Dozens of bodies were slowly removed overnight from a popular Orlando gay club after a gunman sprayed the helpless crowd with bullets in violence that killed 50 people and devastated a city famous for family-friendly theme parks.
When the attacker opened fire in the early hours of yesterday 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 were dead and dozens critically wounded in the deadliest mass shooting in modern US 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.
Thirty-nine of the dead were killed at the club, and 11 people died at hospitals, Mayor Buddy Dyer said.
Yesterday night, workers were removing 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.
Jon Alamo had been dancing at the Pulse for hours when he wandered into the club’s main room just in time to see the gunman. “You ever seen how Marine guys hold big weapons, shooting from left to right? That’s how he was shooting at people,” he said.
“My first thought was, oh my God, I’m going to die,” Alamo said. “I was praying to God that I would live to see another day.”
Pulse patron Eddie Justice texted his mother, Mina: “Mommy I love you. In club they shooting.” About 30 minutes later, hiding in a bathroom, he texted her: “He’s coming. I’m gonna die.”
Justice’s would eventually be added to the city’s list of those killed in the shooting.
At least 53 people were hospitalised, most in critical condition, and a surgeon at Orlando Regional Medical Center said the death toll was likely to climb.
The previous deadliest mass shooting in the US was the 2007 attack at Virginia Tech, where a student killed 32 people before killing himself.