(ORLANDO, Fla.) — The FBI said Friday that there wasn’t enough information to conduct a “meaningful investigative follow up” on an individual who employees of a Florida gun store thought was “suspicious” and later believed they recognized as Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen.
The bureau said FBI agents had made a visit to Lotus Gunworks in Jensen Beach, Florida in May on an “unrelated investigative matter” when employees told them about a man who had come in asking about high-end body armor. The FBI said employees had turned the man away, but didn’t collect any personal information about him.
“Unfortunately, given the lack of information about this individual, FBI agents were unable to conduct any meaningful investigative followup,” a statement from the bureau said.
The statement confirms most of, but is at odds with part of an account from Robert Abell, co-owner of Lotus, who said Thursday the man later identified as Mateen had come into his store five or six weeks ago.
Abell said the man asked about the body armor, and when he learned the store didn’t carry, made a phone call in a “foreign” language before asking about bulk ammunition. Abell said his employees were put off by the “odd” questions and turned the man away. His employees then decided to call the local FBI office in West Palm Beach and report the “very suspicious” man.
Abell said there were follow up conversations with the FBI, but agents didn’t visit the store to examine what he called grainy security footage.
After Sunday morning’s shooting at Orlando’s popular gay nightclub Pulse, Abell said his employees recognized the shooter as the suspicious man from more than a month before. The security footage has since been taped over, he said.
The FBI has been facing sharp questions since it emerged earlier this week that they had directly investigated Mateen in 2013 and questioned him again in 2014 related to another matter about purported links to extremists. In both cases agents determined Mateen was not a threat. FBI Director James Comey said Monday that in a review of those cases, he didn’t see anything his agents should’ve done differently.
Mateen killed 49 people at Pulse in the early morning hours on Sunday before being gunned down by police.
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