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Florida gay nightclub worst mass shooting in US history: 50 dead and 53 injured

The suspect’s father has said his son may have been motivated by homophobia and not by his Muslim faith.

FIFTY PEOPLE HAVE been killed in a shooting at a gay nightclub in Florida, making it the worst mass shooting in US history.

Orlando police also confirmed that 53 people have been taken to hospital with injuries.

Pulse Shooting Orlando Orlando Police officers direct family members away from the shooting. Source: AP/Press Association Images

The death toll was previously put at 20 but Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer told a news briefing:

We have cleared the building, and it is with great sadness that I share we have not 20 but 50 casualties in addition to the shooter … there are another 53 that are hospitalised.

Police shot the gunman dead after they stormed the Pulse nightclub in downtown Orlando in the early hours of this morning.

The FBI said they were investigating the possible radical Islamic “leanings” of the suspect, identified by US media as 29-year-old Omar Mateen, a US citizen of Afghan descent.

Nightclub Shooting Orlando Terry DeCarlo, executive director of the LGBT Center of Central Florida, center, is comforted by Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, right. Source: Phelan M. Ebenhack

“This is clearly an act of terror,” Florida Governor Rick Scott told reporters, declaring a county-wide state of emergency.

But the suspect’s father told NBC news that his son may have been motivated by homophobia and not by his Muslim faith.

“This had nothing to do with religion,” Mir Seddique told the network, recalling a recent incident in downtown Miami.

“He saw two men kissing each other in front of his wife and kid and he got very angry,” the father said, apologising to the victims.

And the suspect’s ex-wife, who divorced him in 2011, told the Washington Post he had been violently abusive to her but was not especially religious.

‘Act of terrorism’ 

US President Barack Obama said, “The FBI is appropriately investigating this as an act of terrorism.”

We know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate.

Terrified survivors described how the gunman raked the club with bullets, prompting a police SWAT team to storm the venue and shoot him dead.

“This did turn into a hostage situation,” Orlando police chief John Mina told a media briefing this morning. “At approximately 5am (9am Irish time), the decision was made to rescue hostages that were in there.”

Nightclub Shooting Florida Source: Phelan M. Ebenhack

FBI official Ronald Hopper told reporters officials were “confident” there was no immediate further threat to the area, or to the United States.

‘No criminal record’

Omar Mateen was born to Afghan parents in 1986 and lives in Port St Lucie, Florida, about two hours drive from Orlando.

CBS News reported that Mateen has no apparent criminal history.

Hopper said authorities were looking into whether the suspect had “leanings” toward Islamic extremism.

It was the second shooting incident in the city in just over 24 hours, coming shortly after singer Christina Grimmie was shot dead late Friday by a gunman who stormed a theater where she had just finished a gig.

Witnesses said the shooting erupted at around 2am (6am Irish time) amid throbbing music as the crowded club was nearing closing time.

Nightclub Shooting Florida Gary Wilford, of Orlando, weeps near the scene of the mass shooting Source: AP/Press Association Images

Speaking to Sky News, clubber Ricardo Negron, who was inside when the shooting began, described how the gunman raked the club with bullets.

People just dropped on the floor. I guess the shooter was shooting at the ceiling because you could see all the glass from the lamps falling.

He described hearing “non-stop firing” which probably lasted less than a minute but felt like a lot longer.

There was a brief pause in the shooting and some of us just got up and ran out the back.

“People have definitely been injured – or worse.”

‘Everyone get out’ 

Emergency vehicles swarmed the area, with at least one crisis command vehicle at the scene.

Nightclub Shooting Florida An Orange County Sheriff's Department SWAT member arrives to the scene Source: Phelan M. Ebenhack

The club advertises itself online as “Orlando’s hottest gay bar.”

On its Facebook page, the club warned patrons: “Everyone get out Pulse and keep running.”

Witness Christopher Hanson said he heard “loud banging noises, like gunshots going off.”

I didn’t see any of the actual shooters. I just saw bodies going down and I was ordering a drink at the bar.
I fell down. I crawled out. People were trying to escape out the back. I just know that when I hit the ground, I was crawling and I hit my elbows and my knees.

He said there was “blood everywhere.”

Rosie Feba was at the club with a friend when the shooting broke out.

“She told me someone was shooting. Everyone was getting on the floor,” Feba told the Orlando Sentinel.

I told her I didn’t think it was real, I thought it was just part of the music, until I saw fire coming out of his gun.

Nightclub Shooting Florida Source: Phelan M. Ebenhack

President Michael D. Higgins sent his condolences saying, “Irish people will want to join with so many others who are horrified and deeply saddened to learn of the shootings in Orlando earlier today which have resulted in such loss of life and injury.

Our thoughts are with the people of Florida and the community in Orlando and Orange County at this difficult time. The loss of innocent life on such a horrendous scale is truly shocking and challenges us all.

The attack coincides with gay pride month in the United States, with festive marches and events being held all over the country including in Orlando last week.

- © AFP, 2016

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