Orlando nightclub shooting: 50 dead, 53 injured, police say, in worst mass shooting in US history
Updated 44 minutes ago
Upset friends and family embrace outside Orlando police headquarters.
PHOTO: Friends and family members gather outside the Orlando police headquarters. (Reuters: Steve Nesius)
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At least 50 people have been killed and another 53 injured after a heavily armed gunman opened fire and seized hostages at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, police say, in the worst mass shooting in US history.
Death toll of 50 makes it worst mass shooting in US history
Authorities describe shooting as “terror incident”
State of emergency declared across Orlando
Gunman was killed during shootout with police
Terrified survivors — who moments before were laughing and dancing with friends — described how the gunman raked the club with bullets, prompting a police SWAT team to storm the venue.
“We have cleared the building, and it is with great sadness that I share we have not 20, but 50 casualties in addition to the shooter,” Mayor Buddy Dyer told a mid-morning news briefing in Orlando, more than doubling the previously given death toll.
“There are another 53 that are hospitalised.”
The shooter was identified as Omar Mateen, a man that a senior FBI official said might have had leanings towards Islamic State militants.
He was born to Afghan parents in 1986 and lived in Port St Lucie, Florida, about two hours’ drive from Orlando.
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Orlando Police @OrlandoPolice
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President Barack Obama was being kept up to date by his homeland security and counterterrorism aide on what Florida officials are investigating as a terrorist attack.
“Do we consider this an act of terrorism? Absolutely, we are investigating this from all parties’ perspective as an act of terrorism,” Danny Banks, special agent in charge of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said.
“Whether that is domestic terrorist activity or an international one, that is something we will certainly get to the bottom of.”
FBI official Ronald Hopper told reporters officials were “confident” there was no immediate further threat to the area, or to the United States.
Because of the scale of the crime, however, Orlando’s Mayor declared a city-wide state of emergency and has asked the Florida Governor to take the same measure state-wide.
“More likely than not it was an ideologically motivated attack,” Florida Congressman Alan Grayson said.
“It might be that we’ve seen the commission of an awful hate crime.”
Florida officials invited a local Islamic leader to address the media in a bid to pre-empt a possible backlash against the Muslim community.
30 hostages rescued: police
The chaotic events unfolded over a three hour period, beginning at around 2:00am (local time) when shots rang out amid the throbbing music at the Pulse Orlando nightclub near closing time.
Police said the shots were fired by a gunman armed with an assault rifle and a handgun.
A police officer working “extra duties” at the club responded, joined by two other officers, who engaged the suspect in a gun battle, Orlando police chief John Mina said.
“The suspect at some point went back inside the club where more shots were fired. This did turn into a hostage situation,” he told reporters.
“At approximately [5:00am] this morning, the decision was made to rescue hostages that were in there.”
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Police then stormed the venue, using explosives and breaking through a wall with a wheeled armoured vehicle known as a BearCat.
Mr Mina said about 30 people were rescued during the operation.
It was unclear whether all the victims were killed by the gunman or if some died in the ensuing shootout with police.
The attack coincides with gay pride month in the United States, with festive marches and events being held all over the country including in Orlando last week.
It was the second shooting incident in the city in just over 24 hours, coming shortly after singer Christina Grimmie was shot dead late Friday by a gunman who stormed a theatre where she had just finished a gig.
Mr Mina said there was no indication of a link between the two shootings.
Police lock down Orange Avenue around Pulse nightclub
PHOTO: Police lock down Orange Avenue around Pulse nightclub. (Reuters: Kevin Kolczynski)
Clubber Ricardo Negron, who was inside when the shooting began, described how the gunman raked the club with bullets.
“People just dropped on the floor. I guess the shooter was shooting at the ceiling because you could see all the glass from the lamps falling,” he said.
He described hearing “non-stop firing” which probably lasted less than a minute but felt like a lot longer.
“There was a brief pause in the shooting and some of us just got up and ran out the back.”
A post on the club’s official Facebook page uploaded during the initial stages of the shooting read: “Everyone get out of Pulse and keep running.”