On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old American security guard, killed 49 people and wounded 53 others in a terrorist attack—also considered a hate crime—inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, United States. He was shot and killed by Orlando police after a three-hour standoff. Pulse was hosting Latin Night and most of the victims were Hispanic. It was both the deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter and the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people in U.S. history, as well as the deadliest terrorist attack in the U.S. since the September 11 attacks in 2001.
In a 9-1-1 call shortly after the attack began, Mateen swore allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He later told a negotiator he was “out here right now” because of bombing campaigns in the American-led intervention in Iraq and American-led intervention in Syria, and that the negotiator should tell America to stop.
Initial reports said he may have been a patron of the nightclub and used gay dating websites and apps, but Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officials said they have not found any credible evidence to substantiate these claims.
– First shots and hostage situation
On June 11, 2016, Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, was hosting Latin Night, a weekly Saturday night event drawing a primarily Hispanic crowd. About 320 people were inside the club, which was serving last call drinks at around 2:00 a.m. EDT on June 12. After arriving at the club by van, Omar Mateen approached the building on foot, armed with a SIG Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol. At 2:02 a.m., a uniformed off-duty Orlando Police Department (OPD) officer working extra duty as a security guard engaged Mateen. Mateen was able to enter the building, however, and began shooting patrons. Two additional officers also engaged Mateen, who then retreated farther into the nightclub and “began a ‘hostage situation'”. In the next 45 minutes, about 100 officers from the OPD and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched to the scene.
During the attack, some of the people who were trapped inside the club sought help by calling or sending text messages to friends and relatives. Initially, some of them thought the gunshots were firecrackers or part of the music. Many described a scene of panic and confusion caused by the loud music and darkness. One person shielded herself by hiding inside a bathroom and covering herself with bodies. A bartender said she took cover beneath the glass bar. At least one patron tried to help those who were hit.
According to one of the hostages, Mateen entered a bathroom where people were hiding and opened fire, wounding several. The hostage, who had taken cover inside a stall with others, was injured by two bullets and struck with flying pieces of a wall that was hit by stray bullets. Mateen’s rifle then jammed briefly, at which point he stopped firing and took survivors hostage. Two survivors quoted Mateen as saying “I don’t have a problem with black people”, and that he “wouldn’t stop his assault until America stopped bombing his country”. Other survivors heard Mateen claim that he had explosives as well as snipers stationed around the club. Patrons trapped inside called or texted 9-1-1 to warn of the possible presence of explosives.
– Emergency response
At 2:09 a.m., several minutes after the gunfire started, the club posted on its Facebook page, “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.” At 2:22 a.m., Mateen placed a 9-1-1 call in which he mentioned the Boston Marathon bombers—Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev—as his “homeboys” and made a reference to Moner Mohammad Abu Salha, who died in a suicide bombing in Syria in 2014. Mateen said he was inspired by Abu Salha’s death for the Al-Nusra Front, and despite them being at war with ISIL, swore allegiance to the latter organization’s leader. The FBI said that Mateen and Abu Salha had attended the same mosque and knew each other “casually”. Mateen made two other 9-1-1 calls during the shooting. Numerous 9-1-1 calls were made by the patrons inside the nightclub around this time.
After the initial rounds of gunfire between Mateen and the security guard at Pulse, about five or six officers broke through a large glass window and tracked the shooter to the bathroom area where they were told to keep aim while awaiting the SWAT team’s arrival. After about 15 to 20 minutes, SWAT had the officers retreat as the officers were “not really in tactical gear”. SWAT then took over the operation.
At 2:45 a.m., Mateen called News 13 of Orlando and said, “I’m the shooter. It’s me. I am the shooter.” He then said he was carrying out the attack on behalf of ISIL and began speaking rapidly in Arabic.
Dozens of additional first responders—including OPD officers and Orange County sheriff’s deputies as well as paramedics and firefighters from three fire departments—and FBI agents reported to the scene. A crisis negotiator was present as Mateen was holed up inside and holding hostages. Officers initially believed he was armed with a “suspicious device” that posed a threat, but it was later revealed to be a battery that fell out of an exit sign or smoke detector.
