<![CDATA[NBC Chicago - National & International News - [DFW] Orlando Nightclub Massacre]]>Copyright 2019http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/national-internationalen-usSat, 19 Jan 2019 03:27:32 -0600Sat, 19 Jan 2019 03:27:32 -0600NBC Local Integrated Media<![CDATA[Pulse Survivor Says He Is No Longer Gay, Has Found Christ]]>Wed, 02 May 2018 08:55:33 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/pulse-site.jpg

A survivor of the June 2016 mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that left 49 people dead now says he has found Christ and is no longer gay, NBC News reported

“I should have been number 50!,” Luis Javier Ruiz said in a message posted to Facebook. “Going through old pictures of the night of Pulse, I remember my struggles of perversion, heavy drinking to drown out everything and having promiscuous sex that led to HIV. My struggles were real! The enemy had its grip, and now God has taken me from that moment and has given me Christ.”

Ruiz shared this revelation just ahead of the Freedom March, to be held May 5 in Washington, NBC News reported. The event bills itself as a “celebration of freedom from homosexuality and transgenderism” and is organized by Voice of the Voiceless, a group with religious ties who says its mission is “to defend the rights of former homosexuals, individuals with unwanted same-sex attraction, and their families,” according to its website.

The controversial practice of trying to change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity is often referred to as “conversion therapy.” A long list of health organizations have spoken out against the medically debunked practice.



Photo Credit: Gerardo Mora/Getty Images (File)]]>
<![CDATA[Lawyers Differ on What Orlando Club Shooter's Widow Knew]]>Wed, 14 Mar 2018 14:51:32 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/539900832-Pulse-Nightclub-Orlando.jpg

If jurors in a federal trial in Florida believe government prosecutors, the wife of the man who carried out one of the U.S.'s biggest mass shootings gave a "green light" to her husband when he wanted to execute his terrorist-inspired attack.

But if they accept Noor Salman's attorney's account that she was a "devoted mother" with an IQ of 84 and was the victim of Omar Mateen's repeated lies throughout their marriage, they could decide she had no prior knowledge of the attack.

Salman went on trial Wednesday in Orlando. The 31-year-old is accused of aiding and abetting her husband in his attack on the Pulse nightclub in June of 2016. She's also charged with obstruction of justice. If convicted, she faces life in prison.

After opening statements, the government called a variety of witnesses who gave emotional testimony about that night at Pulse. Two police officers testified, as did a survivor who said she covered herself with a dead body while Mateen shot his way through the club. Prosecutors also showed video taken inside the club by one survivor; Salman covered her eyes with her hand and victims' family members in the court teared up.

Prosecutors portrayed a woman who knew Mateen was buying rounds of ammunition for his AR-15, helped him spend thousands of dollars before the attack and knew about his plan when he left the house in the hours before the shooting. They also say she lied, tried to mislead FBI agents and had knowledge of her husband's sick fascination with violent jihadist videos and terrorism.

"None of the victims that night knew the horrific events that would unfold. No one knew except for two people: Omar Mateen and his wife," Assistant U.S. Attorney James Mandolfo said. "The defendant gave Omar Mateen the green light to commit terrorism on behalf of ISIS."

In his hourlong opening statement, Mandolfo gave several examples of Salman's conflicting statements to FBI agents in the hours after the attack. In one conversation with authorities, before they informed her of any details of the attack, she said, "My husband is safe with guns."

Said Mandolfo: "No one ever told her about guns."

He described a wife that knowingly went to at least two locations with Mateen to "scout" sites of potential terrorist attacks. One was City Place, an open-air shopping center in West Palm Beach. The other was Disney Springs, a crowded dining and shopping area near the famed theme parks, Mandolfo said.

"What would make people more upset, an attack at a club or an attack at Disney?" Mateen asked his wife, according to Mandolfo.

Salman also knew her husband was fascinated with violent jihadist videos, even pulling their 3-year-old away from the screen, Mandolfo said.

The statements she made to the FBI after the attack will be key to the trial.

Salman's attorney, Linda Moreno, argued in opening statements that some of the claims are contradicted by cellphone records and other evidence.

"She cooperated with the FBI completely," said Moreno, adding that her client never asked for a lawyer and consented to a home search. The FBI in their hourslong questioning manipulated and coerced her, Moreno asserts.

"Noor Salman denied any knowledge of Omar Mateen's plans for hours," she said, adding that agents told Salman that she could go to jail and not see her child.

Her attorney said Mateen had a secret life that involved meeting women online and cheating on Salman. Moreno called Mateen "misogynistic." According to court records, Mateen abused Salman, including when she was pregnant.

"The only sin was that she married a monster," said Moreno, adding that the jury can honor the victims of the attack by seeking the truth of her client's actions.

U.S. District Judge Paul G. Byron said the trial could last three weeks or more, after taking several days to pick a jury of 12 with six alternates.

Mateen, who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, was killed by police in the hours after the shooting. At the time of the attack, it was the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. It was surpassed last October by the fatal shooting of 58 people in Las Vegas.

Salman was arrested in 2017 in California, where she was staying with family, and has been jailed since then.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Pulse to Reopen as Memorial Site]]>Mon, 01 Aug 2016 09:22:55 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/181*120/GettyImages-539547630.jpg

The owners of Pulse nightclub in Florida say it will reopen as a memorial to the 49 people who died there.

The announcement was posted Sunday on One Pulse Foundation's social media accounts. The foundation was set up by the nightclub's owners to "provide financial assistance to the victims'' and to "contribute to the creation of a permanent memorial."

Details about when the site will reopen as a memorial haven't been released.

Gunman Omar Mateen opened fire at the gay nightclub in Orlando on June 12, killing 49 patrons and injuring 53 others. He was killed in a shootout with police.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Police Release Pulse Nightclub Back to Owner]]>Wed, 13 Jul 2016 13:55:45 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP_16164430359068.jpg

Law enforcement has released the Pulse nightclub in Orlando to its owner just a month after it was the scene of the worst mass shooting in recent U.S. history.

Officials with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Wednesday that the agency and the Orlando Police Department have ended their control of the property.

They said that the investigation by the FBI and the FDLE is continuing.

Gunman Omar Mateen opened fire at Pulse during "Latin Night" on June 12 in a rampage that left 49 victims dead and injured 53 people.

In a statement, Pulse owner Barbara Poma described it as a "bittersweet day."

She said she can now make plans for the future of Pulse, though she said she is uncertain what those next steps will be.

