News Sunshine State

Latest: At least 50 Dead in Orlando Gay Club “Act of Terrorism”; Worse mass shooting in American history

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Written by Richard Hack

ORLANDO—Dozens of Emergency Vehicles surrounded Pulse, the gay nightclub at 1912 S Orange Avenue in Orlando, where more than 50 people lay dead, victims of a largest mass shooting in American history at 2 a.m. Sunday morning.

The FBI has been brought into the case by Orlando Police Chief John Mina who said that the shooter was not a local, and may have had extreme ideological leanings.  The man who had an assault rifle, a handgun and an explosive device had taken the patrons of the club hostage an hour before closing.  In addition to over 50 people dead, another 53 were taken to areas hospital with injuries, some of them life threatening.

He has been identified as Omar Saddiqui Mateen, 29, of Fort Pierce, about 120 miles southeast of Orlando, two law enforcement officials tell CNN.  According to a law enforcement source Mateen worked as a private security guard. He rented a car and then drove to Orlando to carry out the attack, the source said.

FBI teams and local law enforcement are working to clear Mateen’s apartment with bomb squads, investigating the materials there, the source said.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokesman Danny Banks officially classified the shootings at Pulse Nightclub as an “act of terrorism.”

Lisa Monaco, President Obama’s homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, briefed the President early this morning. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of the victims,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement. “The President asked to receive regular updates as the FBI, and other federal officials, work with the Orlando Police to gather more information, and directed that the federal government provide any assistance necessary to pursue the investigation and support the community.” President Barack Obama was scheduled to make a statement about the attacks at 1:30 pm ET.

After an initial skirmish at the front door of Pulse with the club’s security guard, the gunman raced inside and began to shoot hostages. As more police rushed to the scene, the front door was broken down with an armored vehicle, helping some 30 club-goers flee to safety, Mina said. At that point police shot and killed the gunman, he said.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said he had declared a state of emergency for the city and has requested the governor do the same for the state.

Orlando police advised residents to stay away from the area, and urged people not to call their offices.  Bomb sniffing dogs are on the scene.

Pulse Orlando posted on its own Facebook page around 2 a.m.: “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.” Just before 6 a.m., 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.”

The GLBT Community Center of Central Florida at 945 N Mills Ave 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.

The Agenda has learned from our reporter, publisher Scott Spar of Next magazine Central Florida,  on the scene that the bodies have yet to be removed from the club or the identities known.

There will be vigil at the Pride Center at Equality Park at 5 pm tonight, 2040 N Dixie Hgwy in Fort Lauderdale, FL.

Equality Florida, the state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization is collecting contributions via this GoFundMe page to support the victims of the horrific shooting at Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub. Go to facebook.com/equalityfl-eqfl.org/news/pulse.

In a statement, Equality Florida said: “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.”

This story continues to develop and will be updated during the day as news unfolds.

Scott Spar in Orlando contributed to this report.