Police hostage negotiators spoke with Mateen by telephone three times between 2:48 a.m. and 3:27 a.m. The shooter claimed during one of the calls that he had bombs strapped onto him. At 3:58 a.m., the OPD announced to the public that there was a shooting at the club, and that there were multiple injuries. At 4:21 a.m., eight of the hostages escaped after police had removed an air conditioning unit from an exterior wall. At approximately 4:29 a.m., Mateen told negotiators that he planned to strap explosive vests to four hostages, strategically place them in different corners of the building, and detonate them in 15 minutes. OPD officers then decided to end negotiations and prepare to blow their way in.
Around 4:00 a.m., Mateen sent a text message to his wife, Noor Salman, asking her if she had seen the news. At one point, she texted him back saying that she loved him. She also called him several times, but he did not answer.
A survivor of the attack recalled Mateen saying he wanted the United States to “stop bombing his country”. The FBI said Mateen “told a negotiator to tell America to stop bombing Syria and Iraq and that was why he was ‘out here right now'”.
– Rescue and resolution
The FBI reported that no shots were heard between the time Mateen stopped exchanging gunfire with the first responders and 5:02 a.m., when Orlando police breached the building’s wall. Just before the breach, Mateen entered the bathroom stall where the hostages were hiding and fired at least three shots, killing a man who sacrificed his life to save the woman behind him. At around 5:00 a.m., fourteen SWAT officers—after failing to blow open a big enough hole in the bathroom’s exterior wall using a bomb—successfully breached the building when a policeman drove a BearCat armored vehicle through a wall, then used two flashbangs to distract Mateen. Mateen was shot and killed in the resulting shootout, which involved at least eleven officers.
Five minutes later, the police said a bomb squad had set off a controlled explosion. At 5:53 a.m., they confirmed Mateen’s death. Thirty hostages were freed during the police operation. The survivors were searched by police for guns and explosives.
Fifty people died in the incident, including the shooter, and another 53 were injured, some critically. Many underwent surgery. Thirty-nine, including the killer, were pronounced dead at the scene, and eleven at local hospitals. Most of the injured—44 people—were taken to the Orlando Regional Medical Center, the primary regional trauma center three blocks away; others went to Florida Hospital Orlando. Autopsies of all 49 deceased victims were completed by the Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office by June 14.
A responding police officer received a minor eye injury when a bullet hit his helmet. Over 90% of the victims were of Hispanic background, and half of those were of Puerto Rican descent—Pulse was hosting Latin Night. Four Dominicans and three Mexican citizens were killed; three Colombians and two Canadians were injured. An off-duty United States Army Reserve captain at the club who was not in uniform was also killed.
The attack is the deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter in United States history, the deadliest incident of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the history of the United States—surpassing the 1973 UpStairs Lounge arson attack—and the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States since the September 11 attacks in 2001.
