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Live updates: Orlando shooting

June 12, 2016

A gunman opened fire inside a crowded nightclub here early Sunday morning, killing 50 people and injuring 53 others in a rampage that was the deadliest mass shooting in the country’s history.

  • Ariana Eunjung Cha
  • ·

ORLANDO — More than 200 people packed the one-room Joy Metropolitan Christian Church on Sunday evening, praying for unity and vowing to stay strong in the face of the shootings. It was standing room only in the church known for welcoming the lesbian, gay, bisexual community, with a pulpit draped with rainbow banners. Attendees were handed rainbow and black ribbons.

The congregation expressed their collective grief in prayer and song. The Orlando Gay Chorus joined the attendees, singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “True Colors.”

There was almost a note of defiance in the speakers’ voices as they said that this tragedy would not shake their faith or derail the fight for equality. The church’s founder, the Rev. Troy Perry joined via teleconference, telling the congregation that he had wept all day.

“We will continue the struggle,” he said, his voice breaking.

Prayers for the victims, their families and even the attacker were spoken and applauded. One clergy member read a prayer from the prophet Muhammad, calling for peace.

One victim of the shooting joined the vigil and walked with difficulty to his seat, supported by his friends. He got a standing ovation. The victim said he hid in the bathroom for three hours, and at one point had to play dead.

“Every time I heard a shot, I prayed it wasn’t taking a friend of mine,” he told the crowd.

–Hayley Tsukayama

  • Colby Itkowitz
  • ·

Vice President Biden released a statement Sunday evening about the Orlando massacre:

Last night, at least fifty innocent people gathering to celebrate love and life were brutally killed in an act of pure hate and unspeakable terror. Scores of others were injured in the attack. They were our brothers and our sisters; our friends, neighbors, and loved ones. In the coming days, we will learn more about these fifty souls and the lives they lived and the world they made better.

As the President made clear, we are closely monitoring and fully involved in the investigation of the country’s worst mass shooting. We are grateful for the heroic actions of the Orlando Police, first responders — and many bystanders — who charged into danger and saved lives; who rushed the wounded to hospitals in ambulances, in police cars, in the backs of pickup trucks, and carried others to safety. As in the midst of so much evil, their acts are a reminder of the best in our common humanity.

Jill and I offer our prayers and deepest condolences for all those affected by today’s horrific events. But our prayers are not enough to end these kinds of senseless mass shootings. The violence is not normal, and the targeting of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans is evil and abhorrent.

Our law enforcement and intelligence professionals are still gathering the facts, and we do not yet know what, if any, connection or inspiration there may be with terrorist organizations. But we do know this — we will never rest in our relentless campaign to bring to justice all who would do America harm. And even as we grieve and pursue justice, no act of terror — no despicable act of hate — can tear us asunder. Times of unspeakable tragedy and evil like this are the moments to remind the killers, and the world, of what is best in us, and what unites us.

May God give strength to the families, friends, and all those who grieve today, with broken hearts, but unbound resolve. And may God continue to watch over our great nation.

  • Colby Itkowitz
  • ·

The owner of the Pulse nightclub released a brief statement Sunday evening about the massacre. Barbara Poma opened the club in 2004 in memory of her brother, John, who died of AIDS complications in 1991. She named it Pulse for her brother’s heartbeat.

Here’s her full statement:

Like everyone in the country, I am devastated about the horrific events that have taken place today. Pulse, and the men and women who work there, have been my family for nearly 15 years. From the beginning, Pulse has served as a place of love and acceptance for the LGBTQ community. I want to express my profound sadness and condolences to all who have lost loved ones. Please know that my grief and heart are with you.

  • Colby Itkowitz
  • ·

Among the confirmed deceased is Stanley Almodovar III, 23, of Clermont, Fla. He worked as pharmacy technician.

His cousin, Ivelisse Santiago, had just heard the news when she was reached by phone Sunday afternoon.

“He was just a great kid,” she said through sobs.

Almodovar regularly went to Pulse and other nightclubs in Orlando, said his friend, Hazel Ramirez, 22. Her last interaction with him, she said, was over Snapchat, where she learned he was on his way to Latin night at the club. She was horrified when she learned Sunday afternoon that he been killed.

“You see those things on the news, you never think it’s going to be anyone close to you,” Ramirez said. “To find out it was my friend, it’s so hard.”

