Islamic extremist massacres 20 at Orlando gay club

From The Orlando Sentinel

By Christal Hayes, Gal Tziperman Lotan, Elyssa Cherney and Naseem S. Miller

Twenty people are dead after a shooting at Orlando's Pulse nightclub in what investigators are calling an act of terrorism, Orlando Police Chief John Mina said at a morning news conference.

A gunman took scores of people hostage overnight inside the nightclub between 2:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m.; about 42 people were taken to area hospitals, Mina said.

Officers killed the gunman, who has not been identified, in a shoot out and referred to him as a "lone wolf." He was carrying an assault rifle, a handgun and was possibly wearing an explosive "device." The Orange County Sheriff's Office hazardous device team is now searching the area.

About 30 people were "saved during the rescue," Mina said. About 320 people were in the club when the hostage situation unfolded. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is assisting. Agent Ron Hopper said they cannot rule this out as an act of domestic terrorism and that the suspect, who is not from Orlando, may have leanings toward extreme Islamic ideologies.

Orlando police responded to a mass shooting at Pulse nightclub south of downtown on June 12, 2016.

Special Agent in Charge Danny Banks of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said, “We have no indication of other activities similar to last night’s activity.”

Some victims were transported to Orlando Health, which established a family information center early this morning, asking family members to go to at 52 West Underwood St.

Several family members stood outside the North entrance of ORMC awaiting news. 

Kenneth Melendez and his friends were at the club when the shooting happened. Four of his friends were shot and were at ORMC, he said.

Video recorded by a witness shows the scene at Pulse nightclub in downtown Orlando during a mass shooting.

"It's just something that you see in the movies but never think would happen to you," he said.

"At first, when I heard the shots I thought it was part of the music, but then we realized it was really happening. I started running and saw someone bleeding from the arm and I was like wow this is really happening and I kept running."

He said he went to Pulse often because it was a "safe environment where you could express yourself ... Not anymore."

Some family members standing outside ORMC said that certain floors were on lockdown and only immediate families of shooting victims could get in.

Florida Hospital wouldn't confirm if any patients have been transported there this morning, but said they can check on names for families.

In the early morning, dozens of emergency vehicles surrounded the chaotic scene at the club at 1912 S. Orange Ave. after the 2 a.m. shooting and rescue squads were transporting multiple victims to area hospitals.

Witnesses said they heard at least 40 shots fired inside the club.

Police reported just before 6 a.m. that the shooter inside the club was dead. Mina said his officers exchanged gunfire with the suspect in two shootings. Nine officers were involved in the shooting and one sustained an injury to his head and was saved by his helmet.

At 5 a.m. authorities used an explosive device to distract the gunman, then authorities plowed through the club with a vehicle.

Afteward, the Orlando Fire Department called for its bomb squad and hazardous material team to the scene after 3 a.m. Police K-9 dogs are searching the area around nearby Orlando Regional Medical Center with an armed deputy in head-to-toe military gear.

Just after the shooting, Pulse Orlando's posted a note to its own page that said, "Everyone get out of pulse and keep running." The popular gay bar was full of people at the time of the incident.

Emotional witnesses and family members of those who were in the club surrounded the area after shots rang out. One witness said the shooting lasted the duration of an entire song. 

Javer Antonetti, 53, went out to the club with his brother. He was towards the back of the room when he heard shots ring out.  "There were so many, at least 40," he said. "I saw two guys and it was constant, like 'pow, pow, pow,' " he said.  He said he ran out of the club. His brother is on crutches and was stuck inside. Antonetti said authorities were able to help save his brother, who he says is uninjured but still near the club.  "I'm not going anywhere," he said. "Police told me he's safe but he's still stuck back there."  He's waiting near Orlando Regional Medical Center.  Antonetti noticed when he made it out safe that he has blood smears on his shirt. He said he doesn't know how they got there and didn't see how many were injured. 

Another witness, Rosie Feba, said she took her girlfriend to the club for the first time Saturday night. It was near closing time.

"She told me someone was shooting. Everyone was getting on the floor," Feba said. "I told her I didn't think it was real, I thought it was just part of the music, until I saw fire coming out of his gun."

Feba and her girlfriend ran out of the club. On the way out, they saw a man who had been shot. 

Feba grabbed him. Others around her called 911. Some of the man's blood stained the sleeve of her striped T-shirt. 

Both Feba and her girlfriend were unharmed, but shaken. They waited in a CVS parking lot for more information.

Christopher Hansen just moved to Orlando about two months ago. He went to the club to meet someone, where they were hosting a Latin night. The 32-year-old was near the front door of the bar when the shooting started. 

He also heard more than 40 shots and estimated that more than 20 people had been hit by gunfire. He said even after most of the people inside vacated the bar the shooting continued.  Police were yelling for him and others to get out.

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