At least 50 people were killed and more than 30 hospitalized when a gunman opened fire at a nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning. Authorities are calling the attack on Pulse, a popular gay bar in the city’s downtown, an act of domestic terrorism.
Orlando Police Chief John Mina said that the gunman, armed with an assault rifle, a handgun and a suspicious “device,” began shooting inside the club at around 2 a.m., the New York Times reports. 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. Police identified 29-year-old Omar Mateen, born in New York and a resident of Port St. Lucie, Florida, as the shooter.
At around 3 a.m., the club posted an ominous note on its Facebook page: “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.”
At 5 a.m., police detonated a “controlled explosion” to clear the club and rescue the hostages, according to the Times. After a shootout with at least nine police officers, the gunman was found dead inside Pulse. Police were searching the club for possible explosives Sunday morning.
Mateen’s motive remains unclear, but his father says it 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.”
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NBC News reports that Mateen called 911 before entering the club and “pledged allegiance to ISIS,” though authorities have not found any direct link between Mateen and the terrorist group.
Mateen’s father apologized on behalf of his family. “We are saying we are apologizing for the whole incident,” he said. “We weren’t aware of any action he is taking. We are in shock like the whole country.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is assisting local authorities handling the incident, the Orlando Sentinel reports. Agents said that the suspect “may have leanings toward extreme ideologies.” Police said that the suspect was not from the Orlando area and was “organized and well-prepared,” the Times reports.
“This is an incident, as I see it, that we certainly classify as domestic terror incident,” said Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, according to the Washington Post.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both reacted to news of the shooting. “Horrific incident in FL. Praying for all the victims & their families. When will this stop? When will we get tough, smart & vigilant?,” Trump tweeted. before adding, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!”
“Woke up to hear the devastating news from FL,” Clinton wrote. “As we wait for more information, my thoughts are with those affected by this horrific act.”
Orlando police said the event is unrelated to the murder of Christina Grimmie, the popular Voice singer who was killed while signing autographs after her Orlando show.