ORLANDO LATEST: Gunman scouted out Disney complex, Pulse, official says
(CNN) — Investigators believe the Orlando nightclub gunman made surveillance trips to both the club and a Disney shopping complex earlier this month — the same week Disney and other Orlando sites were hosting Gay Days 2016.
Omar Mir Seddique Mateen’s visits to the Pulse gay nightclub and Disney Springs happened between June 1 and June 6, a law enforcement official said Tuesday. Gay Days 2016 celebrations took place at Walt Disney World and other Orlando locations between May 31 and June 6.
The gunman had showed an aversion toward gays — making inflammatory remarks and expressing outrage at the sight of two men kissing, law enforcement officials and a former coworker said.
But others say he used a gay dating app and for years frequented the same gay nightclub that he would eventually terrorize.
Was the mass shooting fueled by homophobia? Was the gunman struggling with his own sexuality? Or was he really inspired by ISIS, as his mid-rampage call to 911 suggests?
Authorities are investigating many angles to try to understand what prompted him to carry out the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Here’s what we know:
Scouting out Disney World, Disney Springs
Disney security officials told the FBI they believe that Mateen also visited Disney World on April 26 to conduct surveillance, a law enforcement official told CNN. The FBI is investigating that possibility.
Mateen’s wife, Noor Salman, was with him on the Disney World visit. Authorities are investigating whether she knew about her husband’s intent, the official said. Salman has spoken to investigators.
More than a month after that Disney World trip, Mateen’s visited the Pulse nightclub and Disney Springs — an entertainment and shopping complex — apparently to scout out the locations, the official said. Authorities believe he was conducting surveillancebased on information learned in interviews.
The early June visits took place during the same time period Mateen was purchasing the weapons used in Sunday’s devastating attack.
And hours before the carnage, Mateen made one last trip to Disney Springs, law enforcement officials said. That time, Mateen was alone.
Items seized from homes
The FBI has seized documents from Mateen’s home as well as items from 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 authorities have accessed the phone.
To some, Mateen was a homophobic “bigot.” To others, he was a friendly regular at the gay nightclub.
Chris Callen, who worked at Pulse as a performer, said he had seen Mateen dozens of times at the club. According to Callen’s 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.”
Pulse regular Kevin West told CNN affiliate KTVT that Mateen messaged him on a gay dating app months before the attack.
“I remember him asking me for pictures,” West said. He said Mateen also asked him what “clubs are popping,” but West said he didn’t go out much and told Mateen to look up clubs online.
But a former colleague said Mateen often made homophobic, sexist and racist remarks.
“He was an angry person, violent in nature, and a bigot to almost every class of person,” former co-worker Dan Gilroy told CNN affiliate WPTV. Mateen and Gilroy had worked together at PGA Village in Port St. Lucie
Gilroy said Mateen also had a temper.
“He would hit things and as he was hitting things, he would yell, and of course there was always curse words involved,” Gilroy told the WPTV. “And this wasn’t seldom, this was all the time.”
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.”
Ex-wife: He abused me
Mateen’s first wife, Sitora Yusufiy, painted a damning portrait of the killer, describing a physically abusive marriage to a man with anger issues.
Yusufiy, who is originally from Uzbekistan, said the relationship started well after they met online about seven years ago.
“In the beginning, he was a normal being that cared about family, loved to joke, loved to have fun, but then a few months after we were married I saw his instability,” she said.
“He would get mad out of nowhere. That’s when I started worrying about my safety.”
She said the abuse became a regular occurrence.
“(My family) had to pull me out of his arms and find an emergency flight. … I made a police report.”
While her ex-husband was religious, Yusufiy said, she did not believe his religion played a role in the nightclub attack.
Worked as a security guard
Mateen lived in a condo in Fort Pierce, Florida, with Salman, his second wife, according to documents CNN obtained.
He also had a 3-year-old son, Mateen’s father said.
Mateen had worked for nine years as a security officer at G4S Secure Solutions, one of the world’s largest private security companies.
According to a neighbor, he was a security guard at the St. Lucie County Courthouse, often manning the metal detectors at the front of the building.
FBI had investigated him twice
Mateen first came on the FBI’s radar in 2013 when he made “inflammatory comments to co-workers alleging possible terrorist ties,” Assistant Special Agent in Charge Ronald Hopper said. But investigators “were unable to verify the substance of his comments,” he said.
In 2014, the FBI interviewed Mateen again over possible connections with Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, a Florida man who became the first known American suicide bomber in Syria. The two men frequented the same mosque.
“We determined that contact was minimal and did not constitute a substantive relationship or threat at that time,” Hopper said.
Mateen was able to purchase a handgun and assault rifle legally in the days before the massacre, said Trevor Velino of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
‘A hell of a lot of jihadist propaganda’
During the gunman’s rampage, he called 911 and pledged allegiance to ISIS, a U.S. official said. Mateen also mentioned the Boston Marathon bombers.
An analysis of Mateen’s electronic devices showed searches for jihadist propaganda, including videos of ISIS beheadings, an official said.
“He consumed a hell of a lot of jihadist propaganda,” the source said.
After meeting with national security officials Tuesday, President Barack Obama said there is no indication a foreign terror group directed the Orlando massacre.
“It is increasingly clear, however, that the killer took in extremist information and propaganda over the Internet,” he said.
Obama credited military, intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement personnel who “have prevented many attacks and saved many lives” in the battle against terrorism.
But he conceded that “these lone actors or small cells of terrorists are very hard to detect and very hard to prevent.”
Father baffled by killings
Mateen’s father, Seddique Mateen, said he had no idea his son was about to commit an act of mass violence.
“I am as shocked as you are,” he told CNN.
The father had an occasional television show on an Afghan satellite channel in which he regularly criticized Afghanistan’s government and Pakistan.
Seddique Mateen said he doesn’t believe religion motivated his son’s attack.
“Radicalism? No. He doesn’t have a beard even. When someone becomes radical, they grow long beards and they wear clothes that you know, long clothes, and I don’t think religion or Islam had nothing to do with this,” he said.
He said his son may have pledged allegiance to ISIS because “he wanted to boost himself.”
But the father condemned the terror group.
“The way they conduct themselves, they’re harming everybody. They’re not a religious group. I don’t know what they are,” he said. “They’re a killer group.”