As the FBI took over investigation of the increasingly likely terrorist attack that turned Orlando’s popular gay nightclub Pulse into a bloodbath Orlando and state leaders are calling for grief, support and love.
“This is probably the most difficult day in the history of Orlando,” Mayor Buddy Dyer reflected in the latest of multiple news conferences Sunday. “Our community will be grieving today, the next few days, the next few weeks and the next few months. We need to support each other. We need to love each other, and we will not be defined by a hateful shooter. We will be defined by how we support each other.”
In the latest updates, officials did not change counts of the victims: 50 dead, 53 wounded, some critical. FBI Special Agent Ron Hopper said there were no more fatalities being reported out of the three Orlando hospitals treating the victims.
Hopper and others said the dead suspect Omar Mateen, 29, of Port St. Lucie, an American native from New York, as someone who had been under investigation by the bureau twice in recent years for suspicion of involvement in terrorist activity. Both times, in 2013 and 2014, he was cleared. He was under no investigation or surveillance lately.
And that allowed him to buy the handgun and AR-15-like rifle that he used, just two weeks ago, according to ATF Special Agent In Charger Trevor Velinor of the Tampa office.
At 3:30 p.m. the Pulse nightclub remains an active crime scene with bodies still inside, though all said Orlando Police, the Orange County Sheriffs Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI are working diligently and swiftly to clear it.
Only a handful of families of deceased victims, perhaps six to eight, had been notified before the 3:15 p.m. news conference.
Sen. Bill Nelson reported that ISIS media is claiming responsibility but said there is no confirmation of an ISIS link. There are reports that he had called 911 and pledged allegiance to ISIS. Authorities confirmed he had called 911, but declined to say what he said.
Dyer, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and others all talked about expecting the love and resilience of Orlando and Florida residents to quickly overcome the horror of the massacre.
Orlando City Commissioner Tony Ortiz said it’s already happening, with clear, widespread efforts of support through Orlando churches, organizations, and others.
“You should see how the blood banks are packed,” Ortiz said. “That shows you that the community, when things get tough, they get tough.”
Earlier Commissioner Patty Sheehan, an openly gay member of Orlando’s city council, called for people to celebrate the lives of the citizens killed Sheehan broke down emotionally.
However, there already is significant backlash occurring against Central Florida Muslims, said Imam Muhammad Musri, president of the Central Florida Islamic Society. He has been on hand at the scene all day providing support and assistance to community and law enforcement officials.
“We have received tremendous backlash, a lot of hate, a lot of threats,” Musri said. We are trying to sort through that.”