– List of the dead
The names and ages of the victims killed were confirmed by the City of Orlando after their next of kin had been notified:
Stanley Almodovar III, 23
Amanda Alvear, 25
Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21
Martin Benitez Torres, 33
Antonio D. Brown, 30
Darryl R. Burt II, 29
Jonathan A. Camuy Vega, 24
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28
Simon A. Carrillo Fernandez, 31
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25
Luis D. Conde, 39
Cory J. Connell, 21
Tevin E. Crosby, 25
Franky J. Dejesus Velazquez, 50
Deonka D. Drayton, 32
Mercedez M. Flores, 26
Juan R. Guerrero, 22
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22
Paul T. Henry, 41
Frank Hernandez, 27
Miguel A. Honorato, 30
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40
Jason B. Josaphat, 19
Eddie J. Justice, 30
Anthony L. Laureano Disla, 25
Christopher A. Leinonen, 32
Brenda L. Marquez McCool, 49
Jean C. Mendez Perez, 35
Akyra Monet Murray, 18
Kimberly Morris, 37
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27
Luis O. Ocasio-Capo, 20
Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25
Eric I. Ortiz-Rivera, 36
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32
Enrique L. Rios Jr., 25
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37
Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24
Christopher J. Sanfeliz, 24
Xavier E. Serrano Rosado, 35
Gilberto R. Silva Menendez, 25
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34
Shane E. Tomlinson, 33
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25
Luis S. Vielma, 22
Luis D. Wilson-Leon, 37
Jerald A. Wright, 31
Many people lined up to donate blood at local blood donation centers and bloodmobile locations after OneBlood, a regional blood donation agency, urged people to donate. The surge in blood donations and the fact that the shooting targeted a gay nightclub spotlighted the Food and Drug Administration’s controversial federal policy that forbids men who had sex with men in the past year from donating blood. Despite expressions of frustration and disapproval by a number of gay and bisexual men, and LGBT activists across the country and a group of Democratic lawmakers urging the ban to be lifted, FDA stated on June 14 that it had no plans to change the regulation and will reevaluate its policies “as new scientific information becomes available”.
The GLBT Community Center of Central Florida (The Center) provided grief counseling for survivors. A victims’ assistance center, Orlando Family Assistance Center, was opened at Camping World Stadium.
Facebook activated its “Safety Check” feature in the Orlando area following the attack, allowing users to mark themselves as “safe” to notify family and friends—the first use of the feature in the United States.
Equality Florida, the state’s largest LGBT rights group, started a fundraising page to aid the victims and their families, raising $767,000 in the first nine hours. As of July 16, they have raised over $7.26 million online, a record for GoFundMe, with an average of around $61 per donation. Another fundraising campaign, OneOrlando, was established by Mayor Buddy Dyer. The Walt Disney Company and NBCUniversal, which operate the nearby Walt Disney World Resort and Universal Orlando Resort, respectively, each donated $1 million to the fund. As of, July 14, OneOrlando has raised over $20 million with a draft proposal to start payouts starting September 27 on a rolling basis with the highest compensations to the families of the 49 people killed, followed by the 50 victims who were physically injured and hospitalized for one night or more. OneOrlando’s fund administrator said that the draft has not decided whether to pay people who were held hostage but were not injured, and will take public feedback in two 90-minute hearings held on August 4. A timeline of the draft proposal was released.
Following the shooting, many business venues in the U.S., such as shopping malls, movie theaters, security firms, bars, and concert halls, as well as event organizers, reexamined their security procedures. Also, police forces across the country announced plans to increase security at LGBT landmarks such as the Stonewall Inn and at Pride Month events including pride parades.
Two former SWAT members, one an active-shooter tactics expert and trainer, expressed misgivings about the three-hour delay in breaching the nightclub, citing the lesson learned from other mass shootings that officers can minimize casualties only by entering a shooting location expeditiously, even if it means putting themselves at great risk.
Seddique Mateen released a Dari-language video statement via Facebook on June 13 to speak about his son’s actions.
A June 13 broadcast from the Iraqi ISIL radio station al-Bayan said Mateen was “one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America”, without indicating any foreknowledge of the shooting.
Two dozen news agencies jointly demanded the release of recordings of 9-1-1 calls made on the night of the shooting. Orlando Police refused to release the recordings, citing an “ongoing investigation”. On June 20, the FBI released a transcript of the first call by the shooter and a summary of three calls with police negotiators.
The gunman was identified as 29-year-old Omar Mateen, an American born in New Hyde Park, New York. His parents were Afghan, and he was raised as a Muslim. At the time of the shooting, he lived in an apartment complex in Fort Pierce, Florida, 117 miles (188 kilometers) from the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
From October 2006 until April 2007, Mateen trained to be a prison guard for the Florida Department of Corrections. As a probationary employee, he received an “administrative termination (not involving misconduct)” upon a warden’s recommendation after Mateen joked about bringing a gun to school. Mateen unsuccessfully pursued a career in law enforcement, failing to become a Florida state trooper in 2011 and to gain admission to police academy in 2015. According to a police academy classmate, Mateen threatened to shoot his classmates at a cookout in 2007 “after his hamburger touched pork, in violation of Muslim laws”.
