(ORLANDO, Fla.) — The nation is grieving as people across the country, and around the world, mourn the lives lost at a popular gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
It all unfolded over the course of three hours early Sunday morning when a lone-wolf gunman, armed with an assault rifle and a handgun, walked into Pulse nightclub and sprayed the venue with bullets. At least 50 are dead and more than 50 were injured.
The shooter has been identified by officials as Omar Mateen of St. Lucie County, Florida, an American with Afghani parents. After the shooting began, he called 911 to pledge his allegiance to ISIS, according to law enforcement officials. Mateen died in a gun battle with authorities after taking hostages.
The incident is the worst mass shooting in U.S. history and the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil since the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Officials are investigating it as a “domestic terror incident.”
Ties to the Islamic State?
ISIS supporters have cheered the massacre online and an ISIS communique referred to the shooter as an ISIS “fighter,” but there’s no evidence that ISIS directed or had prior knowledge of the attack, terrorism observers told ABC News.
Mateen was “on the radar” of U.S. officials for some time, but was not the target of a specific investigation, according to law enforcement officials.
ISIS, which is based in Syria, has targeted gay men for beatings and murder in the Middle East, and has filmed its members throwing some men suspected of being gay from the roofs of buildings.
Mateen’s father, Seddique, told ABC News his son was born in New York and grew up in St. Lucie County, Florida. Seddique said his son was a family man and a devout Muslim who never showed any signs of extremism, violence or hatred.
“I don’t think he was radicalized,” Seddique said. “That’s what my gut feeling tells me.”
Mother Gets Heartbreaking News
Christine Leinonen said she “just happened” to wake up at 3 a.m. — about an hour after the shooting started — when she saw her son Christopher’s friend post on Facebook that there had been a shooting at the club and that he didn’t “know where his friends were.”
Leinonen told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos during an emotional interview that her son’s friend, Brandon, told her he saw that Christopher’s boyfriend “had multiple gunshots and was being taken by the ambulance but he never saw Christopher [come] out. And we haven’t been able to call him or text him.”
She later confirmed to ABC News late Sunday night that her son was among the dead.
LGBT Community Left Reeling
Community members held vigils Sunday evening, hours after the mass shooting took place.
From Orlando to Los Angeles and Atlanta; from the White House to New York’s famed Stonewall Inn, a moment of silence was observed across the country at 6 p.m.
Blood Banks at Capacity
The outpouring of support and the urgent need for blood led hundreds to line up at the local OneBlood bank in Orlando, only for many to be turned away as the center reached capacity. But the local blood donation group urged donors to return in the coming days.
Aerial footage shot by ABC News’ Orlando affiliate WFTV in Orlando also showed hundreds lined up down the block as people waited to donate blood.
Donations to the GoFundMe page for the victims of the nightclub shooting have surpassed $1 million and there is a new target goal of $2 million.
White House Reaction
President Obama delivered a somber statement midday Sunday, saying the Pulse massacre was “an act of terror and an act of hate.” He also called Mateen “a person filled with hatred.”
Obama also stressed the resilience of the people in the state.
“We’re going to do everything we can to help bring the community together,” he said.
Vice President Joe Biden also released a statement blasting the incident as “evil” and “abhorrent.”
People from around the world showed their support by standing in solidarity with those affected by the Orlando nightclub shooting.
The Tel Aviv City Hall lit up with the American flag and a rainbow, the national symbol for gay pride.
— Mayor of Tel Aviv (@MayorOfTelAviv) June 12, 2016
Meanwhile, the Buckingham Palace released a statement offering condolences for the victims.
The Queen: “Prince Philip & I have been shocked by the events in Orlando. Our thoughts & prayers are with all those who have been affected”
— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) June 12, 2016
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