FBI agent calls Orlando shooting both ‘hate crime’ and ‘act of terrorism’
ORLANDO, Florida — FBI Special Agent Ron Hopper said the mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub was both a hate crime and an act of terrorism. “This was an act of violence born out of hate that inflicted terror on an entire community,” he said Wednesday. “I would call it a hate crime, I would call it terrorism. It’s both.”
Florida gunman Omar Mateen called a friend to say goodbye as he carried out his shooting rampage at a gay nightclub in Orlando, two law enforcement officials said Wednesday.
The FBI has interviewed the recipient of that call, the sources said. Mateen also made calls to 911 and a producer at News 13 in Orlando, identifying himself as the shooter and saying he was acting out of allegiance to ISIS. Forty-nine people were killed and more than 50 others wounded in the massacre early Sunday at the club Pulse.
Matthew Gentili, a producer at News 13, told the station he got a call about 2:45 a.m. Sunday from a man claiming to be the nightclub shooter.
‘ “Do you know about the shooting?’ ” the caller asked, according to Gentili.
“I’m the shooter. It’s me. I am the shooter,” the man said.
Gentili said the caller appeared to be speaking Arabic at one point and later told him, “I did it for ISIS. I did it for the Islamic State.”
The caller would not say where he was.
“Is there anything else you want to say?” Gentili recalled asking. “He said no and hung up the phone.”
The FBI is working to access data from the phone used by the gunman, law enforcement officials said. Investigators have obtained significant amounts of data from service providers, including email.
The Samsung phone was damaged after it became submerged in water and blood when SWAT officers severed a water main while tearing down a wall to the nightclub to rescue hostages, officials said.
Sources: Mateen visited gay chat rooms
Days after the attack — the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history — law enforcement officials revealed Mateen visited gay chat rooms and also frequented the same nightclub he would eventually terrorize despite reportedly expressing outrage over the sight of two men kissing and making derogatory comments about gays to others.
Investigators don’t know whether he visited the chat rooms for personal reasons or for surveillance before carrying out the brutal attack.
A former colleague has said Mateen constantly made homophobic, sexist and racist remarks.
FBI agents are interviewing people who claim they met the gunman on gay dating apps, a law enforcement official told CNN’s Pamela Brown. Those claims “certainly change the perspective,” the source said.
No men have publicly come forward claiming to have had sexual contact with him.
Father denies son had ISIS ties
Mateen’s father, an Afghan native, on Wednesday denied his son, who was born in New York, had any connection to ISIS.
“He is born here,” Seddique Mateen told CNN. “He’s gone to school. He’s gone to college. He worked here. He’s never been back to Afghanistan. He had no interest.”
The father called ISIS an enemy of humanity and said he would have turned his son over to authorities had he known about his plans.
A day earlier, the elder Mateen also said he didn’t believe his son was gay.
After reports emerged his son had visited Pulse several times, Seddique Mateen said he saw nothing implying his son was gay.
“I don’t know if he was, if that was his way of his life, but I don’t believe so,” the father told reporters at his home in Port St. Lucie, Florida. He emphasized his belief that his son, who was married with a child, was straight.
The gunman’s first wife, Sitora Yusufiy, said she was not sure about his sexuality.
“It doesn’t surprise me that he might be gay. And it doesn’t surprise me that he was leading two totally different lives and was in such deep conflict within himself,” she told CNN’s Don Lemon. “I hope people can truly understand that this is one insane person that did such a tragic thing.”
‘Bigot to almost every class of person’
People who encountered Mateen painted a conflicting portrait of the man. To some, he was a homophobic bigot. To others, he was a friendly regular at a gay nightclub.
Chris Callen, who performed at Pulse, estimated Mateen visited the nightclub twice a month over three years.
“He was very friendly when we said, ‘Hi.’ He didn’t seem like the kind of guy who just did what he did. It makes no sense,” Callen said. “My partner said that he was very nice (and seemed) comfortable.”
In contrast, a one-time co-worker described Mateen as a man who constantly made derogatory remarks about others.
“He was an angry person, violent in nature, and a bigot to almost every class of person,” Dan Gilroy told WPTV-TV in West Palm Beach. The two worked together at PGA Village in Port St. Lucie.
What was gunman’s motive?
Authorities are investigating multiple angles to understand what led Mateen to target people at a gay nightclub.
Was the mass shooting fueled by homophobia? Was he struggling with his sexuality? Or was he inspired by the terror group ISIS, like he said in a 911 call during the rampage?
In the 911 call, he pledged allegiance to ISIS, a U.S. official said. He also mentioned the Boston Marathon bombers.
An analysis of his electronic devices showed searches for jihadist propaganda, including videos of ISIS beheadings, an official said.
Gunman visited sites before massacre
In the days leading up to the attack, Mateen appeared to be scouting locations.
Investigators believe he made surveillance trips to the club and a Disney shopping complex this month during Gay Days 2016, a citywide celebration. Walt Disney World and other Orlando locations held Gay Days events from May 31 to June 6.
Mateen’s visits to the Pulse nightclub and Disney Springs happened between June 1 and June 6, a law enforcement official said Tuesday.
Disney security officials told the FBI they believe he also visited Disney World on April 26 to conduct surveillance, a law enforcement official told CNN.
Wife accompanied him twice
The gunman’s wife, Noor Salman, told the FBI that Mateen said he wanted to carry out a jihadist attack, though she denied knowing of any specific plans.
She went with her husband to two locations, a law enforcement official said. It’s unclear how much she knew about his intentions.
More than a month after the Disney World trip in April, Mateen and his wife visited Pulse and Disney Springs — an entertainment and shopping complex — apparently to scout out the locations, a law enforcement official said.
Investigators are trying to determine whether Salman should face charges for not reporting what she knew, a source said.
The early June visits occurred during the same period Mateen purchased the weapons used in the nightclub attack.
Hours before the carnage, he made one last trip to Disney Springs by himself, law enforcement officials said.
The couple lived in Fort Pierce, Florida, about an hour from the club. Salman told the FBI she noticed changes in her husband’s behavior and tried to dissuade him from doing anything violent, the official said.
When he left their home Saturday, hours before the shooting, he lied about where he was going, Salman told federal investigators.
FBI had investigated him twice
Mateen first came on the FBI’s radar three years ago when he made “inflammatory comments to co-workers alleging possible terrorist ties,” Assistant Special Agent Ronald Hopper said.
But investigators “were unable to verify the substance of his comments,” he said.
In 2014, the FBI interviewed him again over possible connections with Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, a Florida man who became the first-known American suicide bomber in Syria. The two men frequented the same mosque.
“We determined that contact was minimal and did not constitute a substantive relationship or threat at that time,” Hopper said.
Problems at work
Mateen had worked for nine years as a security officer at G4S Secure Solutions, one of the world’s largest private security companies. According to a neighbor, he had been a security guard at the St. Lucie County Courthouse, often manning the metal detectors at the entrance.
St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara said three years ago that his staff requested Mateen be transferred from the courthouse for making inflammatory comments. His supervisor notified federal agents, and the FBI investigated him, the sheriff said.
Mateen told an attorney for G4S about being questioned, an official for the security company told CNN’s Rene Marsh. G4S determined Mateen’s comments were “exaggerated.”
By that time, he was working security at a retirement village. He had no reprimands in his file and had his security officer license renewed four times — in each instance passing background checks by the state and FBI. He also achieved an above-average rating on a psychological test.