"None of us will ever understand why this unspeakable event happened at Pulse, which was always intended to be a safe place for the LGBT community. We continue to be grateful for the efforts of law enforcement as well as the love and support we have received from our Orlando community and the world," Poma's statement said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[J.Lo, Spears, Blige Part of a Song for Orlando Victims ]]>Wed, 06 Jul 2016 07:34:54 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/JLo-Blige-Spears.jpg

GLAAD and Interscope Records have joined forces to release a song featuring Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez and Mary J. Blige in tribute to the victims of last month's massacre in Orlando, Florida.

"Hands" was released Wednesday on iTunes. It also includes Selena Gomez, Imagine Dragons, Juanes, Pink, RuPaul, Meghan Trainor and Gwen Stefani.

Sales will benefit the Equality Florida Pulse Victims Fund, the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida and GLAAD.

The June 12 shooting at the Pulse nightclub left 49 people dead and dozens injured. It's the worst mass-shooting in recent U.S. history. 

Jason Derulo, Kacey Musgraves, Prince Royce, Nate Ruess, Troye Sivan, Jussie Smollett, Adam Lambert, Tyler Glenn of Neon Trees, Mary Lambert and the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles also make cameos on the song.

"Hands" was co-produced by Grammy winner Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Bruno Mars) and was co-written by Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter, the duo who also worked on hits like Justin Bieber's "Sorry," Nick Jonas' "Close" and Gomez's "Good for You," featuring A$AP Rocky. 

The song joins a growing list of musical tributes to the Orlando victims. 

Lopez recently joined "Hamilton" star Lin-Manuel Miranda to record a track called, "Love Makes the World Go Round," to support the families of the victims of the nightclub shooting in Orlando. The proceeds from the song's sales will benefit the Hispanic Federation's Proyecto Somos Orlando

Christina Aguilera penned a song “Change,” which includes lyrics that share a message about waiting for a change and "the day when hate is lost and love is found." Aguilera released a statement that said proceeds from the song's U.S. downloads through Sept. 14 will be donated to the National Compassion Fund.

Singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge also wrote a song called "Pulse," for the name of the club where last month's massacre occured.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago


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<![CDATA[Jonas, Lovato Surprise Pulse Nightclub Employees With VIP Concert]]>Sun, 03 Jul 2016 21:14:08 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/JonasLovato-AP_832462950379.jpg

For Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato, Saturday night's concert wasn't like the rest.

The two performers decided to do something special for dozens of employees at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando as part of their cross-country Honda Civic Tour. 

In a Facebook post shared over the weekend, fans learned that several workers were able to enjoy the duo's show for free. In fact, they even got to take part in a meet-and-greet before the show.

"Nick Jonas &Demi Lovato, thank you for making the pulse family smile #onepulse #orlandostrong #pulseorlando," the post read. "We will rise and not be defeated! #onepulse #pulseorlando."

According to TMZ, close to 30 employees also received a private suite at the Amway Center for Saturday night's show.

During the emotional gig, Jonas and Lovato surprised the crowd when they welcomed Andra Day onto the stage for a special collaboration of "Rise Up."

As the three artists showed off their vocals, the names and ages of the victims from the recent Orlando shooting were shown on the big screen. "The Voice" contestant Christina Grimmie was also honored during the sold-out concert.

"Orlando you were incredible last night." Jonas shared after the show. "Thank you @andradaymusic for helping DEMI and I are honor the victims of the terrible acts of violence recently. #riseup #hondacivicfuturenowtour"

Lovato added, "I adore you Miami. Thank you. #loveislove #hondacivictour @futurenowtour."

How to Help Orlando Shooting Victims: Crowdfunding Campaign Raises More Than $1.6 Million

Musicians Performing Live on Stage



Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Orlando Club Massacre: 911 Logs Tell Story of Horror]]>Tue, 28 Jun 2016 10:59:23 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-539631606.jpg

Police released logs from the Orlando massacre on Tuesday, providing a narrative of the horror inside the Pulse nightclub on June 12.

The document includes the notes that 911 dispatchers took on what callers were telling them and what officers were saying over their radios over the course of three hours, NBC News reported. The timeline begins with "Shots fired" entry at 2:02 a.m.

Note after note laid bare the fear, panic and carnage that filled the club where 49 victims were killed before gunman Omar Mateen was shot dead by police. In the first few minutes, dispatchers could hear gunfire, cries for help, and heartbreaking silence. As clubgoers ran for their lives to various corners of the building, calls came in from restrooms, the kitchen, an office. 

The entry at 5:15 a.m. ET, "Subj down" marks the end of the bloodshed.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Boston Bombing Survivors Visit Orlando Massacre Victims]]>Sun, 26 Jun 2016 17:41:39 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/OrlandoBostonBombing-AP_16178639942733.jpg

Survivors of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing visited some of the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando, NBC News reported. 

The ten marathon victims, along with service dogs, visited six of the Orlando nightclub shooting victims who were still in the hospital this weekend. 

The visit was set up by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer’s office. A large group was gathered together, with the help of JetBlue, Uber and AirBnB, according to marathon survivor Dave Fortier. 

"It's a lot of talking, learning about their families and where they are all from. We are able to relate on a scale some folks may not be able to do," Fortier told NBC News on Sunday, as he was still with one of the Pulse victims. "We are showing them some of the things we learned." 

The two groups shared their experiences and exchanged contact information.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[NYPD Rolls Out Rainbow SUV to Support Orlando Victims]]>Fri, 24 Jun 2016 09:26:43 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Rainbow-NYPD-SUV-0623.jpg

The NYPD has rolled out a rainbow-colored SUV in support of the LGBTQ community and the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando last week.

One of the department's patrol SUVs was re-outfitted with lights, decals and NYPD logos in rainbow colors.

The department's usual "Courtesy Professionalism Respect" decal was replaced with ones that said "Pride Equality Peace," and another one was placed on a rear window that said "Our (heart) goes out to Orlando." 

A photo of the vehicle first surfaced on the Orlando Police Department's Twitter feed Tuesday morning, along with the caption "Some love from the NYPD. Thank you All!"

The department's Gay Officers Action League posted a video of the SUV Thursday morning. In the video, an LED ticker in the vehicle's back compartment lights up the phrases "Our hearts go out to Orlando" and "NYPD out and proud."

An NYPD spokesman told amNewYork that the SUV was outfitted with the unique decals in support of the city's LGBTQ community and in solidarity with victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. 

The vehicle is expected to make an appearance at Sunday's Pride March, which Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton estimate could be the biggest one ever.

They say police security will be tight, with increased detail and measures both visible and non-visible.

"This year is going to be a bit more somber, obviously, but I think more people will come out, they want to be together," said Dan Crowley, bartender at The Duplex, a popular cabaret and piano bar in Greenwich Village. 



Photo Credit: Gay Officers Action League
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<![CDATA[Orlando Gunman Buried in Florida]]>Thu, 23 Jun 2016 08:46:03 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/mateen166430018608.jpg

The body of Orlando mass shooter Omar Mateen was buried at a Muslim cemetery in south Florida, where one official said everyone is entitled to a resting place, NBC News reported.

Mateen's father had told reporters his son was buried in accordance with Islamic tradition but would not reveal the location. 

The death certificate filed late Wednesday revealed he was interred about three hours from Orlando.

The person listed as the director of the cemetery did not return calls for comment, and the man identified as the funeral director hung up on a reporter.

Another cemetery official said he was unaware of Mateen's burial. He called Mateen "a bad guy" but defended the decision to accept his remains.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Mom of 11 Laid to Rest After Orlando Rampage]]>Tue, 21 Jun 2016 07:10:22 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/160621-brenda-mccool-funeral-jpo-813a.jpg

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, mother of 11 children, was laid to rest Monday after she was fatally shot during the Pulse nightclub rampage last week. 

McCool, 49, was dancing with her son Isaiah Henderson, 21, when gunman Omar Mateen opened fire inside the club. McCool survived cancer twice and died saving her son, according to witnesses who said she pushed him out of harm's way when the shooting started.

Henderson said in his eulogy that his mother was "crazy," but in a good way, and "she literally loved everyone," NBC News reported. He needed the support of two of his six brothers as he broke down in tears at the funeral at First United Methodist Church of Orlando.



Photo Credit: NBC News]]>
<![CDATA[AG Visits Orlando in Wake of Deadly Attack ]]>Tue, 21 Jun 2016 15:28:23 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AG_AP_16137669714048.jpg

The Orlando massacre at a popular gay nightclub shows no one yet has "found the magic bullet" to prevent Americans from being inspired to violence by jihadist propaganda on the Internet, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Tuesday as she visited a city still shaken by the shootings.

The case underscores the challenges the government faces in countering the narrative of radical extremism, Lynch said in an interview with The Associated Press.

At the scene of the carnage, workers removed a temporary fence that was erected around the Pulse nightclub. State officials wondered how they would pay for resources drained by the June 12 massacre, and investigators kept probing for gunman Omar Mateen's motives for the rampage, in which 49 people were killed and dozens more wounded. Mateen died in a gunbattle with police.

Lynch said investigators may never pinpoint a single motive and not have not discounted witness reports suggesting Mateen might have been at Pulse before or had gay tendencies.

"We are still looking into that, and we are not ruling anything out," she said.

In a 911 call from the club, Mateen pledged solidarity with the Islamic State group, and Lynch said there's no doubt he had read and been interested in extremist propaganda on the Internet.

"We believe that is certainly one avenue of radicalization, but we want to know if there are others," she said in the interview 

"This was clearly an act of terror and an act of hate," she told reporters later.

She called the rampage a "shattering attack, on our nation, on our people and on our most fundamental ideals."

While in Orlando, Lynch visited a memorial, praised the actions of first responders and met with victims' relatives and with prosecutors.

Lynch also directly addressed the LGBT community, saying, "We stand with you to say that the good in the world far outweighs the evil ... and that our most effective response to terror and hatred is compassion, unity and love."

Her remarks at a news conference followed briefings by U.S. Attorney Lee Bentley and other law enforcement officials, including prosecutors assigned to the investigation.

Lynch's meeting with first responders came as Orlando police faced continued questions about their response.

On Monday, police Chief John Mina said that if any fire from responding officers hit victims at the club, Mateen bears the responsibility. "Those killings are on the suspect, on the suspect alone in my mind," he said 

Lynch said the Justice Department will provide Florida $1 million in emergency funds to help with response costs. Florida's Republican Gov. Rick Scott had complained that Washington had turned down his request for $5 million to help pay for the state's response.

Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Rafael Lemaitre said its disaster fund was not an "appropriate source" to pay for law enforcement response, medical care and counseling for victims of a shooting.

More clues emerged about the attack Monday when the FBI released a partial transcript of phone calls Mateen had with a 911 operator and police crisis negotiators once the shooting got underway.

In them, he identified himself as an Islamic soldier, demanded that the U.S. "stop bombing" Syria and Iraq, warned of future violence and at one point pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group, the FBI said.

Despite his declarations, the FBI says it's found no evidence the attack was directed by a foreign terrorist organization. Mateen instead appears to have become radicalized through online jihadist propaganda, officials say, an influence that openly worries law enforcement.

Mateen's calls to police, which one FBI official said were made in a "chilling, calm and deliberate manner" were similar to postings he apparently made on Facebook around the time of the shooting 

"I'm in Orlando and I did the shootings," Mateen said in one call that came more than a half-hour after the first shots rang out, the FBI said.

The shootings have fostered discussion about government efforts to identify and thwart individuals bent on violence — Mateen had been interviewed by the FBI three times since 2013 as part of two separate investigations and placed on a terror watch list — and also about whether stiffer gun control laws are needed. The Senate on Monday rejected proposals from both parties to keep extremists from acquiring guns, including one that was publicly supported by the Justice Department.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Imagine Dragons to Headline Show for OneOrlando Fund]]>Tue, 21 Jun 2016 03:50:08 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP_438185874358.jpg

The Imagine Dragons and Nate Ruess will headline an "All is One Orlando Unity Concert" to benefit the OneOrlando Fund, which was established to assist the victims and survivors of the gay nightclub shooting.

The concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. June 22 at Hard Rock Live Orlando.

The OneOrlando Fund was set up after the Pulse nightclub shooting that left 49 victims dead and 53 injured.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: Paul A. Hebert/Invision/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Orlando Locals Line Up For 'One Pulse' Tattoos]]>Mon, 20 Jun 2016 09:30:37 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP_451126802192-cropped.jpgPeople in Orlando waited hours for a “One Pulse” tattoo on June 18, 2016, to show support for the Pulse night club shooting victims. The tattoos were free at Realm Tattoos but supporters were encouraged to leave donations for victims, which will be distributed by Southern Nights nightclub in Orlando.

