As federal investigators continue to piece together how and why 29-year-old Omar Mateen walked into Orlando gay nightclub Pulse and killed at least 50 people, the owner of the club released a statement saying how “devastated” she was at Sunday morning’s shooting.
“Like everyone in the country, I am devastated about the horrific events that have taken place today,” Barbara Poma tells Rolling Stone in an e-mail. “Pulse, and the men and women who work there, have been my family for nearly 15 years. From the beginning, Pulse has served as a place of love and acceptance for the LGBTQ community. I want to express my profound sadness and condolences to all who have lost loved ones. Please know that my grief and heart are with you.”
Mateen entered Pulse around 2 a.m. Sunday, armed with an assault rifle, a handgun and a suspicious “device.” He continued shooting outside the venue, where an officer tried to confront him, then returned to the club and started shooting again while taking hostages. At least 50 people were killed, with dozens more in critical condition at local hospitals. Mateen was found dead inside the club after a shootout with police.
The gunman’s motives remain unclear, though in a 911 call placed before entering the club, Mateen “pledged allegiance to ISIS,” according to NBC News. The FBI had previously investigated Mateen in 2013 for making “inflammatory” remarks and possible ties to a U.S. citizen who traveled to the Middle East to become a suicide bomber, though NBC reports that Mateen had no direct ties to ISIS.
Investigators are looking into what role, if any, homophobia played in the attack. Mateen’s father, Seddique Mir Mateen, says the attack may have been triggered by anti-gay sentiments. “We were in Downtown Miami, Bayside, people were playing music. And he saw two men kissing each other in front of his wife and kid and he got very angry,” Mir Seddique, told NBC News. “They were kissing each other and touching each other and he said, ‘Look at that. In front of my son they are doing that.’ And then we were in the men’s bathroom and men were kissing each other.”
President Obama addressed the nation Sunday afternoon, highlighting the club and its ties to Orlando’s LGBTQ community.
“This is an especially heartbreaking day for our friends, our fellow Americans who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender,” he said. “The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and sing, and to live.
“The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub, it is a place of solidarity and empowerment, where people come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights. So this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation, is an attack on all of us, and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country. No act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans.”