She described Almodovar as “kind, but sassy,” someone who was confident with his own sexual identity and therefore helped others find their place in the LGBT community. He was a fierce advocate for his friends, she said, recalling how he defended her one night when they were out dancing and she fell, drawing jeers.

“He was so proud of who he was,” she said. “He would do his makeup better than anyone else. It was so easy to be myself with him.”

In September 2015, Almodovar left a message on his Facebook page with a piece of advice for his friends and followers: “if YOU judge someone; you haven’t taken enough time to Love them.”

— Isaac Stanley-Becker

  • Colby Itkowitz
  • ·

Democratic politicians have mentioned in their tweets and official statements about the Orlando massacre that it occurred at a gay nightclub, but few Republicans have.

Additionally, most Democrats are mentioning curbing gun violence, while Republicans are focused on fighting Islamist terrorism.

For more on the political response to the tragedy:

Few Republicans mention LGBT community in Orlando reactions

After Orlando, the right points to radical Islam, while the left points to guns, hate

  • Deirdra O'Regan
  • ·
  • Colby Itkowitz
  • ·

A Florida LGBT advocacy group has already raised almost half a million dollars for the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting.

More than 11,000 people have donated to Equality Florida’s GoFundMe page in the past six hours, raising more than $480,000 for the victims as of early Sunday evening.

Funds raised by the organization will go directly to victims and their families of the shooting, according to the fundraising page. Equality Florida will work with other local organizations to distribute the funds.

One man, who called himself Jeffree Star on the page, donated $20,000 and left a simple message: “Sending love. Praying for everyone affected in this horrible tragedy.”

— Elise Schmelzer

  • Colby Itkowitz
  • ·

Jorge Figueroa was one of several clergy waiting in a holding area with nearly 250 family and friends for word about their loves ones.

Figueroa, a pastor at Forest City Seventh Day Adventist Church in Altamonte Springs, Fla., wrote on Facebook that most of the families gathered are Hispanic. He described the scene as heartbreaking.

He said clergy was briefed on how family members would be notified one at a time about their loved one’s condition.

“We are now organizing the flow of how families will be escorted to the rooms where we will be giving them the news,” he wrote. “Please pray for me.”

— Arelis Hernandez

  • Colby Itkowitz
  • ·

At the Hampton Inn across the street from the Orlando Regional Medical Center, victims’ families sat in the common area, many staring blankly at two flat-screen televisions broadcasting nonstop news about the shootings. Stacks of pizza boxes stood on a table. Some people slept. Some cried. An older woman sitting in a chair wailed, “Mi hijo, mi hijo, mi hijo, por favor” (My son, my son, my son, please).

Many were waiting for news about their loved ones.

Mary Ann Rodriguez said her stepson, Jeffrey Rodriguez, 38, was shot in the club last night. The family believes he is at the hospital but haven’t received any updates. Her husband sat next to her, sleeping; Mary Ann said she had to give him medication because he was so upset.

She said Jeffrey texted his brother in the early hours of the morning: “I’m bleeding so much and I don’t think I’m going to make it. Call mom and dad and tell them I love them,” she said.

She said she believes Jeffrey was shot three times.

“His name hasn’t been called. We don’t know if it’s because he’s had surgery or because they can’t ID him,” she said. “We’re just praying for the best.”

She said Jeffrey went to the club with a big group of friends. Rodriguez said Jeffrey was among 15 people who hid in a bathroom and a friend who is a physician’s assistant helped save his life, stanching his wounds.

–Katie Zezima

  • Colby Itkowitz
  • ·
  • Colby Itkowitz
  • ·

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump released a statement Sunday afternoon about the Orlando shooting.

Here is his full statement:

Last night, our nation was attacked by a radical Islamic terrorist. It was the worst terrorist attack on our soil since 9/11, and the second of its kind in 6 months. My deepest sympathy and support goes out to the victims, the wounded, and their families.

In his remarks today, President Obama disgracefully refused to even say the words ‘Radical Islam’. For that reason alone, he should step down. If Hillary Clinton, after this attack, still cannot say the two words ‘Radical Islam’ she should get out of this race for the Presidency.

If we do not get tough and smart real fast, we are not going to have a country anymore. Because our leaders are weak, I said this was going to happen – and it is only going to get worse. I am trying to save lives and prevent the next terrorist attack. We can’t afford to be politically correct anymore.