Photo Credit: Alex Sanz/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Free Cemetery Plots for Orlando Shooting Victims]]>Mon, 20 Jun 2016 08:14:22 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/NC_cemetaryplot0618_1920x1080.jpgThe Greenwood Cemetery in Orlando has offered to lay to rest for free each of the 49 victims of the Orlando massacre. "That's what we do I mean we're a cemetery; we take care of the city," said Don Price, Greenwood Cemetery caretaker. "We take care of our own." The usual price for a plot and funeral service at Greenwood Cemetery is $2,300.
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<![CDATA[Trump Backtracks on Guns-in-Clubs Statement]]>Mon, 20 Jun 2016 08:08:16 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/trump-sign2.jpg

Donald Trump is backtracking from his contention that victims of the Orlando massacre should have been allowed to carry arms into the nightclub where they were attacked — a stance even the NRA says is untenable.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee tweeted Monday that he was "obviously talking about additional guards or employees" of the Florida nightclub when he spoke about the value of having more people armed to challenge the gunman.

That flies in the face of his comments after the massacre.

A day after the attack, he told radio host Howie Carr: "It's too bad that some of the young people that were killed over the weekend didn't have guns, you know, attached to their hips, frankly, and you know where bullets could have flown in the opposite direction, Howie. It would have been a much different deal. I mean, it sounded like there were no guns. They had a security guard. Other than that there were no guns in the room. Had people been able to fire back, it would have been a much differennrat outcome."

Trump had repeated his suggestion at rallies across the country last week. In Atlanta he said the carnage would have been lessened if "some of those great people that were in that club that night had guns strapped to their waist or strapped to their ankle."

His statements were a step too far for the National Rifle Association, a powerful lobby for armed self-defense and broad permissions to carry weapons. "No one thinks that people should go into a nightclub drinking and carrying firearms," the NRA's chief lobbyist, Chris Cox, told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. "That defies common sense. It also defies the law."

As Trump revised his position on the matter, the Senate prepared to vote Monday on expanded gun background checks and proposals to keep people on a government terrorism watch list or other suspected terrorists from buying guns. But prospects for any significant change in gun laws were dim.

The Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, was added to a government watch list of people known or suspected of being involved in terrorist activities in 2013, when he was investigated for inflammatory statements to co-workers. But he was pulled from that database when that investigation was closed 10 months later.

Trump made the case on the weekend that the U.S. should consider profiling Muslims inside the country as a terrorism-fighting tool, the latest example of his backing positions that could single out a group based on its religion.

"We really have to look at profiling," Trump told CBS's "Face the Nation." ''It's not the worst thing to do."

Trump's proposal runs counter to Justice Department policy, which prohibits profiling on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity and national origin. That profiling ban applies not only to federal agents but also to local law enforcement officers who participate in federal task forces.

Trump's increasing embrace of policies that could isolate Muslims in America is extraordinary for a candidate assured of his party's presidential nomination. The proposals have been roundly criticized by many Republican leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan. Civil libertarians, Muslims and others also have strongly disagreed, arguing that profiling is unconstitutional and often constitutes unlawful discrimination based on race, religion and other factors.

Trump's statements are consistent with his long-expressed views on how to stop terrorism in the United States, most notably a freeze on the entry of foreign Muslims in the U.S. But he's intensified his approach since Mateen carried out the worst mass shooting in modern American history on June 12. Forty-nine people were killed in the attack.

On Sunday, Trump also said the government should investigate mosques in the U.S. in much the same way a New York Police Department unit spied on Muslims and mosques around the city with help from the CIA.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Estimated 50,000 People Attend Vigil for Orlando Victims]]>Mon, 20 Jun 2016 05:00:07 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/ORLANDO_AP_16172080696999.jpg

An estimated 50,000 people gathered for a candlelight vigil Sunday night to remember the 49 people killed in Orlando, Florida, last week, event organizers said, NBC News reported. 

Throngs of people packed onto the banks of Lake Eola, near downtown Orlando, holding signs with messages like "Love always conquers hate" and "Free hugs."

It was a staggering display of support punctuated by a moment of silence, a rainbow and tens of thousands of attendees, each holding his or her own lighted candle.

"Wow, Orlando," Mayor Buddy Dyer told the crowd, The Orlando Sentinel reported. "You're showing your love, your compassion, your unity."



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Orlando Gunman to 911: 'I Did the Shootings']]>Mon, 20 Jun 2016 17:54:23 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/split-suspect.jpg

Orlando gunman Omar Mateen identified himself as an Islamic soldier in calls with authorities during his rampage and warned a crisis negotiator that in coming days "you're going to see more of this type of action going on," according to transcripts released by the FBI on Monday.

The partial transcripts were of a 911 call made by Mateen and three conversations he had with the police crisis negotiators during the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, in which 49 people died and dozens were wounded.

Those communications, along with Facebook posts and searches Mateen made around the time of the shootings, add to the public understanding of the final hours of Mateen's life and to the possible motivations behind the rampage.

The first call came more than a half-hour after shots rang out, when Mateen told a 911 operator, "Praise be to God, and prayers as well as peace be upon the prophet of God," he told the dispatcher, referring to God in Arabic.

"I let you know, I'm in Orlando and I did the shootings."

During the 50-second call with a dispatcher, Mateen "made murderous statements in a "chilling, calm and deliberate manner," Ronald Hopper, FBI assistant special agent in charge in Orlando, said during a news conference.

However, there is no evidence Mateen was directed by a foreign terrorist group, and he was radicalized domestically and on his own, Hopper said.

Mateen's name and the groups and people to whom he pledged allegiance were initially omitted from the excerpt. But the Justice Department reversed course later Monday, providing a more complete transcript confirming Mateen pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State. The extremist group encourages its followers who seek to commit violence in its name to make public pledges of support.

The Justice Department said in a statement it initially withheld the names so as not to give extremists "a publicity platform for hateful propaganda," but the omissions became an unnecessary distraction.

Shortly after the call with a 911 operator, Mateen had three conversations with crisis negotiators in which he identified himself as an Islamic soldier and told a negotiator to tell America to stop bombing Syria and Iraq. He said that was why he was "out here right now," according to the excerpt.

City officials have refused to provide hundreds of 911 calls to The Associated Press and a coalition of news organizations, citing confidentiality under Florida law, and arguing that an ongoing investigation kept the tapes secret. Hopper also said Monday that the tapes would not be released out of respect for the victims.

