Orlando killer may have scoped out other targets
The gunman whose shooting spree at a packed nightclub left 49 people dead sounded "cool and calm" in negotiations with police before officers stormed the club in a brutal firefight that ended the siege, Orlando Police Chief John Mina said Monday.
Also Monday, a federal law enforcement official told USA TODAY that investigators believe Omar Mateen was in the Orlando area for several days prior to the shooting, suggesting that the gunman carefully considered the target.
The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, said investigators are reviewing Mateen’s possible consideration of other iconic targets in the Orlando area, including Disney World. That review was ongoing and it was not immediately clear how seriously other locations were considered, the officials said.
Mina and FBI Director James Comey provided more details about Mateen, saying he talked to 911 dispatchers three times in the hours before he was killed by police. Comey said Mateen's comments were contradictory, as he claimed his attack was in support of Islamic State. Mateen also had expressed support for al-Nusra and other rogue organizations that are bitter enemies of the Syrian-based militant group.
Comey said Mateen apparently had been radicalized, at least in part through online websites. But Comey reiterated comments made earlier by President Obama that Mateen did not appear to have been directed by Islamic State or been a part of a larger conspiracy.
Comey said his agency investigated Mateen twice since 2013, but found insufficient evidence to charge the 29-year-old security guard with a crime. On one occasion, Comey said co-workers were concerned after Mateen told them he hoped police would raid his apartment and assault his family "so he could martyr himself."
Comey said Mateen admitted making some of the comments but said he was lashing out at co-workers who bullied him because of his Muslim background.
Mina also revealed more details about Mateen and efforts to stop the carnage wrought early Sunday at Pulse, a gay club that had been rocking with music and dancing on Latin Night.
The massacre began with a gunfight outside the club between Mateen and an extra-duty officer in full uniform, Mina said. Other officers arrived within minutes and continued shooting at Mateen as he fled into the club, retreating with hostages into a bathroom, the chief said.
"We were able to save and rescue dozens and dozens, get them out of there," Mina said. He said Mateen called 911, declaring his allegiance to the Islamic State but also talking about explosives.
"Our negotiations were talking to him and there were no shots at that time," Mina said. Police also were in contact with terrified people trapped in the club. Mateen didn’t make any demands, Mina said.
“He wasn’t really asking for a whole lot,” he said. “We were doing most of the asking.”
Mina said he made the decision to conduct the assault, and at around 5 a.m., a SWAT team detonated explosives at a wall. The wall didn’t completely breach, so an armored vehicle was used to punch through. Dozens of club goers came running through the wall, as did the shooter.
Police engaged in a shootout with Mateen, killing him. Mina said the investigation would include an effort to determine if any victims were shot by police in the chaos of the final assault.
“Loss of life was imminent,” Mina said of the decision to storm the nightclub. “We all knew that was the right thing to do.”
ATF Agent Regina Lombardo said two weapons were recovered at the scene from the shooter and a third was found in his car. CNN reported that Mateen recently attempted to purchase military-grade body armor from a local story, but was denied.
Islamic State radio on Monday called the U.S.-born gunman "one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America."
Paul Wysopal, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Tampa Division, said FBI headquarters had dispatched teams of “scene reconstructionists” to piece together what happened, now that all the victims had been cleared from the property. Law enforcement agents from a variety of agencies – including FBI, ATF and local agencies – were investigating more than 100 leads in connection to the shooting, he said.
“Bad events like this bring the community together, as we saw after 9/11,” he said. “And that includes the law enforcement community.”
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demmings echoed a sentiment expressed by many in Orlando.
"This is not a war zone...this is a civilized society we're living in," he said. "Now this about putting our community back together."
Mayor Buddy Dyer said 48 of the 49 victims have been identified. A GoFundMe page set up to support the victims had drawn donations of almost $2 million Monday afternoon.
“We will not be defined by the act of a cowardly hater,” he said. “We’ll be defined by how we respond as a community.”
All but a few families had been notified by Monday afternoon. Twenty-nine people remain hospitalized Monday morning, five of them in "grave" condition, Orlando Health said. Six operations were scheduled for Monday.
President Obama addressed the victims and their families, saying "we feel enormous solidarity" with the loved ones and friends of the victims. He also stressed the need to curb the availability of guns.
"If we have self-radicalized individuals in this country, they are going to be very difficult, often times, to find ahead of time. And how easy it is for them to obtain weapons in some cases will make a difference," Obama said. "We make it very easy."
Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton encouraged prayer for the dead and wounded, and for first responders who "walked into danger one more time." She called for a ban on assault weapons and said terrorism can be defeated if Americans stick together and stand firm.
"We face a twisted ideology and poisoned psychology that inspires that so-called lone wolves," she said. "We have to be just as adaptable and versatile as our enemies."
Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP candidate president, called the attack "horror beyond description" and pledged solidarity with Orlando's LGBT community.
"If we don't get tough, and we don't get smart, and fast, we aren't going to have our country any more," Trump said. "There will be nothing left."
FBI: Orlando suspect U.S. citizen, vowed allegiance to Islamic State
Investigators were reviewing a range of possible terror and hate-crime links to a gunman who professed his allegiance to the Islamic State from the scene of a horrific mass shooting at a crowded Orlando nightclub early Sunday that left at least 50 dead and 53 others wounded, the FBI said.
Omar Mateen, 29, of Fort Pierce, Fla., acknowledged his support for the terror group during a 911 call to local law enforcement from the nightclub, Orlando FBI chief Ron Hopper said.
During the call, placed in the pre-dawn hours after the first round of shots were fired, Mateen also made reference to the deadly 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, said a separate federal law enforcement official who was not authorized to comment publicly.
The disclosure closely tracked an account provided earlier Sunday by California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Schiff said that a Department of Homeland Security briefing indicated that Mateen had made the radical proclamation before he died in a shootout with authorities.
“Whether this attack also was ISIS-directed remains to be determined,’’ Schiff said in a statement.
Hopper also confirmed Sunday that Mateen had been interviewed by federal authorities three times in connection with two investigations during the past three years. In the most recent case, the FBI reviewed Mateen's alleged contacts in 2014 with Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, an American suicide bomber from Florida who died in Syria the same year.
Hopper said the case was closed when investigators determined that Mateen's contacts were "minimal.'' A federal law enforcement official later said a review of the Abu-Salha case found no direct contact between Mateen and the bomber. The two attended the same mosque, the official said.
In a 2013 investigation, investigators interviewed Mateen twice about "inflammatory comments'' the gunman made to a co-worker about possible ties to international terrorism. That case also was closed when authorities were unable to "verify'' the comments.
In both cases, the federal law enforcement source said, Mateen agreed to be interviewed and cooperated with investigators.
Mateen was not under investigation at the time of the shooting, a status that allowed for his purchase of a handgun and an AR-15 rifle which were used in the assault. A Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives trace found that the firearms were purchased "legally'' in Florida within the "last few days.''
Investigators, meanwhile, were interviewing members of Mateen’s family Sunday in an attempt to learn what may have prompted the assault, two federal law enforcement officials said.
NBC News reported that the attacker’s father indicated that Mateen recently expressed anti-gay sentiments, but one of the officials said investigators were still reviewing a wide range of possible motivations.
The official also said investigators were reviewing Mateen’s recent travels and contacts to learn more about possible preparations for the attack, now the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.
According to Florida court records, Mateen was married in 2009 and divorced two years later.
Mateen married Sitora Yusufiy on April 16, 2009. The marriage license was issued in St. Lucie County, Fla., records show. A dissolution of marriage was filed in July 2011.
Yusufiy could not be immediately reached. But in an interview with The Washington Post, the ex-wife claimed she was beaten repeatedly.
A former Fort Pierce police officer who once worked with Mateen as a security guard at PGA Village in Port St. Lucie, Fla., said Mateen was "unhinged and unstable."
Daniel Gilroy said he worked the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift with G4S Security at the south gate of the community for several months in 2014 and 2015. Mateen took over from him for a later shift.
Gilroy said Mateen frequently made homophobic and racial comments. Gilroy said he complained to his employer several times and quit after he said Mateen began stalking him with up to 20 or 30 texts per day. He also left Gilroy 13 to 15 phone messages a day, the former officer said.
"I quit because everything he said was toxic," Gilroy said Sunday, "and the company wouldn't do anything. This guy was unhinged and unstable. He talked of killing people."
John Kenning, a regional G4S chief executive, confirmed that Mateen had been employed there since September 2007.
"We are shocked and saddened by the tragic event that occurred at the Orlando nightclub,'' Kenning said in a written statement. "We are cooperating fully with all law enforcement authorities, including the FBI, as they conduct their investigation. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the friends, families and people affected by this unspeakable tragedy.''
Two of Mateen's prior acquaintances described the gunman's actions as completely out of character for the person they knew.
"He would never shoot anybody or kill anybody,'' Lamont Owens said, adding that he had not seen Mateen for a "few'' years.
Another associate, Ryan Jones, described Mateen as "normal,'' though he also acknowledged not having contact with Mateen for several years.
"He was a cool, calm and collected person,'' Jones said.
Born in New York, Mateen lived in a Fort Pierce apartment complex that was teeming with law enforcement officials Sunday. He also used a mailing address at his parents' nearby Port St. Lucie, Fla., address.
Mateen received an associates of science degree in criminal justice technology in 2006 from Indian River State College, according to college spokeswoman Michelle Abaldo.
Local law enforcement records show no apparent criminal history in Florida.