At least 50 people are dead and 53 injured after a mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub, a gay club in Orlando, Florida.
Around 2am EDT on Sunday June 12 the gunman, Omar Mateen, arrived at Pulse Nightclub and entered the venue. He was armed with an AR-15-type assault rifle as well as a handgun. A police officer was inside the club on extra duties when Mr Mateen entered, and subsequently exchanged fire when Mateen began shooting. Approximately 350 people were inside the venue at the time of the shooting.
Mr Mateen at some point then left the nightclub before returning and taking hostages in the venue.
By 3am Pulse Nightclub had posted on their Facebook page
“Everyone get out of Pulse and keep running.”
In response to the hostage situation, police surrounded the nightclub. At 5am a nine man SWAT team raided the nightclub in an attempt to rescue the remaining hostages. Mr Mateen was shot and killed during the raid.
The number of casualties makes this the worst shooting in American history, a record previously held by the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 which claimed the lives of 32 people and left another 17 injured.
U.S. president Barack Obama has described the shooting as “…an act of terror and act of hate”, emphasising the impact of the incident on the LGBTI community.
“This is an especially heartbreaking day for our friends who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.”
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) June 12, 2016
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), America’s largest LGBTI organisation, lowered their flags to half-mast following the shooting and expressed their gratitude towards president Obama and the FBI for their support. HRC president, Chad Griffin said,
“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.”
The gunman, Omar Mateen, was a 29 year old security officer from Port St Lucie, Florida. His father, Mir Seddique, told reporters that he suspected the attack was motivated by homophobia, not religious extremism. Months earlier, Seddique had seen Mr Mateen become enraged after seeing two men kissing in Orlando.
Mr Mateen’s ex-wife, Sitora Yusufiy, also reported that Mr Mateen was “not a stable person” and was often violent towards her. The couple split in 2011 after he became violently abusive towards Ms Yusufiy.
Reports suggest that Mr Mateen had previously been investigated by the FBI in 2013 and 2014, but was not found to be a threat. During the standoff, Mr Mateen is thought to have made a phone call to 911 in which he pledged his allegiance to Islamic State (IS), but U.S. officials have been quick to downplay suggestions that Mr Mateen was involved with IS or any other extremist group.
June is traditionally LGBTI Pride month in the U.S., and communities have rallied across the globe in support of the shooting victims and their families. The shooting has already reignited the gun control debate in the U.S., but supporters of restricted gun access admit reform is unlikely to come during an election year.