Mass murderer Omar Mateen was familiar face at gay nightclub, used gay dating app
ORLANDO — The FBI is looking into claims the gunman in the Orlando nightclub shooting used gay dating apps and frequented the gay club he attacked early Sunday morning.
Omar Mateen, 29, opened fire inside Pulse Night Club in Orlando, killing 49 people and injuring 53 others. He was shot and killed in a gun fight with law enforcement.
To some, Mateen was angry and homophobic, spewing outrage at the sight of two gay men kissing, but he was also a friendly and familiar face at the gay club he eventually terrorized.
Investigators are trying to understand what spurred the New York-born security guard to commit the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
Chris Callen, who worked at Pulse as a performer, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper he’d seen Mateen dozens of times at the club. According to his estimate, Mateen visited Pulse twice a month over a period of three years.
“He was very friendly when we said ‘hi.’ He didn’t seem like the kind of guy who just did what he did. It makes no sense,” Callen said.
“My partner said that he was very nice [and seemed] comfortable.
Prior visits to Pulse are a line of inquiry investigators are pursuing, sources involved in the investigation tell CNN’s Jim Scuitto and Evan Perez.
Pulse regular Kevin West told the Los Angeles Times that Mateen messaged him on a gay dating app several times in the year before the attack.
“When he was first contacting me, he was saying– he was asking like what clubs– in his words– like clubs are popping. And things of that sort. And what good places are there to go. But I remember telling him ‘Oh you can just look it up online because I don’t go out so much.’ And I remember him asking me for pictures. He wasn’t saying nothing. He wasn’t saying nothing racial, or nothing like that, which you know that happens at time. But not with him. That didn’t happen. But it was like over three months ago. That’s the last time I spoke with him on the app,” said Kevin West.
But that picture doesn’t match up easily to the account of his coworkers who said Mateen was known to frequently spew anti-gay remarks.
“He was an angry person, violent in nature, and a bigot to almost every class of person,” Dan Gilroy told CNN affiliate WPTV-TV in West Palm Beach. The former police officer asserts that he foresaw Mateen eventually committing an act of mass violence.
Mateen’s ex-wife, Sitora Yusufiy, described a brief but violent relationship to a mentally-ill man whom she was only able to escape from through her family’s help. She said he was physically abusive and a steroid abuser.
Mateen had even come to the attention of authorities, with the FBI interviewing him in two terror-related cases in recent years.
But both of the investigations were closed, and Mateen — who would go on to call 911 and pledge allegiance to ISIS during his rampage — was not under investigation or surveillance at the time of the attack.
The shooter’s father, Seddique Mateen of Port St. Lucie, recalled an incident where his son reacted to a gay couple displaying affection.
He told CNN his son “had a reaction” when he saw the two men kissing in public, near women and children. The sighting “was surprising” to his son.
But the father didn’t clarify further what kind of reaction his son had.
Gilroy, Mateen’s former co-worker at PGA Village in Port St. Lucie, said Mateen often made homophobic, sexist and racist remarks.
“He would hit things and as he was hitting things, he would yell, and of course there was always curse words involved, and this wasn’t seldom, this was all the time.”
He said he asked his employers not to be assigned to work alongside Mateen, but this request was denied. At that point, Gilroy told Mateen he didn’t want to continue their relationship on a personal level, according to WPTV.
“He acted very negatively toward that. He then started to text me 20 to 30 times a day. Call me 15 to 20 times,” he said.
He said he wished he could have done something to prevent the tragedy.
“I saw it coming. I mean everything,” he said. “He said he was going to kill a whole bunch of people.”
Investigators believe gunman made surveillance trips to Disney World and Pulse, source says
Authorities believe Mateen conducted surveillance trips at both the club and Walt Disney World earlier this month, a law enforcement official said.
Omar Mir Seddique Mateen’s visits happened between June 1 and June 6, said the official, who has knowledge of the investigation. The number of visits to each venue was not specified.
The dates coincided with Gay Days 2016 celebrations that were taking place at Disney World and other Orlando locations between May 31 and June 6.
Investigators believe the visits were intended to surveil the locations, based on information learned in interviews.
The visits also came in the same time period when Mateen was purchasing the weapons used Sunday morning’s Pulse nightclub attack, which he picked up June 9 after a cooling-off period.
The day before that attack — the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history — Mateen spent several hours at Disney Springs, the shopping and entertainment complex inside the Walt Disney World Resort, law enforcement officials said.
Authorities said they believe Mateen was alone at that time.
Prior Disney visit with wife
Disney security officials have told the FBI they believe another visit to Walt Disney World by Mateen on April 26 was to conduct reconnaissance. The FBI is investigating that possibility, the law enforcement official said.
Investigators don’t know whether Mateen’s wife, who was with him on the Disney World visit, knew or suspected at the time about her husband’s intent, the official said.
Family items seized
The FBI has seized various documents from Mateen’s home, as well as items the homes of his parents, sister and brother-in-law, the law enforcement official said.
The items included a Dell computer, a smartphone, a digital camera and related media.
Mateen’s phone was recovered at Pulse. FBI Director James Comey would not say Tuesday whether they have accessed the phone.