The cold blooded murder of 50 people in the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida has become one of the biggest mass shootings in US history.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer confirmed that the death toll in the massacre had more than doubled from initial reports of 20 to 50 victims, with 53 injured, many of whom are in critical condition.
Dyer also announced that he had declared a state of emergency in a bid to assist the victims and their families.
“We are dealing with something we never imagined,” he told journalists. “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.
“Because of the scale I have called Governor Scott to request a state of emergency and we are issuing a state of emergency in the City. This allows us to bring additional resources to support our efforts,” Dyer 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 – 407.246.4357. 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.”
The killer has been identified as 29-year-old Omar Mateen from Port St Lucie, Florida, about two hours by car from Orlando. Florida Senator Bill Nelson commented in a press conference that Mateen had “some connection to Isis”.
In an interview with NBC News, Mateen’s father, Mir Seddique, apologised for his son’s actions and insisted that they had “nothing to do with religion”.
“We are saying we are apologising for the whole incident. We weren’t aware of any action he is taking. We are in shock like the whole country,” Seddique said.
He revealed that the massacre may have been linked to a recent incident in which Mateen had seen two men kissing.
“He saw two men kissing each other in front of his wife and kid and he got very angry,” Seddique said, suggesting that the massacre was likely a hate crime targeting the LGBT community.
In a statement, Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Chad Griffin said: “We are devastated by this tragic act of violence, which has reportedly claimed the lives of at least 50 LGBTQ people and allies and injured more than 50 others.
“We are grieving for the victims and our hearts are broken for their friends, families, and for the entire community. This tragedy has occurred as our community celebrates Pride, and now more than ever we must come together as a nation to affirm that love conquers hate.”
The gunman first started shooting at revellers outside the nightclub at around 2 a.m. on Sunday. A police officer working as a security guard at the venue exchanged fire and reported the attack.
The suspect entered the busy nightclub and then began shooting at the around 350 partygoers inside. As panicked people fled from the scene, the gunman took dozens hostage and a stand-off ensued with the police.
Officers, who were in touch with people inside the venue, then decided to go in and “save the hostages”.
At around 5 a.m., they made an “explosive entry”, used an armoured vehicle to break down a wall and exchanged gunfire with the gunman, killing him.
An officer was injured in the eye, but not seriously; saved by his Kevlar helmet.
Speaking to the media earlier, County Sheriff Jerry Demings said that the authorities are classifying the attack as “as a domestic terror incident”.
Update: On Monday, Orlando Police said that the official death count from the nightclub shooting was 49 victims. The killer, Omar Mateen, was the 50th fatality.