The terrorist, Omar Mir Saddique Mateen, is the son of an immigrant from Afghanistan who openly published his support for the Afghanistani Taliban and even tried to run for President of Afghanistan. According to Pew, 99% of people in Afghanistan support oppressive Sharia Law.

We admit more than 100,000 lifetime migrants from the Middle East each year. Since 9/11, hundreds of migrants and their children have been implicated in terrorism in the United States.

Hillary Clinton wants to dramatically increase admissions from the Middle East, bringing in many hundreds of thousands during a first term – and we will have no way to screen them, pay for them, or prevent the second generation from radicalizing.

We need to protect all Americans, of all backgrounds and all beliefs, from Radical Islamic Terrorism – which has no place in an open and tolerant society. Radical Islam advocates hate for women, gays, Jews, Christians and all Americans. I am going to be a President for all Americans, and I am going to protect and defend all Americans. We are going to make America safe again and great again for everyone.

Trump had already tweeted several times about the tragedy:

  • Colby Itkowitz
  • ·

At the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, Fla., where suspected shooter Omar Mateen prayed, Imam Shafiq Rahman invited a handful of reporters in to talk. He said he had just emerged from the 2:30 p.m. prayer service during which time he shed tears over the shooting and their mosque’s ties to it.

Rahman said he didn’t know Mateen well, but that he’d been there as recently as two days ago. He’d come with his father and 3-year-old son.

“He was the most quiet guy, he never talked to anyone,” Rahman said.“He would come and pray and leave. There was no indication at all he would do something violent.”

The imam flatly rejected any suggestion that Mateen might have been radicalized by him. “If you want to know from me, did I condemn the homosexuals and teach him this, I did not,” he said. “That didn’t happen.” The imam said that he does not preach intolerance because “in this country, we respect each other’s differences and we are careful to be considerate of them.”

Rahman’s 20-year-old son, a University of Florida senior who declined to provide his first name, said the news of Mateen’s involvement came as a shock.

“When these things happen, the first thing you do is hope that is not a Muslim who did it. Then when I saw his name, I thought maybe it was someone else with the same name. Then I saw he’s from Fort Pierce,” the son said.

But the son did say Mateen” seemed like an aggressive person. It was just his demeanor. He used to work out a lot.”

On its website and Facebook page, the Islamic Center urged people to give blood and condemned “this monstrous attack and offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all those killed or injured. The Muslim community of Fort Pierce joins our fellow Americans in repudiating anyone or any group that would claim to justify or excuse such an appalling act of violence.”

— Steve Friess

  • Colby Itkowitz
  • ·

If confirmed that the suspected gunman had ties to terrorism, then the Orlando shooting will more than double the deaths by radical Islamic terrorists on U.S. soil. Before Sunday 45 people had died from violent jihadists since the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

While the motives of the shooter are still unknown, law enforcement told The Washington Post that he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, during a 911 call.

Read more.

  • Colby Itkowitz
  • ·

The City of Orlando has started to release the names of the victims in the Orlando nightclub shooting. Of the 50 dead, four were identified.

“On this very difficult day, we offer heartfelt condolences to today’s victims and their families. Our City is working tirelessly to get as much information out to the families so they can begin the grieving process. Please keep the following individuals in your thoughts and prayers. #PrayforOrlando”

Edward Sotomayor Jr.

Stanley Almodovar III

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo

Juan Ramon Guerrero

Around 5:15 p.m. the city posted two more names of victims. The city has now released the names of six of the victims. It will continue to release names as the victims’ next of kin are contacted.

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz

  • Colby Itkowitz
  • ·

At a staging area that local authorities set up for families at a Hampton Inn & Suites close to the Orlando Regional Medical Center where many victims were taken, Jose Honorato was waiting with his seven siblings for any word about his younger brother Miguel.

“He was at the club with three friends. They made it out safely when the shooting started, but they don’t know if he made it out,” Honorato said.

Honorato, the eldest in the family, said he had been trying to call Miguel’s phone but it kept ringing. Then, he said, around 11 a.m. brother’s phone started going straight to voice mail. He said the lobby where the families are being told to wait is tense and full of people crying but that they had been given no information yet.

“Nobody talks to us. I go and give them my brothers name and info, but they say they don’t know anything yet. And I go back again and again but they tell us to be patient,” he said.

He said Miguel, 30, and he jointly manage a Mexican restaurant his parents own and that the he has a wife and three children.

–Ariana Eunjung Cha

  • Colby Itkowitz
  • ·

Before the gunman walked in to the nightclub and killed 50 people and injured 53 more, clubgoer Anthony Torres posted a video on Facebook of him dancing in the colorful lights at Pulse.

But his next six posts, a series of videos from the scene, quickly turned to shock and disbelief. The videos show law enforcement arriving at the nightclub and victims being carried out of the building.

At about 4 a.m., he posted, “They are just pulling people out in stretchers loading them up. Tonight was suppose to be a fun night !! What happened ?!?? Please God let everyone be alright!!”

A few hours later, he posted saying he and all his loved ones were safe and offered condolences to the victims.

“It was so surreal .. it seemed fake..,” he posted. “We were lucky to walk away from this … But My condolences to the friends and family who lost their loved ones tonight and for everyone that has been injured tonight; i’m praying for you all..”

Torres’s boyfriend, Alfredo Chavarria, also offered his prayers on Facebook.

“I can’t believe how a wonderful night turned so bad so fast!! Thank God we are safe but many were not lucky enough. May God be with those who were hurt.”

Hours earlier, presumably on his way to the club, he’d taken a selfie with the caption: “Everyone loves a back seat selfie let the night begin!!

– Elise Schmelzer

  • Colby Itkowitz
  • ·

The gunman who killed at least 50 people and wounded 53 others at an Orlando nightclub used an assault rifle. So did the shooters at a holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif., at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

Such weapons were banned in 1994, but that law expired in 2004. Renewing it has been a flash point in the contentious gun control debate.

Read more

  • Colby Itkowitz
  • ·

The injured were taken a half mile down the road to Orlando Regional Medical Center, where a 31-year-old Orlando physician was on call. The doctor, who wished to remain anonymous, said he received a page at 3 a.m. to get to the emergency department.

“There were about 35 to 40 wounded people from the club, scattered all over in the trauma bay, the hallways, and rooms,” he said. “People came in with gunshot wounds all over — their chests, legs and arms. Some had their calves and forearms blown off. There were males and females, all who seemed to be in their late 20s and early 30s.”

Despite the chaos, the doctor said the situation was controlled as they made swift judgments about who needed surgery and treatment immediately.

— Amanda Elder

  • Colby Itkowitz
  • ·

Dozens of YouTube videos show Seddique Mateen, the father of the suspected gunman behind Orlando’s murders, extolling the Afghan Taliban and most recently, announcing his run for president of Afghanistan. In a Facebook video posted hours before the shooting, he seems to pretend he already is the president of Afghanistan and orders the arrest of Afghan leaders.

Mateen gave an interview to NBC News on Sunday morning apologizing for his son. He said his son,  Omar Mateen, was angry when he saw men kissing in Miami several months ago, but that he wasn’t “aware of any action he is taken.”

Read more

  • Colby Itkowitz
  • ·

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton released a statement Sunday afternoon calling the Orlando massacre an “act of terror” and said America needed to “redouble our efforts to defend our country from threats at home and abroad.”

Hours earlier she tweeted in English and in Spanish about the shooting.

Here is Clinton’s full statement:

“I join Americans in praying for the victims of the attack in Orlando, their families and the first responders who did everything they could to save lives.

“This was an act of terror.  Law enforcement and intelligence agencies are hard at work, and we will learn more in the hours and days ahead.  For now, we can say for certain that we need to redouble our efforts to defend our country from threats at home and abroad.  That means defeating international terror groups, working with allies and partners to go after them wherever they are, countering their attempts to recruit people here and everywhere, and hardening our defenses at home. It also means refusing to be intimidated and staying true to our values.

“This was also an act of hate.  The gunman attacked an LGBT nightclub during Pride Month.  To the LGBT community: please know that you have millions of allies across our country.  I am one of them.  We will keep fighting for your right to live freely, openly and without fear.  Hate has absolutely no place in America.

“Finally, we need to keep guns like the ones used last night out of the hands of terrorists or other violent criminals.  This is the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States and it reminds us once more that weapons of war have no place on our streets.

“This is a time to stand together and resolve to do everything we can to defend our communities and country.”

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