indication that there was more than one shooter. A bomb squad was at the scene, and police reported conducting a "controlled explosion."
Hours after the shooting, police were still trying to piece together what happened.
"Anyone who was at Pulse nightclub and was a witness please come to the Orlando Police HQ," the department tweeted. "Any information you have could aid investigators in this case."
FBI Director James Comey has said in recent months that authorities had about 1,000 open investigations into home grown violent extremists. The overwhelming number of those cases, authorities said, were suspects with alleged ties to the Islamic State.
The gunman's father told NBC News, "I apologize for what my son did. I don't know why he did it. He is dead, so I can't ask him. I wish I knew."
Saturday night and into Sunday, the club was celebrating Latin Night. Club patron Christopher Hansen told CNN he heard what could have been 20 or 30 shots, setting off a panic as people scrambled for cover or raced for the exits. He said he helped a couple people who were wounded.
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said "we are a united community" in the face of the tragedy.
"What we saw last night does not reflect what we feel in our hearts and our souls here in Orange County," Jacobs said. "I am calling on every citizen here in Orange County to never forget that we stand together in times of adversity. But we don’t just stand together in the City of Orlando and Orange County, we stand together as a country.”
UCF is encouraging students to help the wounded by donating blood tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Student Union and Veterans Commemorative Site. The university will be hosting its blood drive until June 20.