More people were killed in a shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub than initially thought, authorities said during a news conference late Sunday morning. The total now is approximately 50 dead and 53 injured.
“We are dealing with something we never imagined. Since the last update, we have gotten better access to the building, cleared the building. It is with great sadness I share that we have 50 casualties, in addition to the shooter,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer in a statement.
“The identification process may take some time. We ask for your patience as we want to be accurate. I continue to be proud of how our community has responded,” Dyer said.
The mayor along with Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, declared a state of emergency in the city, which will allow authorities to bring in additional state and federal resources.
Scott issued a statement on the shooting, saying the state will devote every resource they have to the investigation.
“We are a strong and resilient state and we will devote every resource available to assist with the shooting in Orlando. Our state emergency operations center is also monitoring this tragic incident,” he said, adding that he has been in contact with Dyer and local authorities and will be meeting with them later on Sunday.
Authorities added that they are investigating the incident as a possible act of terrorism.
The incident unfolded before 2 am, when police responded to calls about a gunman who opened fire with an “assault-type rifle,” handgun and “some type of device” inside Pulse nightclub, located about a mile from the city’s downtown, said Orlando Police Chief John Mina at the initial news conference Sunday morning.
“The suspect at some point went back inside the club where more shots were fired. This did turn into a hostage situation,” Mina said, adding officers from multiple agencies were on scene and a SWAT team responded as well.
At 5 am “the decision was made to rescue hostages that were in there, our SWAT officers exchanged gunfire with the suspect,” he said, adding the suspect is dead.
No officers were killed. However, one officer was struck in the head during the exchange, but his kevlar helmet saved his life, Orlando Police said.
As the incident unfolded, the nightclub tried to warn patrons to get out. “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running,” Pulse wrote on Facebook.
Later in the morning, Pulse posted a second statement: “Please keep everyone in your prayers as we work through this tragic event. Thank you for your thoughts and love.”
A law enforcement source has identified the Orlando nightclub shooter to CNN as Omar Mateen of Ft. Pierce, Florida.
According to U.S. officials, Mateen called 911 around the time of the attack to pledge allegiance to ISIS and also mentioned the Boston Marathon bombers.
Orlando police shot and killed Mateen after responding to what they describe as a “well organized and prepared attack” that has left at least 50 dead and 53 injured.
No Islamic terrorist groups have claimed responsibility for the attack, though ISIS-supporters have expressed praise online. Mateen’s father spoke to People to “apologize for the whole incident” and to state that the attack “has nothing to do with religion” but was motivated by a hatred of gay men.
President Obama said of the shooting, “This was an act of terror and an act of hate.”
The Orlando Police Department, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are investigating the incident. They’re asking anyone with more information about the incident to please go to Orlando Police Headquarters or call the FBI at 1-800-CALL FBI.
Also, in Dyer’s statement, he said, “Our focus in the coming hours will be identifying the victims and notifying the families. We are setting up a hotline for concerned family members.” For more information, family members of those possibly involved can call 407-246-4357.
Article updated at 1:29 am on June 12, 2016