This story was updated at 2:14pm ET
Around 50 people were killed and at least 53 wounded this morning (June 12) when a gunman opened fire in a popular gay nightclub in downtown Orlando. Mayor Buddy Dyer announced the casualties, higher than the 20 deaths originally reported, at a press conference this morning and said he’s asked Governor Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency. The death toll makes the shooting the worst in US history, police said. The Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 killed 32.
The Islamic State news agency has issued a statement saying they’re responsible for the attack, Florida Senator Bill Nelson said at a press conference. The connection to Islamic State has not been confirmed, and Nelson said it remains a possibility that Mateen was a lone wolf, but that authorities will be investigating links to Islamic State.
The FBI said in a press conference that Mateen had been known to authorities since 2013, and the FBI had interviewed him twice. He was not under current investigation or surveillance.
Before carrying out the attack, Mateen reportedly called 911 in Florida and swore his allegiance to the head of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Law enforcement officers have also said Mateen was known to authorities before he carried out the attack.
Officials classified the shooting as a “terror incident.” They said the shooter was “organized and well-prepared,” had an AR-15 assault rifle and handgun, and was not from Orlando. Police chief John Mina also said the shooter had a “suspicious device.” The shooter has been identified as Omar S. Mateen, law enforcement sources have told CBS News. Mateen, a U.S. citizen from Port St. Lucie, was born to Afghan parents in 1986. He worked as a professional security officer and had a license to carry a firearm. The AR-15 semi-automatic rifle Mateen was found with was also used in the Sandy Hook and San Bernardino shootings.
President Obama, speaking at the White House this morning, said that the investigation is ongoing. “We know enough to say this was an act of terror and an act of hate,” he said. “We are still learning all the facts.”
Obama said “the most deadly shooting in American history” is a further reminder of how easy it is to buy weapons and commit shootings at “schools, houses of worship, movie theaters, and nightclubs.” He added that, “We have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. To actively do nothing is a decision as well.”
The President said that that shooting is an attack on America, and a “heartbreaking day for all of our fellow Americans who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.” He added that, “The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub. It’s a place of solidarity and empowerment.”
Florida congressman Alan Grayson said that it was “more likely than not” that the attack was ideological, and that it was “no coincidence” the attack took place at a gay club. Asked whether Mateen had any help, Grayson said there was “no evidence of that at this point.” Officials have said they’re still determining whether this was a hate crime or an act of terrorism.
Mir Seddique, Mateen’s father told NBC News, “this has nothing to do with religion.” Seddique said his son saw two men kissing in Miami a couple of months ago and became angry. He believes that this may be related to the shooting.
When asked about any links between the shooter and radical Islam, an FBI official said there were “suggestions” the gunman “might have leanings towards that particular ideology,” but it was too early to confirm anything. Orange County sheriff Jerry Demings called the shooting a “domestic terrorism incident.”
The gunman entered the Pulse nightclub, which was filled with more than 300 people for a “Latin Night” event, and began shooting at around 2am. He exchanged fire with a police officer working at the club, before taking hostages in a back room. Three hours later, police set off a “controlled explosion” to distract Mateen and sent in a SWAT team. Mateen was killed in a shootout with officers. Police have since ensured that the club is free of any devices are working to identify victims in the nightclub. The FBI has said there is “no information to suggest there is any further threat” to other areas of the city.
Jon Alamo, who was inside the club, told AP news agency “I heard 20, 40, 50 shots. The music stopped.” A bouncer knocked down a partition between the club area and an area in the back where only workers are allowed, allowing those inside to escape through the back of the club.
County fire officials have called for blood donations. Type O blood is in especially large demand, they said. Donors have been asked to go to local blood banks rather than the hospital.
Mayor Dyer said families concerned about relatives can call 407-246-4357 for information on victims. Those with any tips for authorities should call FBI: 800-CALL-FBI option 2.