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Orlando Suffers Deadliest Mass Shooting In U.S. History

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene, broadcasting this morning from member station WMFE in Orlando, Fla. Now, when a gunman walked into the Pulse nightclub here in this city, hundreds of people were inside early yesterday morning. Fifty of them were killed, but many escaped. And one of them was Christopher Hansen, who spoke with the Associated Press.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRISTOPHER HANSEN: It was just - boom, boom - and literally like a Ying Yang Twins song. And people were still partying until you actually saw blood. And I crawled my way out, and once I was able to see and be able to focus, I got up and crossed the street immediately. And I was ducking down in a Dodge. And I just didn't know what else to do. And then you could see just the bodies laying in the streets 'cause some that got shot that fell or some that were just already down.

GREENE: That's Christopher Hansen, one of the survivors from the Pulse nightclub attack on Sunday.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, the true reason why the gunman attacked, in its fullest form, may well have perished with him. But there is plenty of evidence, as well as a pledge of allegiance to ISIS, we are told. Investigators are asking who he was, what the evidence is that suggests his motive, and above all, whether he was connected to any larger group. Our justice correspondent, Carrie Johnson, is with us this morning. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Many people will just be waking up to the latest news. Let's work through this from the beginning with some new information that's come in this morning. Who was Omar Mateen?

JOHNSON: He is an American. He was born in New York to Afghan parents, moved to Florida and had worked since 2007 as a licensed security guard in the state of Florida, also had legally purchased at least two firearms used in the Orlando nightclub shooting in the last week.

INSKEEP: Security guard meaning, like, at buildings, or you'd see him in a doorway somewhere. Is that what that means?

JOHNSON: He worked for a big company in Florida. And we've seen reports that he worked at a gated community and other places as well. He was very familiar with firearms, Steve. The ATF has recovered now a third weapon inside the van he drove to Pulse nightclub. And they're tracing that as we speak.

INSKEEP: What about his family life?

JOHNSON: He is divorced. He had been divorced. His ex-wife, whom he married in 2008 or 2009, came out last night and raised some questions about his psychological health, Steve. She also said she's been abused by him, violently beaten, and her parents had rescued her from the situation. We're also hearing from a former co-worker at the security company, who said Mateen had a pattern of making homophobic and racist statements, violent statements, about which this co-worker had complained repeatedly in the past, but nothing was done.

INSKEEP: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - former Secretary of State - said this morning the FBI questioned him three times. Is that the correct number, in 2013 and '14?

JOHNSON: Two different inquiries, Steve - in 2013, he was questioned by the FBI twice for making allegedly extremist or inflammatory statements. The bureau closed that investigation - no charges, no action. 2014, he came back on the FBI radar for some kind of ties to the first American who travelled overseas to Syria from Florida and blew him up - blew himself up in a suicide bombing. Again, the FBI interviewed the shooter, Omar Mateen, closed that inquiry with no charges, no action.

INSKEEP: OK, so we know there was a three-hour siege in effect on Sunday morning, 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. - new details this morning, very briefly, about how it ended. How did this end?

JOHNSON: It ended, Steve, in a hail of gunfire after authorities tried to blow up a hole in a wall in the bathroom of the Pulse nightclub. That failed, so they brought in an armored vehicle to punch a hole through the wall. The shooter emerged from the hole firing. And he was killed by law enforcement.

INSKEEP: And of course that was the bathroom where Omar Mateen, according to police, was hiding out, along with a number of patrons of the club who had become hostages. We're told today that Mateen killed 49 people. The 50th person dead is the attacker himself. We've been listening to NPR's justice correspondent, Carrie Johnson.

GREENE: We are learning more about some of the victims. Their names are being released one by one. We know a few of them, such as Edward Sotomayor Jr. of Sarasota, Fla. He was 34 years old. Social media profiles say he worked for what's described as a gay-owned travel company.

INSKEEP: Stanley Almodovar III of Clermont, Fla. was 23, a pharmacy technician. And a friend tells NPR that, he made me feel like it was perfectly fine being who I was. They had met at Pulse.

GREENE: There's also Juan Ramon Guerrero, who was 22 years old. He was a student who had only recently come out to his family as gay, according to the Associated Press.

INSKEEP: And Eric Ivan Ortiz Rivera, 36 years old, was said to live in downtown Orlando with his husband.

GREENE: OK, let's bring another voice in here, Steve. It's Tim Vargas from The GLBT Community Center of Orlando. Mr. Vargas, good morning.

TIM VARGAS: Good morning.

GREENE: Can you just tell me - I mean, we are a little bit - the next morning on from what was, you know, just such a painful night, a painful day in the city. Reflect on the LGBT community of Orlando and what they've been through in the last 24 hours.

VARGAS: Sure, it's been obviously a pretty trying 24 hours for the community here. You know, we operate The GLBT Community Center and provide social services, including support, grief support, for the community in general. But now we're obviously shifting into gear to help the victims. You know, we had hundreds of people come to our doors yesterday, even more phone calls than that. And it's - everyone is still really just in shock and disbelief that something like this could happen in our community.

GREENE: You say hundreds of people coming through your doors. You're helping victims' families. Is there a moment that stands out from yesterday as you think about this?

VARGAS: Yeah, you know, the one moment that really stands out for me was around 9:15 yesterday morning. We had been working for a couple hours, mobilizing resources, asking our partner organizations in Orlando to come to our center and help us coordinate the response from our location. And around 9:15 yesterday morning, there was really a - I would just describe it as a tidal wave of people streaming into our building. And despite - despite the tragedy, this is I guess the moment when I felt like, you know, we were going to get through this.

GREENE: I guess that moment - that moment comes when you're working through something hard. Have you been able to stay there and feel optimistic that you are going to get through this?

VARGAS: Yeah, you know, we worked through the day yesterday. We had literally hundreds and hundreds of people come out, drop off supplies for us to help the victims' families, people who wanted to volunteer any way they could. And, you know, just seeing that outpouring of support - and that continued on through the evening. Even just this morning waking up, I have even more messages of support from not just our community but nationwide, people opening their hearts and wallets to help.

GREENE: Well, Mr. Vargas, we'll be thinking about you and your community. Thanks very much.

VARGAS: Thank you.

GREENE: That's Tim Vargas. He's head of The GLBT Community Center here in the city of Orlando, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.