"Yes, the audio was compelling, but to expose that now would be excruciatingly painful to exploit them in this way," Hopper said.

Hopper also said: "Part of redacting is to not give credence to individuals who have done terrorist acts in the past. They are not going to propagate their violent rhetoric."

The AP and others requested the 911 tapes and related data, a common practice after such major events. The recordings could offer insight into how law enforcement responded.

Also at Monday's news conference, Orlando police Chief John Mina said that if any fire from responding officers hit victims at the club, gunman Mateen bears the responsibility. He wouldn't give further details but said: "Here's what I will tell you. Those killings are on the suspect, on the suspect alone in my mind." He stressed that the officers "acted heroically."

Mina acknowledged that questions have been raised by media outlets and the public about whether Orlando police waited too long after the start of the rampage at 2 a.m. to send in a SWAT team about 5 a.m.

He said an exchange of fire between police and Mateen shortly after 2 a.m. prompted the attacker to retreat into a bathroom and take hostages, shifting the incident from a shooting to a hostage-taking. Mina said there was no additional gunfire for about three hours until the SWAT team entered the building, although survivors have describing at least some firing taking place inside one of the bathrooms.

Surviving hostage Patience Carter, in a live televised interview two days after the attacks, described the attacker firing when he entered the bathroom and more firing when the SWAT team burst into the building.

"I think there's this misconception that we didn't do anything for three hours," Mina said. "I'm trying to clarify: That's absolutely not true. Our officers were within the club within minutes, exchanging gunfire with the suspect, forced him to stop shooting and retreat into the bathroom."

"From there, we let our negotiator take over and try to negotiate this to a peaceful resolution in an effort to save lives while our SWAT team set up," Mina said.

Meanwhile, hospital officials said four people remained in critical condition Monday morning, more than a week after they were wounded in the attack.

Orlando Regional Medical Center said 18 victims from the shooting were still at the hospital and three more surgeries were scheduled for Monday. The other 14 patients are listed in stable condition.

Armed with a semi-automatic weapon, Mateen went on a bloody rampage at the Pulse nightclub June 12. He died in a hail of gunfire after police stormed the venue.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch will travel to Orlando on Tuesday to meet with investigators. She said that a key goal of the investigation was to determine why Mateen targeted the gay community. The victims were predominantly gay and Hispanic since it was "Latin night" at Pulse.

Around Orlando, people left balloons, flowers, pictures and posters at a makeshift memorial in front of the city's new performing arts center and at Orlando Regional Medical Center where 49 white crosses were emblazoned with red hearts and the names of the victims.

The crosses were built by a Chicago carpenter with a history of constructing crosses for victims of mass shootings. Greg Zanis drove from Illinois to Orlando last week and installed the crosses at the medical center, where many of the 53 shooting victims who survived were taken for treatment.

Dr. Khurshid Ahmed was part of a group of Muslim-Americans at a Sunday vigil attended by tens of thousands who held signs reading, "Muslims Condemn Extremism." A letter from the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, said Mateen wrote on Facebook that "real Muslims will never accept the filthy ways of the West."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: MySpace, Getty Images
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<![CDATA[J.K. Rowling Sends Flowers to Orlando Victim's Funeral]]>Sat, 18 Jun 2016 19:47:51 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/luis-vielma-bg.jpg

J.K. Rowling sent a message to one of the Orlando massacre victims that he will not be forgotten.

As 22-year-old student and Universal Orlando Resort employee Luis Vielma was laid to rest this weekend, the best-selling author decided to send a special message to his family.

According to social media, Rowling sent a floral wreath and handwritten note which were proudly displayed near the altar.

"To Luis, who died for love," her note read. "You will never be forgotten."

The thoughtful gesture came just a few days after Rowling learned one of the victims of the attack at Pulse nightclub in Florida worked at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

"Luis Vielma worked on the Harry Potter ride at Universal," she tweeted. "He was 22 years old. I can't stop crying. #Orlando."

Many stars continue to step up and honor the victims who were injured or lost their lives.

While performing at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, Keith Urban stopped to pay tribute to the victims with a performance of U2's "One."

"Although I didn't know anybody in that horrific incident, I did, because they're just guys and girls, brothers and sisters," he shared with the sold-out crowd. "They had dreams, hopes, plans, just like every one of us."

Glenn Close recently announced she would be donating $75,000 to the Mental Health Association of Central Florida. The generous contribution will help fund counseling services for those impacted by the tragic events in Florida.

If you would like to help the Orlando shooting victims and their families, visit Equality Florida's official GoFundMe page.

How to Help Orlando Shooting Victims: Crowdfunding Campaign Raises More Than $1.6 Million

Do-Gooder Gallery



Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[Psychologist: I Never Evaluated Omar Mateen]]>Sat, 18 Jun 2016 14:47:55 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/split-suspect.jpg

The global security firm that employed Orlando shooter Omar Mateen is facing additional scrutiny over whether it adequately screened his fitness to be a gun-carrying licensed security guard, this time from a psychologist who says she never administered a key mental health evaluation of him when he was hired in 2007.

Dr. Carol Nudelman's name appears on the document G4S Secure Solutions USA submitted to the state of Florida, which cleared the Orlando shooter to carry a firearm as a private security guard. Mateen shot and killed 49 people last Sunday in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Nudelman said in a statement to NBC News she never administered the test to Mateen and was not even practicing in Florida at the time when G4S ordered the evaluation.

The company called the discrepancy a "clerical error" and said that Mateen, who was a G4S employee for 9 years, had been evaluated by a different psychologist.



Photo Credit: MySpace, Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Orlando Shooter Talked About Bringing Gun to Training Class]]>Sat, 18 Jun 2016 01:30:28 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/mateen166430018608.jpg

Orlando gunman Omar Mateen was involuntarily dismissed from a Florida Department of Corrections training program after discussing bringing a gun to training class in 2007, NBC News reported.

In new documents provided to NBC News, Mateen's former colleague wrote in a report that Mateen asked him, "if he was to bring a gun to school would I tell anybody."

The Warden of the Martin Correctional Institution, P.H. Skipper, wrote "in light of the tragic events at Virginia Tech officer Mateen's inquiry about bringing a weapon to class is at best extremely disturbing."

