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The Latest: Orlando Nightclub Shooting

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer spoke earlier this morning about a lone gunman who opened fire inside a crowded Florida nightclub. The gunman died later in a gun fight with SWAT officers. Special Agent Ronald Hopper from the FBI added that they are not ready to classify what happened as terrorism or as a hate crime. NPR's counterterrorism correspondent, Dina Temple-Raston, has been following this developing story and is with us now. Dina, good morning.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Yes, good morning.

WERTHEIMER: So can you - what can you tell us about what happened last night?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, it all began at about 2 o'clock this morning, when shots rang out at a nightclub in Orlando called the Pulse. It's a large, gay nightclub, very well known in the area. And our sources tell us that there was just a single gunman who was there and opened fire. He had an assault rifle and killed, as we know now from a police press conference - he killed 50 people and wounded 52 others, making this the worst shooting in U.S. history. And if this in fact turns out to be terrorism, which, again, we don't know yet - they aren't sure about that. That would make this the worst terrorist attack in the U.S. since 9/11. Previously, Fort Hood had been the worst.

WERTHEIMER: Do we know anything about the suspect besides his name, which is now known, I think?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, we know a little bit about him. NPR has confirmed his name is Omar Mateen. He's 29 years old. He lives in Port Saint Lucie in Florida, not far from where the club - where the shooting occurred. He had a firearms license and a security officer's license. But we don't know much more beyond that. He doesn't appear to have a criminal record. And you know, what happens now at this point in investigations is the FBI and local law enforcement begin scouring connections.

You know, they talk to his family. They talk to his friends. They start looking at his computer. They start looking to see what he might have posted on Facebook. These are all things that they're going to start looking at to try and figure out - the most important thing here, really, is motive, to understand why this was done and to make sure that he was working alone.

WERTHEIMER: Well, of course, the thing that everybody is concerned about - excuse me - is the possibility that there might - this might have some - be in some way linked to international terrorist groups. What are authorities telling you?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, I think it's very interesting that authorities are being very careful not to draw solely that connection. One of the things they seem to be stressing is that it's possible that this in fact was a hate crime, that this was someone who happens to have an Afghan last name but in fact isn't linked to international terrorism and may well have had some sort of beef with the gay and lesbian community, and in fact that's why he chose this club and why he chose to open fire there.

When you look at these kinds of cases, the way they unfold generally, they know pretty quickly whether or not there is this sort of - at least a gossamer connection to international terrorist groups. Often these are people that they've been following before or the FBI is aware of. And we haven't heard any of that this time. So I think it's - we have to be careful. It's so early. We have to be careful not to jump to conclusions about this case.

WERTHEIMER: You know, Dina, the very first news conference that they held, they talked about the possibility of some sort of Middle Eastern connection. And I assume they must have been taking that - I don't know this. I assume they must have been taking that from his name. But in the second news conference, they appeared to be backing away from it a little bit.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, you've picked up something I think was highly meaningful, that they were being very careful and also bringing up the idea that this might indeed be a hate crime. Now, there are some reports that are out there - news reports that are out there that are indicating that that might have been the case. But again, you have to be so careful in these early stages of an investigation because typically, the early information ends up being wrong.

So that's why I want to be careful about not jumping to conclusions. I think the next thing that they're going to be doing is really focusing on the victims. I think they're being careful about that because there are so many victims. They want to get information out to the families to try and contact next of kin to let them know what happened inside the club. And they've only just started to secure the club and make sure that there were no explosive devices or booby traps there that might have made the casualty numbers even worse.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's counterterrorism correspondent, Dina Temple-Raston. Dina, thank you.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're very welcome.

WERTHEIMER: NPR will continue to follow this story throughout the day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.