Terrorist attack at gay Orlando club kills 50

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Fifty people were killed and dozens more injured early Sunday as a shooter opened fire at a gay club in downtown Orlando in what's being described as the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

The shooter – identified as Omar Saddiqui Mateen, 29 – traveled from Fort Pierce, Fla., walked into Pulse on Orange Avenue about 2 a.m. and opened fire in a crowd of about 300 people, according to authorities and media reports. Police initially said 20 people were killed, but the number of fatalities was raised to 50 – with 53 more people injured – later on Sunday.

Mateen, a U.S. citizen, apparently took people hostage in the club and was later killed by police who stormed the facility. The gunman was carrying an assault rifle, a handgun and was possibly wearing an explosive device, according to the Orlando Sentinel. 

Mateen worked for a security company in the Fort Pierce area and rented a car to drive to Orlando before the shooting, CNN reported. An off-duty Orlando police officer working security at the club was the first to engage the shooter, according to the New York Times.

The gunman exchanged fire with an off-duty police officer working security at the club, then mowed down dozens of patrons, sending hundreds of others, some of them bleeding, fleeing down the darkened streets of the surrounding neighborhood.

The gunman holed up inside with dozens of people effectively held hostage, some of them hiding in a restroom frantically calling for help, until after 5 a.m., when the police, using an armored vehicle and stun grenades, assaulted and killed him. The raid saved about 30 people, Chief Mina said.

Authorities are calling the attack an act of terror, according to USA Today.

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.

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.

As the shooting unfolded, the nightclub reacted with a post on its Facebook page warning of the danger: “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.” Four hours later, the club added a second post: “As soon as we have any information we will update everyone. Please keep everyone in your prayers as we work through this tragic event. Thank you for your thoughts and love.”

 

Witnesses described a confusing scene.

“I was winding down the night and getting ready to close and all of the sudden something sounded like fire crackers going off. I lowered the music and it sounded again. I turned the music off. Basically everybody was just running out and it was just complete chaos,” Ray Rivera (second photo), a DJ at the club, told the Orlando Sentinel.

Joel Figueroa of Orlando told the New York Times that a friend was shot three times and taken to a hospital.

“We were dancing by the hip-hop area when I heard shots, bam, bam, bam, and the only thing I could think of was to duck, but I ran out instead,” said Joel Figueroa, 19, of Orlando, who had been inside. “Everybody was screaming and running toward the front door. I didn’t get to see the shooter.”

Jillian Amador was cut by glass during the attack, described the scene to the Orlando Sentinel.

Jillian Amador, who was discharged from the hospital after being cut by glass during the attack, said she heard shots and people started running.

“People were trampling all over each other,” Amador said.  “I feel terrible. I have anxiety. I'm scared. I don't wanna go out.”

Mayor Buddy Dyer called the mass shooting “a very horrific crime,” according to Watermark. Dyer has since declared a state of emergency in the central Florida city.

“Tonight our community experienced a very horrific crime. Many lives were lost,” says Mayor Buddy Dyer. “We’re a strong, resilient community. Tonight, we had a crime that will have a lasting effect on our community. We need to stay strong and stay supportive at our victims and their families.”

A vigil is being planned for Monday, according to Equality Florida.

The mass shooting came just a week after thousands of LGBT people celebrated in Orlando for the weekend-long Gay Days at Disney.

National LGBT groups reacted to the shooting on Sunday morning.

Equality Florida:

We are reeling from the tragic news that a gunman opened fire on the 2am capacity crowd at Pulse leaving 20 people dead and 42 injured according to preliminary reports.

We are heartbroken and angry that senseless violence has once again destroyed lives in our state and in our country.

Gay clubs hold a significant place in LGBTQ history. They were often the only safe gathering place and this horrific act strikes directly at our sense of safety. June commemorates our community standing up to anti-LGBTQ violence at the Stonewall Inn, the nightclub that has become the first LGBTQ site recognized as a national monument.

We have received a steady stream of emails and messages from those seeking to help or to make sense of the senseless. We make no assumptions on motive. We will await the details in tears of sadness and anger. We stand in solidarity and keep our thoughts on all whose lives have been lost or altered forever in this tragedy.

Plans are underway for the following. More details to come.

* The GLBT Community Center of Central Florida is now open and offering grief counseling to those affected by the Pulse Orlando massacre. They are encouraging anyone who needs help and support to please come to the center.
Address: 946 N Mills Ave Orlando, Florida 32803
Phone Number: (407) 228-8272
Website: https://www.thecenterorlando.org/

* OneBlood, the local blood bank in Orlando, has posted an EMERGENCY need for O-, O+, and AB Plasma in the light of last night's tragedy. If any of you have a chance today to go donate blood or plasma PLEASE DO. You could very well save someone's life. To find a donation center or Big Red Bus near you visit www.oneblood.org or call 1.888.9Donate.

* A vigil tomorrow pending clearance from police.

* A fund is being set up to help victims families.

Human Rights Campaign:

HRC President Chad Griffin said, “We are devastated by this tragic act of violence, which has reportedly claimed the lives of at least 50 LGBTQ people and allies and injured more than 50 others. We are grieving for the victims and our hearts are broken for their friends, families, and for the entire community. This tragedy has occurred as our community celebrates pride, and now more than ever we must come together as a nation to affirm that love conquers hate.”
Griffin added, “We are grateful that President Obama has directed the FBI and other federal agencies to support the investigation of this attack and the LGBTQ community during this time.”

The National LGBTQ Task Force:

“We are deeply shocked by this appalling act of violence against the LGBTQ community and our friends. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones and with the injured. While the motive behind this crime remains unclear, our resolve to live openly and proudly remains undiminished. Now is a time for the whole nation to stand together against violence,” said Rea Carey, Executive Director, National LGBTQ Task Force.

Lambaa Legal:

 

 

 

GLAAD:

 

Equality Floriday has also set up a Go Fund Me campaign to raise funds for victims of the shooting. Within an hour of establishing Support Victims of Pulse Shooting, some 116 people had donated $6,601.

We are reeling from the tragic news that a gunman opened fire on the 2am capacity crowd at Pulse leaving 50 people dead and over 50 injured according to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.

We are heartbroken and angry that senseless violence has once again destroyed lives in our state and in our country.

Gay clubs hold a significant place in LGBTQ history. They were often the only safe gathering place and this horrific act strikes directly at our sense of safety. June commemorates our community standing up to anti-LGBTQ violence at the Stonewall Inn, the nightclub that has become the first LGBTQ site recognized as a national monument.

We have received a steady stream of emails and messages from those seeking to help or to make sense of the senseless. We make no assumptions on motive. We will await the details in tears of sadness and anger. We stand in solidarity and keep our thoughts on all whose lives have been lost or altered forever in this tragedy.

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