In recommending dismissal in 2007, Skipper referenced Mateen falling asleep in class and at the gun range, but called the comment about bringing a gun to class most disturbing.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Orlando United: Shared Grief, Loss Brings City Together]]>Fri, 17 Jun 2016 20:53:28 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/540539752-pulse-nightclub-memorial-orlando.jpg

"Orlando Strong" banners hung from porches and bridges, hotel workers wore purple T-shirts with "Orlando United" on them and shock gave way to grief in this tourist city as more families buried their loved ones Friday.

Some longtime residents say they have been moved by how the nightclub massacre that left 49 club-goers dead has brought the city together.

"I thought this was a very cold city, and now I know it's a warm city," said Monica Roggiero, 49, before she walked into the funeral of her co-worker Anthony Luis Laureano Disla. "I thought because of the tourism that no one stayed here that long. It's amazed me how our community has gotten so close."

Pallbearers loaded Disla's body into a white hearse. A procession of dozens of cars accompanied the casket, and Disla was buried at a downtown Orlando cemetery under a blue tarp surrounded by flowers.

Mourners wore T-shirts with Disla's picture, and remembered him as an "amazing soul" who was the life of the party and who motivated anyone he was around.

"He was a breath of fresh air when he walked in the room," Roggiero said.

A few blocks away, more than 100 people filled another funeral home to remember Peter Ommy Gonzalez-Cruz and Gilberto Ramon Silva, best friends who died together at Pulse. They came with rainbow flags tied to their car antennas and several wore T-shirts with pictures of Gonzalez-Cruz, who went by the nickname "Ommy."

It was the third funeral Jose Torres attended this week. Gonzalez-Cruz and Silva were two of his six friends who died in the massacre. Torres plans to attend another funeral Saturday.

"All they wanted to do was dance and have a good time," said Torres, who lives in Orlando. "It's been an emotionally hard week. I watched the news and saw all the faces of my friends. I can't believe they are dead now."

Karla Cabrera grew up with Silva in Manati, Puerto Rico, and she followed him when he moved to Orlando.

"I admired his loyalty," she said. "He was super kind and someone I could always count on. He was the best friend I ever had. My circle of friends is not a circle anymore."

Investigators were still gathering evidence and analyzing cellphone location data to piece together gunman Omar Mateen's activities leading up to the shooting, which also wounded more than 50 people.

A shooting survivor told The Associated Press on Friday that when he saw a picture of Mateen on television the day after the shooting, he recognized him as the same man he saw having a drink at the bar earlier in the night.

His account could not immediately be verified. The FBI declined to comment and has not provided a timeline accounting for Mateen's movements that night.

Felipe Marrero told The AP his account in an interview from his hospital bed.

He said Mateen was drinking at the Pulse bar next to him the night of the shooting. He didn't remember an exact time but said it was early in the evening.

The 30-year-old Marrero was shot four times in the back and his left arm was badly damaged by bullets. He's at Orlando Regional Medical Center undergoing surgeries and physical therapy.

Marrero says he has given his account to investigators.

The killings have touched many who didn't have a personal connection to the victims, and imbued a stronger sense of community. Workers at downtown hotels wore bright purple shirts to work Friday with OrlandoUnited or the OrlandoStrong written on them. Electronic freeway traffic signs were also lit up with the slogans, as was the Orlando Magic's basketball arena.

David Mercer, 46, and his twin brother Darren were outside Disla's funeral sitting on their motorbikes. They didn't know him, but felt compelled to help the community in any way they could. They were part of a procession of dozens of motorcycles that are part of Bikers for Pulse, a group that formed through social media to escort the victim's families.

"This is terrible anywhere it happens," David Mercer said. "But it's worse when it's in your backyard."

Eva Pabon, 42, also didn't know Disla but attended the funeral to honor his memory as a fellow Puerto Rican and Orlando resident.

"I think this has shaken the community, but the love has been overwhelming," Pabon said. "I feel the love."

Associated Press reporter Terry Roen contributed to this story.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Alabama Official Won't Lower Flags After Orlando Massacre]]>Fri, 17 Jun 2016 18:39:21 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/WHFlagHalfStaff-AP_16164664257174.jpg

An Alabama county official refused to lower flags this week to honor the Orlando massacre victims, according to NBC News. 

Baldwin County Commissioner Tucker Dorsey said he wouldn’t lower flags because the shooting was not a “valid circumstance” for flying them at half-staff. He also refused to lower the flags after the Paris and San Bernardino attacks. 

President Barack Obama and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley both ordered flags to be flown at half-staff after Sunday's massacre.

"First and foremost, my soul aches for the families of the innocents killed, and my family prays for them and the world. ... I realize that the President and Governor may make the order, but I believe and interpret their order inconsistent with the adopted flag code," Dorsey wrote in a statement

The U.S. Flag Code says flags must be flown at half-staff on Memorial Day and sets guidelines on how many days it should be lowered after the death of a government official. 



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Therapy Dogs Meet Orlando Victims, Family Members]]>Fri, 17 Jun 2016 16:33:51 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/214*120/OrlandoTherapyDogs.jpg

A dozen therapy dogs from around the country arrived in Orlando, Florida, earlier this week to comfort the grieving community shaken by the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

The Trinity Lutheran Church in downtown Orlando, in coordination with Lutheran Church Charities, a Chicago-based nonprofit, flew the animals and their handlers to the city Tuesday afternoon.

The 12 golden retrievers have met with thousands of community members including survivors of the Orlando nightclub rampage, family members and first responders. 

Some of the 53 people wounded in the shooting visited with the pups at an intensive care unit on Wednesday.



Photo Credit: Lutheran Church Charities
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<![CDATA[Orlando Survivor Reunited With Cop Who Helped Save His Life]]>Fri, 17 Jun 2016 07:29:31 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/DelgadoColon.jpgAngel Colon, one of the surviving victims of the Orlando nightclub massacre, was reunited with one of the officers who helped save his life that night. "I need a big hug from you," said officer Omar Delgado, as the two men embraced in the hospital. ]]><![CDATA[First Funerals Held for Victims of Orlando Massacre]]>Fri, 17 Jun 2016 04:45:19 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/FUNERAL_GettyImages-540709596.jpg

The first funerals for the victims from Sunday's massacre were held Thursday, the beginning of a long procession of grief through the heart of Orlando, NBC News reported.

Kimberly "KJ" Morris' family held a packed funeral service at Osceola Memory Gardens Funeral Home for the 37-year-old who they said will always be remembered for her "big, bright smile."

