A gunman wielding an assault-type rifle and a handgun opened fire inside a crowded Florida nightclub early Sunday before dying in a gunfight with SWAT officers, police said. The attack left at least 50 people dead, making it the worst mass shooting in American history.
Authorities were investigating it as an act of terrorism.
At least 53 other people were hospitalized, the Orlando mayor said.
“There’s blood everywhere,” Mayor Buddy Dyer said.
The suspect exchanged gunfire with an officer working at the gay club known as Pulse Orlando around 2 a.m., when more than 300 people were inside. The gunman then went back inside and took hostages, Police Chief John Mina said.
Around 5 a.m., authorities sent in a SWAT team to rescue the hostages. Police have not determined an exact number of casualties, but Mina said “approximately 20” bodies were inside the club.
In addition to the guns, the shooter also had some sort of “suspicious device,” Mina said.
Authorities were looking into whether the attack was an act of domestic or international terror, and if the shooter acted alone, according to Danny Banks, an agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
“This is an incident, as I see it, that we certainly classify as domestic terror incident,” Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said.
The suspect was identified as Omar Mateen of Port St. Lucie, Florida.
Rep. Alan Grayson named the shooter, citing law enforcement officials. A federal law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation also confirmed the name. The official was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
FBI agent Ron Hopper said there was no further threat to Orlando or the surrounding area.
When asked if the gunman had a connection to radical Islamic terrorism, Hopper said authorities had “suggestions that individual has leanings towards that.”
Police had said previously on Twitter that there was a “controlled explosion” at the scene of the shooting. Mina said that noise was caused by a device intended to distract the shooter.
A woman who was outside the dance club early Sunday was trying to contact her 30-year-old son, Eddie, who texted her when the shooting happened and asked her to call police. He told her he ran into a bathroom with other club patrons to hide. He then texted her: “He’s coming.”
“The next text said: ‘He has us, and he’s in here with us,'” Mina Justice said. “That was the last conversation.”
Dozens of police vehicles swarmed the area around the club. At least two police pickup trucks were seen taking what appeared to be shooting victims to the Orlando Regional Medical Center.
Pulse posted on its own Facebook page around 2 a.m.: “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.” Just before 6 a.m., the club posted an update: “As soon as we have any information, we will update everyone. Please keep everyone in your prayers as we work through this tragic event. Thank you for your thoughts and love.”
Local, state and federal agencies were investigating.
President Barack Obama was briefed on the attack and has asked for regular updates on the investigation, the White House said.
The attack follows the fatal shooting late Friday of 22-year-old singer Christina Grimmie, who was killed after her concert in Orlando by a 27-year-old Florida man who later killed himself. Grimmie was a YouTube sensation and former contestant on “The Voice.”
Jon Alamo said he was at the back of one of the club’s rooms when a man holding a weapon came into the front of the room.
“I heard 20, 40, 50 shots,” Alamo said. “The music stopped.”
Club-goer Rob Rick said the shooting started just before closing time.
“Everybody was drinking their last sip,” he said.
He estimated more than 100 people were still inside when he heard shots, got on the ground and crawled toward a DJ booth. A bouncer knocked down a partition between the club area and an area in the back where only workers are allowed. People inside were able to then escape through the back of the club.
Christopher Hansen said he was in the VIP lounge when he heard gunshots. He continued to hear shooting even after he emerged and police urged people to back away from the club. He saw the wounded being tended to across the street.
“I was thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?’ So I just dropped down. I just said, ‘Please, please, please, I want to make it out,'” he said. “And when I did, I saw people shot. I saw blood. You hope and pray you don’t get shot.”
The Latest on the shooting at an Orlando nightclub (all times local):
A SWAT truck and a bomb disposal unit are on the scene of an address associated with the man named as the shooter in a massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
There is a media staging area set up about a block away from the apartment complex in a residential neighborhood in Fort Pierce, Florida, on Sunday. The shooter has been identified Omar Mateen.
Fort Pierce is about 118 miles southeast of Orlando. The apartment complex is a series of two-story buildings.
Numerous police officers and members of the FBI also area there.
The father of the man named as the shooter in a massacre at a gay Florida nightclub says he’s in shock and that he wasn’t aware of anything his son might have been planning.
Mir Seddique is the father of Omar Mateen of Port St. Lucie, Florida. Seddique told NBC News that his son got angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami a couple of months ago and thinks that may be related to the shooting.
Seddique says: “We are saying we are apologizing for the whole incident. … We are in shock like the whole country.”
The father also says the incident has nothing to do with religion.
Officials say the shooter was among the 50 killed, and that they’re investigating whether the incident was an act of terrorism.
Many are still awaiting word on whether their loved ones are among the 50 killed and 53 hospitalized in a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
Thirty-two-year-old Christopher Leinonen was at the popular Pulse club and is missing. That’s according to his mother, Christine Leinonen. She drove to Orlando at 4 a.m. She hasn’t heard from her son and fears the worst. She was standing in front of an Orlando hospital just down the street from Pulse.
She says: “These are nonsensical killings of our children. They’re killing our babies!”
She said her son’s friend made it out alive by hiding in the bathroom and running out as bullets were flying.
Also, on Sunday morning Facebook added a “Facebook Safety Check” for people to find out whether friends and family have tagged themselves as safe. The social network is using the heading “The Shooting in Orlando, Florida.”
It is Facebook’s way of allowing its users who live near the scene of a major crisis to notify people that they’re OK.
Families and friends are awaiting word outside an Orlando hospital to learn whether their loved ones are among 50 killed and 53 more hospitalized at a shooting at a gay nightclub.
About 50 people were gathered outside Orlando Regional Medical Center on Sunday, many in tears and anxious.
Fatriana Evans frequents the Pulse nightclub and was outside when shots were fired.
Evans says, “It sounded like fireworks – pop, pop, pop – and then everybody scatters.”
Jackie Smith was inside the club and says two friends next to her were shot. She says she hasn’t gotten updates on their conditions. She came out of the hospital and burst into tears in the arms of friends.
She says: “Some guy walked in and started shooting everybody. He had an automatic rifle, so nobody stood a chance. I just tried to get out of there.”
Police say the shooter at an Orlando nightclub used an AR-15-type assault rifle on all the victims.
Officials say 50 were killed at the popular gay club. That makes it the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
Police Chief John Mina said at a Sunday news conference that the shooter used the assault rifle, with unknown rounds, and also had a handgun.
Officials at the news conference also say they have securing the suspect’s vehicle, a van, right outside the club.
The shooter has been identified as Omar Mateen of Port St. Lucie, Florida. Officials have said they’re investigating whether the massacre was an act of terrorism.
Dr. Mike Cheatham is a trauma surgeon at Orlando Regional Medical Center, where 46 patients were taken. The majority are in critical condition.
He tells The Associated Press, “I think we will see the death toll rise.”