Since 2007, he had been a security guard for G4S Secure Solutions. The company said two screenings—one conducted upon hiring and the other in 2013—had raised no red flags. Mateen held an active statewide firearms license and an active security officer license, had passed a psychological test, and had no criminal record. A former G4S coworker said he “had talked about killing people”, used slurs and “had a lot of hatred for people. Black people, women, he did not like Jews, he did not like Hispanics, nor did he like gay or lesbian people.”
After the shooting, the psychologist said to have evaluated and cleared Mateen for his firearms license in 2007 by G4S records denied ever meeting him or having lived in Florida at the time, and said she had stopped her practice in Florida since January 2006. G4S admitted Mateen’s form had a “clerical error”, and clarified that he had instead been cleared by another psychologist from the same firm that bought the wrongly-named doctor’s practice. This doctor had not interviewed Mateen, but evaluated the results of a standard test used in the screening he undertook before being hired.
In 2009, Mateen married his first wife, who left him after a few months; the couple’s divorce became final in 2011. Following the nightclub attack, she said Mateen was “mentally unstable and mentally ill” and “obviously disturbed, deeply, and traumatized”, was often physically abusive, and had a history of using steroids. His autopsy revealed signs of long-term and habitual steroid use, so more toxicology tests were ordered for confirmation. As of July 15, federal investigators are uncertain whether Mateen’s steroid use factored into the attack.
An unnamed police academy classmate said Mateen asked him out around 2006, that they had spent time at gay bars together after class, and that he believed Mateen was gay. He also described him as “socially awkward” and disliked by classmates. A man who self-identified as Mateen’s lover-of-two-months, “Miguel”, stated that he believed the massacre was out of revenge against Latino men when Mateen learned he may have been exposed to HIV from a Puerto Rican man with whom he had sex. Mateen’s autopsy results confirmed that he was HIV-negative. At least four regular Pulse customers reported having seen Mateen visit the nightclub on no fewer than a dozen occasions. One of them said he would sometimes become drunkenly “loud and belligerent”, and at other times would drink in a corner by himself. According to a witness who recognized him outside the club an hour before the shootings, Mateen had messaged him using Jack’d, a gay dating app, intermittently over the course of a year before the attack. Another witness said Mateen used Grindr, a gay hook-up app, and Adam4Adam website to communicate with gay men, and had posted pictures of himself on both sites. A third witness said Mateen would try to pick up men at the nightclub. However, according to federal law enforcement officials, the FBI suspects the witnesses could be mistaken, and has doubts that Mateen was gay. Law enforcement sources said the FBI found no photographs, text messages, smartphone apps, pornography, or cell tower location data to suggest Mateen lived a gay life, closeted or otherwise.
On the day of the attack, Mateen’s father, Mir Seddique Mateen, said that he had seen his son get angry after seeing a gay couple kiss in front of his family at the Bayside Marketplace in Miami months prior to the attack, which he suggested might have been a motivating factor. Two days later, after his son’s sexual orientation became a subject of speculation, Mateen’s father said he did not believe his son was homosexual. Mateen’s ex-wife, however, claimed that his father called him gay while in her presence. Speaking on her behalf, her current fiancé said that she, his family, and others believed he was gay, and that “the FBI asked her not to tell this to the American media”.
At the time of the shooting, Mateen was married to his second wife, Noor Zahi Salman, and had a young son.
In the hours before the attack, Mateen used multiple Facebook accounts to write posts vowing vengeance for American airstrikes in Iraq and Syria and to search for content related to terrorism. These posts, since deleted, were recovered and included in an open letter by Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg seeking further information about Mateen’s use of the site.