"This past week we've been watching so many videos of our loved Kim and it just rings out in my mind as we are watching those videos, 'Go Kim! Go Kim! Go Kim!' and that was her personality: smiling, laughing, music, let's dance," her uncle, Bryant Johnson recalled. "Kim loved to have fun and she was often the source of it."

Several friends and family members stood before Morris' white casket counting the ways she will be missed.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Flight Crew Goes Extra Mile for Shooting Victim's Grandmother]]>Thu, 16 Jun 2016 14:51:05 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/victim-luis-omar-ocasio-capo.jpg

A JetBlue flight crew helped a grieving woman who was traveling to be with family after losing her 20-year-old grandson in the Orlando massacre, NBC News reported. 

As they were taking beverage orders, two flight attendants passed around a piece of paper to the other passengers, asking them for signatures to cheer the woman up on the plane ride. But passengers began writing paragraphs, filling up pages.

Once the flight ended, the crew held a moment of silence in memory of her grandson, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo. 

Passengers, on their way out of the plane, gave condolences to the grandmother and stopped to talk to her. 

Flight attendant Kelly Davis Karas, from Maine, wrote about the experience on a Facebook post, which has since gone viral. She said she wanted to share her story so that people could know that even after such unspeakable evil, there can be good.



Photo Credit: Omar Capo via Facebook/Handout via Reuters]]>
<![CDATA[Orlando Gunman's Body Kept Apart From Those of Victims]]>Thu, 16 Jun 2016 12:17:21 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/OrlandoMedicalExaminer-AP_16164852005446.jpg

The body of Orlando massacre gunman Omar Mateen has been kept apart from those of the 49 victims at the morgue, NBC News reported. 

The medical examiner's office said it also completed the autopsy of Mateen's body in a different building. 

"This is not a law or requirement, but was rather done out of respect for the victims and their families so that the shooter may never be near the 49 beautiful souls again," Orange County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Joshua Stephany said in a statement on Thursday. 

Seven medical examiners completed the autopsies — and all but two of the victims’ bodies have been picked up by funeral homes. Those two are to be released Thursday. 

"This has been the most difficult week for our community," Stephany said.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Comcast NBCUniversal Donates $1M to OneOrlando Fund]]>Thu, 16 Jun 2016 12:17:02 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/orlando+vigil+061316.jpg

Comcast NBCUniversal announced Thursday it will donate $1 million to the OneOrlando Fund, which was founded by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer following the weekend shootings at the Pulse nightclub.

"Like so many other organizations and families in Orlando, those of us at Universal Orlando have lost people who were close to us — team members and members of our extended family," said Tom Williams, chairman and chief executive officer of Universal Parks & Resorts. "We are doing everything we can to take care of the families of those we lost and of all our team members as they grieve."

Two NBCUniversal employees, and four others associated with the company, were among the victims.

According to the website for OneOrlando Fund, the money collected will benefit, among others, nonprofits supporting victims and their families, and the LGBTQ, Hispanic and faith communities. The Sunday massacre at a popular gay nightclub left 49 dead and dozens injured.

The fund has collected at least $3.6 million, WESH Orlando, an NBC affiliate, reported Wednesday.

A number of other large companies have donated to the OneOrlando Fund as a show of support, including the Walt Disney Company, which announced Tuesday it is donating $1 million.

Darden Restaurants has donated $500,000 and the JetBlue and the Orlando Magic companies have donated $100,000, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

Comcast NBCUniversal is the parent company of this station.



Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[Family of AR-15 Creator: Gun Wasn't Meant for Civilians]]>Thu, 16 Jun 2016 10:11:49 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP_16165662794920.jpg

The family of the AR-15's creator said he never used his invention for sport, never kept one in the house and, in fact, never owned one.

"Our father, Eugene Stoner, designed the AR-15 and subsequent M-16 as a military weapon to give our soldiers an advantage over the AK-47," the Stoner family told NBC News late Wednesday. "He died long before any mass shootings occurred. But, we do think he would have been horrified and sickened as anyone, if not more by these events."

The comments from Stoner's surviving child and adult grandchildren, the first on their family's legacy, could bolster a groundbreaking new lawsuit that argues the weapon is a tool of war, never intended for civilians.

Eugene Stoner would have agreed, his family said.



Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Biden Urges Rational Gun Laws]]>Thu, 16 Jun 2016 04:54:02 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP_16167753187519.jpg

Vice President Joe Biden is telling family members of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School that he's surprised by the lack of progress on "rational gun safety" laws three years after the mass shooting of students and teachers.

Biden spoke Wednesday at a fundraiser for an organization called Sandy Hook Promise Champions. He says some changes were made through executive action, but adds that "you'd think by now we'd be in a different place."

Biden says it took seven years for Congress to approve a ban on assault weapons that has long since expired. He says he won't give up on efforts to institute a similar ban.

In 2012, a gunman shot and killed 20 children and six staff members at the school in Newtown, Connecticut, before killing himself.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Obama Visits Orlando: 'Our Hearts Are Broken, Too']]>Thu, 16 Jun 2016 16:15:19 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Obama-GettyImages-540683734.jpg

President Barack Obama said Thursday that a military campaign against terrorism abroad won't be enough to prevent "lone wolf" attacks like Sunday's nightclub shooting in Orlando, as he offered condolences and support to families of the victims.

"We're going to have to do more to prevent these kinds of events from occurring. It's going to take more than just our military," Obama said, an apparent reference to proposals for stricter gun-control laws. That was after he laid flowers at a makeshift memorial during an afternoon visit to the grieving city.

"We can't wipe away hatred and evil from every heart in the world. But we can stop some tragedies. We can save some lives," he said.

Obama praised the Senate for scheduling votes next Monday on gun control measures, although the legislation is likely to fail.

The president and Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Orlando as the city prepared to bury its first victims from the mass shooting. They spent hours meeting privately with survivors of the attack, victims' relatives and police officers who responded to the scene on Sunday, when 49 people were killed.

The president later told reporters the families talked to him about their loved ones and their grief over young lives taken, and said he told them, "Our hearts are broken, too."

Obama said the visit reminded him of the good, decency and love in the world that can come in response to "an evil and hateful act." He quoted one doctor who said, "After the worst of humanity reared its evil head, the best of humanity came roaring back."

The low-key visit reflected the challenge for the president to find something meaningful to say about an attack that has stoked a wide mix of fears about terrorism, guns and violence against gays.

Obama's call for solidarity and empathy stood in contrast to the roiling political debate in Washington and the campaign trail that has sprung up since the attack. Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Republican and frequent Obama critic, accused the president of being "directly responsible" for the shooting because, he said, Obama had allowed the growth of the Islamic State group on his watch.

