What Just Happened in Orlando? Making Sense of the Deadliest Shooting in American History
Twenty-four hours after America’s deadliest mass shooting, details emerging about the murderer and his motives seem to portray yet another angry unstable young man whose obsessions merged with easy access to military-level assault weapons.
The massacre early Sunday at Pulse, a well-known LGBT dance club in Orlando, Florida, that left 50 people dead and 53 hospitalized, was committed by Omar Mateen, 29, of Port St. Lucie. Mateen shot one-third of the people inside the club, including many who escaped onto the street despite being injured or bloodied, the New York Times reported. He was killed by police before dawn several hours after the assault turned into a hostage standoff.
By late evening Sunday, most victims’ names had not been released, according to the Orlando Sentinel newspaper, which reported on a massacre that brought near-universal condemnation across the nation and the city, where so many hundreds of residents turned out in solidarity with the slain and injured to donate blood that scores had to be turned away.
Government officials, led by President Obama’s televised address to the nation, called it an anti-LGBTQ hate crime and terror act, and said the FBI would use every resource to investigate what happened and why. In contrast, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump gloated on Twitter, saying, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.”
As the day progressed, news organizations, government officials, family and associates of the shooter filled in details about his life and possible motives. It was not at all clear that Mateen was affiliated with any overseas terrorist group or domestic terror cell, even though he called 911 before the massacre and declared his loyalty to the Islamic State, police said.
It remains to be seen if he was much more than another aggrieved loner who lived in his own revulsion-filled world and was able to act out his fantasies and frustrations using firearms. So far, law enforcement officials have not provided any evidence of an IS link beyond his last-minute declaration, various reports have emphasized.
Mateen was born in America. His father, who immigrated from Afghanistan, was politically active among Afghan immigrants and hosted a U.S.-based TV show that supported the Taliban. Whether his father’s activism was influential will be debated in coming weeks. His father told reporters he had no idea this was coming. He said his son was repulsed by seeing gay men kissing in Miami recently with his young son, offering a possible motive for the assault on a well-known gay nightclub several hours drive from his home.
What’s clear is Mateen was a violent and aggrieved man. He physically abused his ex-wife, she told the press Sunday, saying that she had to be rescued by her family. That incident was reported to police and she believed he was mentally ill, CNN said. Mateen also was a gym rat, working out often, and was trained and worked as a security guard since 2007, including with the use of guns.
One former co-worker said he was prone to using racial, ethnic and sexual slurs, the Times reported, and spoke of killing people. His comments concerning overseas Islamic radicals prompted co-workers to notify the FBI, which tracked and investigated him twice, most recently in 2014. Their inquiries closed for lack of evidence, aljazeera.com reported. Mateen also posted pictures online of himself wearing NYPD clothing.
Despite a history that included domestic abuse, violent threats and two FBI investigations, Mateen obtained state licenses in Florida to buy the firearms used in the massacre, the media reported. Police said he had a handgun and an AR-15 military-style rifle, which can rapidly fire many rounds and hit targets with high accuracy.
The Washington Post reported that similar military-style weaponry was used by shooters in most of the recent mass killings across America: in San Bernardino, CA, in a shooting that killed 14 and wounded 20; in Newtown, CT, which killed 28 and wounded 2; and in Aurora, CO, that killed 12 and wounded 58. According to a database by Mother Jones, in 79 mass shootings since 1982 that it investigated, 63 were committed with legally purchased guns.
Immediately after the shooting, many Islamic-American groups issued statements condemning the massacre and assailant and urged Americans not to fall prey to Islamophobia. As AlterNet’s Sarah Lazare reported, the communities most deeply affected by the shooting—LGBTQ Americans and Islamic Americans—are both minorities targeted by many hate groups.
The Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, which works to support and empower LGBTQ Muslims, declared in its Sunday statement, "This tragedy cannot be neatly categorized as a fight between the LGBTQ community and the Muslim community. As LGBTQ Muslims, we know that there are many of us who are living at the intersections of LGBTQ identities and Islam. At moments like this, we are doubly affected."
"We reject attempts to perpetuate hatred against our LGBTQ communities as well as our Muslim communities," their statement continued. "We ask all Americans to resist the forces of division and hatred, and to stand against homophobia as well as against Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry.”
“So disturbing and horrific. An attack on Pride!” wrote a gay Floridian who lived nearby on his Facebook page. “You know soon media will forget the victims and focus on the assassin. Nothing will stop till weapons stop being sold.”