Officials have characterized the attack as an act of terrorism and a hate crime. FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Ron Hopper called the attack a hate crime and an act of terrorism, and Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings classified the incident as domestic terrorism. City of Orlando Chief of Police John W. Mina said Mateen seemed organized and well-prepared.
Federal officials said a SIG Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol were recovered from Mateen’s body, along with additional rounds. Mateen had legally purchased the two guns used in the attack from a shop in Port St. Lucie within the last two weeks before the shooting. He and law enforcement fired a total of 202 rounds. From his car, “hundreds of rounds” were found along with a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver; this gun was not used in the shooting. Security-camera video footage was recovered from the nightclub.
On June 13, FBI Director James Comey told reporters, “So far, we see no indication that this was a plot directed from outside the United States and we see no indication that he was part of any kind of network”. He said the U.S. Intelligence Community was “highly confident that this killer was radicalized at least in part through the Internet”, and that the investigation had found “strong indications of radicalization by this killer and of potential inspiration by foreign terrorist organizations”.
Mateen became a person of interest to the FBI in May 2013 and July 2014. The 2013 investigation was opened after he made comments to coworkers about being a member of Hezbollah and having family connections in al-Qaeda, which resulted in his employer G4S removing Mateen from his post and the county sheriff reporting him to the FBI. The 2014 investigation was opened after he was linked to Moner Mohammad Abu Salha, an American radical who committed a suicide bombing in Syria. Mateen was interviewed three times in connection with the two investigations, which were both closed after finding nothing that warranted further investigation. After the shooting, Director Comey said the FBI will review its work and methods used in the two investigations. When asked if anything could have or should have been done differently in regard to Mateen, or the FBI’s intelligence and actions in relation to him, Comey replied, “So far, the honest answer is, ‘I don’t think so'”.
A little over a month after the shooting, the FBI provided more details about its May 2013–March 2014 investigation into Mateen, which was closed after a veteran FBI agent assigned to the case and his supervisor concluded that “there was just nothing there” and removed his name from the Terrorist Watchlist. Mateen was interviewed twice during the investigation, and had provided a written statement in which he confessed that he had previously lied to FBI investigators. During the investigation, the FBI had tracked his daily routine using unmarked vehicles, closely examined his phone records, and used two informants to secretly record his face-to-face conversations. The FBI Director said that they could have taken more initiative in gaining access to his social media accounts in 2013, but noted that back then such checks were not yet “part of their investigative DNA”. However, it would not have mattered, as the analysis of Mateen’s computer after the shooting showed that his social media accounts, including Facebook, had no ties to any terrorist groups, and that he did not post any “radical statements” until the early morning of the shooting. The FBI in 2013 also did not have the probable cause needed to obtain a search warrant in order to secretly listen to his phone calls or probe into Mateen’s computer.
U.S. officials said ISIL may have inspired Mateen without training, instructing, or having a direct connection with him. Investigators have said no evidence linking Mateen to the group has emerged, and have cautioned that the attack may have been ISIL-inspired without being ISIL-directed, as was the case in the December 2, 2015 attack in San Bernardino, California. Yoram Schweitzer of the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies posited that Mateen associated the attack with ISIL to add notoriety, and said it was very unlikely that ISIL had known of him before the attack.
Following the shooting, officers from multiple federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies (including the FBI, ATF, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office, and Fort Pierce Police Department) converged on Mateen’s home in Fort Pierce and another home in Port St. Lucie. A bomb squad checked Mateen’s Fort Pierce home for explosives. In June 2016, the House Intelligence Committee said that U.S. investigators “are searching for details about the Saudi Arabia trips Mateen made in 2011 and 2012.”
The shooting has been considered a possible example of “soft target” terrorism, which targets civilian locations that have minimal security.
