50 dead, 53 injured in nightclub massacre as death toll set to rise.
A man armed with an assault rifle killed 50 people at a packed gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida early yesterday in the worst mass shooting in US history, which President Barack Obama described as an act of terror and hate.
Police killed the shooter, who was identified as Omar Mateen, 29, a Florida resident and US citizen who was the son of immigrants from Afghanistan.
Mateen called 911 yesterday morning and made comments saying he supported the Islamic State militant group, officials said.
“It has been reported that Mateen made calls to 911 this morning in which he stated his allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State,” said Ronald Hopper, the FBI’s assistant special agent in charge on the case.
US officials cautioned, however, that they had no conclusive evidence of any direct connection with Islamic State or any other foreign extremist group.
“We know enough to say this was an act of terror, an act of hate,” Obama said in a speech from the White House. “As Americans, we are united in grief, in outrage and in resolve to defend our people.”
US officials have reached no definitive judgment on the killer’s precise motives, Obama added.
At least 53 other people were taken to hospital, most in critical condition, officials said. A surgeon at Orlando Regional Medical Centre said the death toll was likely to climb.
Mayor Buddy Dyer said all of the dead were killed with the assault rifle. “There’s blood everywhere,” he said.
The suspect, who was named as Omar Mateen, died in the incident. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on a congressional intelligence committee, said Mateen may have pledged allegiance to Islamic State.
He exchanged gunfire with an officer working at the gay club known as Pulse at around 2am, when more than 300 people were inside. The gunman then went back inside and took hostages, police chief John Mina said.
Around 5am, authorities sent in a Swat team to rescue the hostages.
Jackie Smith, who was inside the club, said two friends next to her were shot.
“Some guy walked in and started shooting everybody. He had an automatic rifle, so nobody stood a chance,” she said. “I just tried to get out of there.”
In addition to the guns, the shooter also had some sort of “suspicious device”, Mr Mina said.
Authorities were looking into whether the attack was an act of domestic or international terror, and if the shooter acted alone, according to Danny Banks, an agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
They said they had secured the suspect’s vehicle, a van, right outside the club.
Relatives and friends, many in tears, gathered outside the hospital to learn whether their loved ones were among the dead or wounded.
The wounded included one police officer who was shot and suffered injuries to his face, officials said.
Police had said previously on Twitter that there was a “controlled explosion” at the scene of the shooting. Mr Mina said that noise was caused by a device intended to distract the shooter.
A woman who was outside the dance club early on Sunday was trying to contact her 30-year-old son, Eddie, who texted her when the shooting happened and asked her to call police. He told her he ran into a toilet with other club patrons to hide. He then texted her: “He’s coming.”
“The next text said: ‘He has us, and he’s in here with us,’” Mina Justice said. “That was the last conversation.”
Pulse posted on its own Facebook page around 2am: “Everyone get out of Pulse and keep running.”
Just before 6am, the club posted an update: “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.”
Local, state, and federal agencies were investigating.
President Barack Obama was briefed on the attack and asked for regular updates on the investigation, the White House said.
A Swat truck and a bomb disposal unit are on the scene of an address associated with Mateen in a residential area of Fort Pierce, Florida, about 190km south-east of Orlando.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people lined up in Orlando to give blood to help the victims of the massacre.
“We are looking at a massacre that has no precedent in the history of the gay community,” Rome’s Gay Centre spokesman Fabrizio Marrazzo told the Italian newsagency ANSA.
“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.” Equality Florida.
“It’s horrific, it’s unthinkable. And just hopes go out to all those who were shot that they can recover.” Bernie Sanders, Democratic presidential candidate, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“Horrific incident in FL. Praying for all the victims & their families. When will this stop? When will we get tough, smart & vigilant?” Tweet from Donald Trump, Republican presidential candidate.
“Woke up to hear the devastating news from FL. As we wait for more information, my thoughts are with those affected by this horrific act.” Tweet from Hillary Clinton, Democratic presidential candidate.
“We condemn this monstrous attack and offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all those killed or injured. The Muslim community joins our fellow Americans in repudiating anyone or any group that would claim to justify or excuse such an appalling act of violence.” Rasha Mubarak, Orlando regional co-ordinator for Florida’s chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“Our heart is with our American brothers.” Tweet from Italian premier Matteo Renzi.
“Aghast by the ever more dramatic news of the nightclub massacre.” In a tweet from Italy’s foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni.
“Thank you for your thoughts and love.” Pulse Orlando on its Facebook page.
US: A history of deadly rampages
Some of the nation’s deadliest rampages since 2012:
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved