The FBI has found no evidence so far that Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people and wounded more than 53 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, chose the popular establishment because of its gay clientele, U.S. law enforcement officials said.
“While there can be no denying the significant impact on the gay community, the investigation hasn’t revealed that he targeted Pulse because it was a gay club,” a U.S. law enforcement official said.
Soon after the shooting in the early morning of June 12, top U.S officials such as the FBI director and U.S. attorney general described it as both a hate crime and an act of Islamic terrorism. The shooting rattled the gay community, which felt singled out by Mateen.
“People often act out of more than one motivation,” Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said in the days after the attack. “This was clearly an act of terror and an act of hate.”
A month later, though, 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. Officials said there is no evidence thus far that Mateen, 29, was gay or that his attack was motivated by homophobia.
The assessment is based on interviews and an examination of his computer and other electronic media.
After the attack, speculation surfaced that Mateen was gay as people came forward to say they had seen him at the club previously and had contact with him on gay dating apps. One man told the Spanish-language television network Univision that he had slept with Mateen.
Even Mateen’s first wife, Sitora Yusufiy, raised the possibility that Mateen was possibly gay but conceded it was a suspicion and nothing more. His current wife did not think he was gay, according to a person familiar with the case.
The FBI, however, has been unable to verify that Mateen used gay dating apps and instead has found evidence that Mateen was cheating on his wife with other women.
Officials said there is nothing to suggest that he attempted to cover up his tracks by deleting files. They also added he did not make gay slurs during the shooting spree inside the club, based on witnesses.
In a 911 call, Mateen pledged allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State and did not make any homophobic comments. FBI Director James B. Comey has said Mateen was radicalized and had previously been the target of a terrorism investigation.
Still, some maintain they had contact with Mateen on two gay dating apps, Grindr and Jack’d, and stand by their original claims.
“I know Omar was definitely on Grindr,” said Cord Cedeno, 23, of Orlando. “One of my good friends knew him from Adam4Adam app. There’s no reason to make this kind of thing up. I would never lie about anything like this.”
Kevin West, 38, of Orlando, also maintains that he had numerous conversations with Mateen on a dating app for men. West said it is common for users of such apps to create and delete multiple profiles on multiple mobile devices, making histories hard to track.
“He is not the first and not going to be the last closet case to be on those apps,” West said of Mateen.
On the day of the massacre, West drove to a police station in the Orlando suburb of Apopka to report that he recognized Mateen from the dating app.
Neither West nor Cedeno said they saved any of these conversations on their phones.
A spokesman for Jack’d has said the company has no records of Omar Mateen having an account, although it is possible that he used the app anonymously.
A Grindr spokesman declined to comment.
In the interview with Univision, a man named Miguel claimed he had a relationship with Mateen while living at the Ambassador Hotel in Orlando. He said the two saw each other for about two months.
Melanie Mercado, who works at the hotel, said she thought she encountered someone who might have been Mateen. She thought she saw his face on the news.
“I don’t want to say sure-sure, but it’s familiar,” she said.
Albert Segev, a manager at the Ambassador Hotel, said FBI agents visited the hotel and sought records.
Segev and Mercado said the hotel is equipped with surveillance cameras, but the footage is automatically deleted after 30 days, and they said they did not think it captured any of the interactions with the man who might have been Mateen.
Orlando City Council member Patty Sheehan said the gunman’s motives or his sexuality matter less to her than how to restore a sense of security to a community devastated by loss. “These families would like to see something good come out of this,” Sheehan said.
Sheehan, who has served on the city council for 16 years and is gay, expressed frustration with Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) and Attorney General Pam Bondi, both of whom visited Orlando in the days after the tragedy.
“They said, ‘We’re not going to talk about guns, and we’re not going to talk about gays; this is an attack on all Americans,’ ” Sheehan said. “That’s what they want the narrative to be, and that’s nonsense. We need to have hate crimes on the books for LGBT, and we need weapons of war off our streets.”
Earlier this week, there was a break-in at the Pulse nightclub soon after police turned the property back to its owner.
“Since June 12, we have seen the worst and best of human behavior,” owner Barbara Poma said in a statement. “We are disappointed that someone felt compelled to violate the privacy of our beloved Pulse Night Club and the sacred place it has now become. We have faith in the Orlando Police Department and its investigation of this break-in. The club will continue to remain closed to the public as we work to plan the future of Pulse.”
Anne Hull and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.