Senate Intelligence Committee member Angus King said that Mateen’s wife, Noor Salman, appears to have had “some knowledge of what was going on”. Media reports, citing anonymous law enforcement officials, said Salman was with Mateen as he scouted possible Orlando-area targets (including the Walt Disney World Resort’s Disney Springs and the Pulse nightclub) and that she was also with him when he purchased ammunition and a holster in the months leading up to the attack.
On June 16, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency John Brennan told the Senate Intelligence Committee that his agency was “unable to uncover any link” between Mateen and ISIL.
On July 8, Chief Mina requested help from the U.S. Department of Justice in finding an independent agency to conduct an “After Action Report”. For the AAR, the yet-to-be-chosen independent agency will assess and review the OPD’s response to the shooting. Mina said he is confident the responding officers did a good job, and decided to ask for help after a discussion with other police chiefs around the country who stressed the importance of a third-party review. The DOJ has accepted his request and announced on July 16 that its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services will conduct an “after-action assessment” of the Orlando police’s preparedness for and methods used in the shooting.
On July 13, Special Agent in Charge Danny Banks of Florida Department of Law Enforcement said that FDLE expects to finish its investigation into the Pulse incident in about a month. FDLE’s role is to find out whether the officers who fired upon Mateen did so within legal bounds. Mateen’s wife is still under investigation, no arrests have been made, and no other motive of the attacker has been determined—officials have not confirmed the “speculation that Mateen lashed out because he was gay or had animosity toward gay or Latino people”. As paraphrased, Banks said it’s unclear “why Mateen chose to attack Pulse.” The FBI has also yet to conclude its investigation. In mid-July, law enforcement officials reported that the FBI—after conducting “interviews and an examination of his computer and other electronic media”—has not found any evidence that Mateen targeted Pulse because the nightclub was a venue for gays or whether the attack was motivated by homophobia. Also, nothing has been found that confirms the speculation that he was gay and used gay dating apps; however, the FBI “has found evidence that Mateen was cheating on his wife with other women”. Officials noted that “there is nothing to suggest that he attempted to cover up his tracks by deleting files”. Generally, “a complete picture of what motivated Mateen remains murky and may never be known since he was killed in a shootout with police and did not leave a manifesto.”
Florida Governor Rick Scott expressed support for all affected, and said the state emergency operations center was monitoring the incident. Scott declared a state of emergency for Orange County, Florida, and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer declared a state of emergency for the city. In June 24, Scott directed that 49 state flags be flown for 49 days in front of the Florida Historic Capitol in Tallahassee, with the name, age, and photo of every victim displayed beneath each flag.
The Obama administration expressed its condolences to the victims. President Barack Obama ordered that “the federal government provide any assistance necessary to pursue the investigation and support the community.” In a speech, he described the attack as an “act of hate” and an “act of terror”. He also issued a proclamation ordering U.S. flags upon non-private grounds and buildings around the country and abroad to be lowered to half-staff until sundown, June 16, 2016. He and Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Orlando on June 16 to lay flowers at a memorial and visit the victims’ families.
Many American Muslims, including community leaders, swiftly condemned the attack. Prayer vigils for the victims were held at mosques across the country. The Florida mosque where Mateen sometimes prayed issued a statement condemning the attack and offering condolences to the victims. The Council on American–Islamic Relations called the attack “monstrous” and offered its condolences to the victims. CAIR Florida urged Muslims to donate blood and contribute funds in support of the victims’ families.
The United Nations Security Council issued a statement condemning the attack for “targeting persons as a result of their sexual orientation.” It was supported by “an unlikely group of countries”, including ones that suppress homosexual behavior and discussion such as Egypt and Russia. Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, led a group of 17 UN ambassadors on a visit to the historic LGBT landmark Stonewall Inn to express their support for LGBT rights in response to the Orlando shooting. Countries that released their own statements condemning the attack include Afghanistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Turkey.
Many people on social media and elsewhere, including U.S. presidential candidates, members of Congress, other political figures, foreign leaders, and various celebrities, expressed their shock at the event and extended their condolences to those affected. Vigils were held around the world to mourn those who were killed in the shooting.