Fifty people were killed and 53 injured in a shooting attack at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida early on Sunday morning that became the deadliest mass shooting in American history.
The Orlando mayor, Buddy Dyer, confirmed the casualty numbers to a press conference. At an earlier press conference, police chief John Mina said 20 had been killed and 42 hospitalised. But after law enforcement agents were able to access the entirety of the building, the new figure was confirmed.
“There were more victims than originally thought,” Mina said at the second press conference. “Once we were sure there were no devices and could go in confidently, we were able to see the number of victims.”
The gunman, who was armed with an assault rifle, handgun and “some kind of device”, was named by media reports citing anonymous sources as Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old from Fort Pierce, Florida.
The Washington Post said Mateen’s identity was confirmed by relatives and law enforcement officials, though police did not make an official statement confirming the identity of the suspect. The Guardian was not immediately able to independently verify the identity of the shooter.
The gunman was killed during a shootout with police, as they used a Bearcat vehicle to break into the nightclub and rescue 30 people held hostage.
One police officer was shot in the head, but authorities said the officer’s “life had been saved by his Kevlar helmet”.
Police said the shooting was being treated as an “act of domestic terrorism”. An FBI spokesman said investigators believed the attacker may have had extremist beliefs, and would consider possible links to Isis, but cautioned that they were pursuing multiple leads.
A state of emergency was declared across the city of Orlando, Dyer said, to allow law enforcement officials to focus on the investigation.
Mina said the focus was on securing the nightclub and the surrounding area, including the suspect’s vehicle, a van parked outside the club. Once these areas were secure, officials would be able to start removing bodies and notifying family members.
Mina thanked the country for the outpouring of support.
“It’s a tragedy of unimaginable proportions,” Dyer told Wesh-TV. “My heart goes out to the victims, their families. But we’re a strong resilient community.”
Dyer, who has been mayor of Orlando for 14 years, said he had “never seen anything like this, I hope no mayor ever has to see anything like this”.
Dyer praised the first responders on the scene and said he believed their actions, particularly that of the police officer who initially exchanged fire with the gunman, saved lives.
Michael Cheatham, a surgeon with Orlando Health, told the press briefing local hospitals had implemented a “mass casualty plan” and spent the morning operating on a number of victims, “many of them critically ill as a result of their injuries”.
He asked people to consider donating blood as a way of assisting in the wake of the attack.
“Blood is a wonderful gift. That can be arranged through local blood banks, don’t come to the local hospitals,” said Cheatham.
OneBlood, an organisation that promotes and facilitates blood donation, announced there was an urgent need for O Negative, O Postive and AB Plasma blood donors in the wake of the attack.
“I want to commend the heroic and courageous actions of the first responders who were involved in an exchange of gunfire and the Swat team who were able to save up to 30 potential victims,” he said.
TheFlorida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on the Muslim community to take part in a blood donation drive for those injured in the attack.
In a statement, CAIR said: “We condemn this monstrous attack and offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all those killed or injured. The Muslim community joins our fellow Americans in repudiating anyone or any group that would claim to justify or excuse such an appalling act of violence.”
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