Police have confirmed that 50 people were killed in the Sunday morning shooting rampage at an Orlando nightclub, making it the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
The gunman, identified as 29-year-old Omar Mateen, opened fire inside the popular gay club Pulse in Orlando at around 2 a.m. According to police, the shooting — which authorities described as a “domestic terror attack” — quickly turned into a hostage situation, as the 300-plus people inside the club tried to escape.
The attack began at about 02:00 local time (06:00 GMT) on Sunday. Pulse, which is one of the biggest nightclubs in Orlando, was holding a Latin-themed event that was nearing its end when a man opened fire. There were more than 300 people inside at the time.
“He had an automatic rifle, so nobody stood a chance,” said Jackie Smith, who saw two friends next to her get shot. “I just tried to get out of there.”
At 02:09, the nightclub posted on its Facebook page: “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.”
Mateen was ultimately killed by SWAT team officers approximately three hours after he began shooting.
It was initially reported that 20 people had been killed in the attack, but at a news conference later Sunday morning, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said the death toll was approximately 50, in addition to Mateen. Other mass shootings in recent years include the 1999 attack that left 13 dead at Columbine High School in Colorado; the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26; the June 2015 shooting spree that killed nine people at a church in South Carolina; and the December 2015 attack at a holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif., that left 14 dead.
VIGILS TOOK PLACE WORLWIDE
Vigils have been held in Orlando, Florida, and around the world for the victims of Sunday’s deadly gun attack on a gay nightclub. The Old Compton Street in Soho, London was joined by thousands to mourn after the loss lives and condemn the brutal attack.
THE GUNMAN WAS SEEN ON GAY-DATING APPS
Several Pulse customers have told US media that Mateen was a regular visitor to the nightclub.
“Sometimes he would go over in the corner and sit and drink by himself, and other times he would get so drunk he was loud and belligerent,” Ty Smith told the Orlando Sentinel.
Other witnesses said they recognised him from gay dating apps. Mateen’s ex-wife, Sifora Yusufiy, has said he alluded to a secret private life before they were married – a marriage arranged online in 2008, which lasted two years.
“When we had got married, he confessed to me about his past – that was recent at that time – and that he very much enjoyed going to clubs and the nightlife,” said Ms Yusufiy, who divorced Mateen in 2011 and said he was abusive and unstable. Speaking in Boulder, Colorado, she was asked directly by CNN whether she believed he was gay. Silent for three seconds, she shook her head a little and said: “I don’t know.” She continued: “He never personally or physically made any indication while we were together, of that. But he did feel very strongly about homosexuality. “He might have been gay but chose to hide his true identity out of anger and shame.” There also many witnesses confessed that Mateen was seen on gay dating apps messaging men and also used to be a regular Pulse goer.