ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The last of the bodies were slowly removed late Sunday from a popular Orlando gay club after a gunman sprayed the helpless crowd with bullets, killing 49 people and devastating a city famous for family-friendly theme parks.
When the attacker opened fire in the early hours of Sunday morning, it interrupted an evening of drinking, dancing and drag shows at a club known for tolerance for all people.
Authorities say suspect Omar Mateen emerged, carrying an AR-15 and fired relentlessly — 20 rounds, 40, then 50 and more. In such tight quarters, the bullets could hardly miss. He shot at police. He took hostages.
When the gunfire at the Pulse Orlando club finally stopped, 50 people — including Mateen — were dead and dozens critically wounded in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Mateen, who authorities said had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 around the time of the attack, died in a gun battle with SWAT team members.
“I’ve always felt so safe here for my family, kids. And now, I don’t know,” said Marlon Massey, who lives across the street from the club.
Authorities are wondering if it was an act of terrorism and are probing the background of Mateen, a 29-year-old American citizen from Fort Pierce, Florida, who had worked as a security guard. The gunman’s father recalled that his son recently got angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami and said that might be related to the assault.
The Islamic State’s radio called Mateen “one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America.” Al-Bayan Radio, a media outlet for the IS extremist group, on Monday hailed the attack, saying it targeted a gathering of Christians and gays and that it’s the worst attack on U.S. soil since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The broadcast is apparently an opportunistic statement as IS has not officially claimed responsibility for the Orlando attack.
Thirty-nine of the dead were killed at the club, and 11 people died at hospitals, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said. By Monday morning, families of 24 of the victims had been notified, Dyer said.
Workers removed the bodies four at a time on stretchers out of the club and loaded them into white vans. The action was repeated over and over. The covered bodies were taken to the County Medical Examiner’s office. All were there by 11 p.m., Dyer said.