Written and reported by Caitlin Salovich and Azmia
A horrific mass shooting at a LGBT Florida nightclub early Sunday morning has left 50 people dead and 53 critically injured.
Witnesses recalled shots being fired inside Pulse nightclub around 2am.
Moments after the first shots rang out, the nightclub issued a warning via its Facebook page, telling everyone to get out and “keep running.”
A man inside the club during the shootout, Ricardo Negron Almodovar, wrote on Facebook, “I was there. People on the dance floor and bar got down on the floor and some of us who were near the bar and back exit managed to go out through the outdoor area and just ran.”
According to several reports, the heavily armed gunman was able to create a hostage situation, and barricaded himself in one of the club’s bathrooms before being shot dead by a SWAT team who quickly arrived on the scene.
“The suspect is dead. He appeared to be carrying a rifle, an assault-type rifle, and a handgun, and had some type of [explosive] device on him. That’s what we’re doing right now. Checking the area for devices,” said Orlando Police Chief John Mina.
A state of emergency for the city of Orlando has been issued by Mayor Buddy Dyer.
The investigation into what’s being described as the deadliest massacre in U.S. history is still ongoing, and many critical details about the shooter and his possible motives still remain unclear.
However, statements issued have positively identified the alleged gunman as 29-year-old Omar Saddiqui Mateen of Fort Pierce, FL.
It is confirmed that Mateen was an American citizen born in New York; however his family was originally from Afghanistan.
NBC News contacted the gunman’s father for an interview after the shooter’s name had been released to the public.
“We are apologizing for the whole incident. We weren’t aware of any action he is taking, we are in shock like the whole country. This had nothing to do with religion,” said Mir Seddique.
The father, who also mentioned his son’s encounter with a gay couple in downtown Miami a few months prior, believes that this horrific terrorist attack could have been fueled by his son’s anger at seeing two gay men kissing in Miami.
FBI assistant Rob Hopper declared at a news conference that his team is “looking into all angles,” but confirmed they do have information that the suspect may have had leanings toward jihadi ideologies.
CNN is reporting that he purchased one of the guns used in the attack within the past few weeks, and that it was his security guard license that made it easy for him to obtain weapons.
There are also reports from multiple outlets that Mateen called 911 and pledged allegiance to Daesh during the attack.
Florida Senator Bill Nelson said, “Facts seem to connect this to terrorism, but we can’t say that totally yet.”
Apparently, Mateen had been “on the radar” of U.S. authorities for quite some time, however he was not the target of any open investigations according to law enforcement.
FL Gov. Rick Scott recognized the heros who went inside the building throught the active shooter situation during a Sunday afternoon news conference.
He described the massacre as “clearly an act of terror.”
President Barack Obama was briefed on the shooting early Sunday morning, a statement said. Obama called the attack “act of terror” and an “act of hate,” and noted that Pulse wasn’t just a gay nightclub, but a place of “solidarity and empowerment,” where people came together to share ideas. He reminded Americans that any attack based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identification, or other classification, is not what America stands for.
Billionaire Presidential candidate Donald Trump chimed in via Twitter with his two cents just as Obama began speaking, “Is President Obama going to finally mention the words radical Islamic terrorism? If he doesn’t he should immediately resign in disgrace!”
Disgustingly enough, rather than evidencing any empathy for those affected by the attack, Trump–in his traditional narcissistic, repugnant manner–opportunistically seized the moment to exercise pseudo humility, gleefully tweeting that he was “right on radical Islamic terrorism,” and gloating that he didn’t want congratulations, but “toughness and vigilance.”
LGBT Equality Caucus Executive Director Roddy Flynn said, “The entire LGBT Equality Caucus is horrified by the tragic shooting in Orlando. An attack during Pride Month against Pulse, an iconic gathering place for LGBT Floridians, has a particularly insidious impact on our entire community. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by this tragedy.”
Equality Florida, the state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organization is currently working alongside local advocates and partners in the community to plan a vigil for tomorrow, Monday, June 13th.
A post on their Facebook page reads, “We are still working with law enforcement and community partners on holding an Orlando-based vigil, you can sign up to receive details as we have them.”
They have also organized a GoFundMe page aiming to help the victims and families of the Pulse Orlando shooting. In just a few short hours, supporters have already raised $100K.
The Muslim community in Orlando has mobilized quickly; leaders of the Orlando chapter of one group of Muslims, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, are encouraging Muslims to break their Ramadan fasts to donate blood for the victims. They are also holding a vigil that is open to the public at 8:00 pm this evening at Baitul-Aafiyat Mosque, at 9501 Satellite Blvd, Suite 103, Orlando, FL 32837.
“We condemn this senseless and horrific act of violence in the strongest possible terms,” said Dr. Wajeeh Bajwa, President of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Orlando, “Our Community has been in Orlando for nearly two decades, and have never seen such depravity. Our hearts go out to the innocent victims and their families. We stand in solidarity with them as their neighbors and brothers and sisters in peace. Islam teaches reverence for all human life. This is a time to pray and act to stop such senseless violence in our nation.”
Rasha Mubarak, CAIR-Florida’s Orlando Regional Coordinator, said in an official statement: “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 repudiating anyone or any group that would claim to justify or excuse such an appalling act of violence.”
Leaders of the Muslim community and interfaith representatives will participate in a news conference held by the Florida Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations later today.
CAIR-FL is also asking the Muslim community to take part in a blood donation drive for those injured in the attack.
The Muslim Students Association of University of Central Florida is also making plans to hold a vigil later this week to show their support for the victims of the Orlando tragedy.
Representative Rene Plasencia, who represents the Orlando area in Florida’s House of Representatives, also issued an official statement to Muslim Girl, saying, “I am saddened beyond words at the vicious attack our City Beautiful suffered last night. My prayers are with the families of those who lost their lives and the healing of those who were wounded. I am thankful for the fast and brave response of our police, EMS, and others who stepped in to save many lives.”
As of late this afternoon, areas in downtown Orlando remained shut down, with heavy police presence.
The attack comes at the same time a man going to the L.A. gay pride parade was apprehended with assault rifles, ammo, and possible explosives. It is being said the incidents are “completely unrelated.”
Update at 3:24 PM: A blood drive has been announced.
Update at 5:45 PM: Statement from Senator Darren Soto of Central Florida
“Today’s shooting is a terrible reminder that GLBT hatred still exists in our country. Our solace is that our community has come together to protect would be victims, donate blood, send prayers and remember the fallen, demonstrating Orlando Strong!”