The gunman, Omar Mateen, had made calls during the attack saying he was an IS supporter. But CIA Director John Brennan said Thursday that the agency has found no connection between the gunman and any foreign terrorist organization.

The White House had no immediate response to McCain's comments.

Investigators were working to reconstruct the movements of the 20-year-old shooter before he opened fire at the Pulse dance club, including what his wife may have known about the attack. The Senate Homeland Security Committee's chairman sent a letter to Facebook asking for help with messages denouncing the "filthy ways of the west" left on Facebook accounts believed to be associated with Mateen before and during the attack.

Outside the Amway Center in downtown Orlando, where Obama met with families, hundreds gathered in punishing heat hoping to get a glimpse of the president — including some who knew victims of the shooting. Brittany Woodrough, 20, was still in shock as she recalled one of the victims, Jason Benjamin, whom she described as a close friend.

"Seeing President Obama here makes it real," Woodrough said.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said part of Obama's goal was to show solidarity with gays and lesbians who were targeted in the attack. He called the visit a "solemn responsibility" that had weighed heavily on the president in the days since the attack.

"The president understands that he is a symbol of the country," Earnest said.

Obama's call for rejecting bigotry against gays and lesbians is complicated by the possibility that the gunman may have been wrestling with his own sexuality. The FBI has been looking into reports that Mateen frequented the nightspot and reached out to men on gay dating apps.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican frequently at odds with Obama, greeted the president on the airport tarmac upon his arrival. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, also a Republican, traveled with Obama from Washington, along with Rep. Corrine Brown, a Democrat who represents parts of the city. Biden and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., joined Obama on the tarmac.

The investigation and makeshift memorials in Orlando have seemed a world away from Washington and the presidential campaign, where initial horror has quickly given way to a vicious political brawl.

In Congress, the attack has spurred another bitter fight over gun control, exposing deep frustration among supporters of stricter gun laws that no level of mass casualty seems to be enough to force gun control opponents to reconsider.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, whose state of Connecticut shouldered the killing of 20 children in Newtown in 2012, undertook a roughly 15-hour filibuster that lasted into the early hours of Thursday. As he yielded the floor, Murphy said GOP leaders had committed to hold votes on expanded gun background checks and a ban on gun sales to suspected terrorists.

Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has expanded his call for temporarily barring foreign Muslims from entering the U.S. — even though the attacker was an American — and said the president "prioritizes" America's enemies over its people. Yet in an unexpected twist, Trump said he planned to meet with the National Rifle Association "about not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no-fly list, to buy guns."

For Obama, the trip to Orlando was an unwelcome return to one of the most difficult roles a president must fulfill: trying to reassure the nation at times when few words seem capable of providing much comfort. Obama has lamented the frequency with which he's had to perform that duty, calling his inability to enact stricter gun laws the biggest frustration of his presidency.

Joshua Replogle contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Orlando Gay Clubs Come Together to Support Pulse Staff]]>Wed, 15 Jun 2016 20:14:01 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/540175188-orlando-nigtclub-shooting-memorial.jpg

The Orlando LGBT community is pulling together to support the staff of Pulse, who have found themselves without a way to pay bills as the nightclub sits shuttered in the wake of Sunday's bloody rampage, NBC News reports.

Parliament House, a stronghold of the local LGBT scene, is coordinating with other clubs and working with the owners of Pulse to find ways to support the now unemployed staff, among other efforts to help the overall community.

"We're going to be setting up a Pulse bar here Friday, Saturday and Sunday," Parliament House Manager Tim Evanicki said. "We want to make it available for the Pulse bartenders to work in so they have a place to work."

The 41-year-old resort has been collecting funds since the attack, and two other gay clubs in the area, Hammered Lamb and Southern Nights, were holding fundraisers Wednesday evening.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Broadway Unites for Pulse Benefit]]>Mon, 20 Jun 2016 12:09:59 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/tony-2016-portada.jpg

Dozens of Broadway stars horrified by the Orlando nightclub shooting will lend their voices to recording a version of the iconic 1965 song "What the World Needs Now is Love," with all proceeds going to help the LGBT Center of Central Florida.

The project is inspired by the 1985 "We Are the World" benefit for Africa. It will include Audra McDonald, Idina Menzel, Wayne Brady, Sara Bareilles, Kristen Bell, Gloria Estefan, Megan Hilty, Rosie O'Donnell, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sutton Foster, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Bernadette Peters and Whoopi Goldberg.

The digital download of the Burt Bacharach song will be sold for $1.99 and be available Monday at Broadway Records' website and on iTunes thereafter.

The effort was dreamed up by SiriusXM radio host Seth Rudetsky and his husband, producer James Wesley.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: Getty Images, File
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<![CDATA[Trump to Discuss Terrorism Watch List, No Fly Ban With NRA]]>Wed, 15 Jun 2016 12:22:04 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/539920698-donald-trump-deadly-ignorance.jpg

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said Wednesday that he will be meeting with the National Rifle Association to discuss ways to block people on terrorism watch lists or no fly lists from buying guns as his party scrambles to respond in the aftermath of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Trump announced the meeting with a tweet, writing "I will be meeting with the NRA, who has endorsed me, about not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no fly list, to buy guns." He did not provide any details on the time or place of the meeting and his campaign did not immediately respond to requests for further information. 

The NRA, one of the nation's most powerful lobbying groups, responded in a statement. 

"The NRA's position on this issue has not changed. The NRA believes that terrorists should not be allowed to purchase or possess firearms, period," said Chris Cox, the executive director of group's Institute for Legislative Action, in the statement. "Anyone on a terror watch list who tries to buy a gun should be thoroughly investigated by the FBI and the sale delayed while the investigation is ongoing. 

"At the same time, due process protections should be put in place that allow law-abiding Americans who are wrongly put on a watchlist to be removed," Cox said. 

Trump's declaration comes days after a mass shooting in Orlando in which the gunman, Omar Mateen, invested twice by the FBI, had been on the government's terrorist watch list for 10 months before being removed. The shooting, which left 49 dead, has renewed the debate over gun control regulations, with several leading Democrats — including Trump's likely general election foe, Hillary Clinton — calling for people on the federal lists to be barred from purchasing firearms. 

Mateen was added to a government watch list of individuals known or suspected of being involved in terrorist activities in 2013, when he was investigated for inflammatory statements to co-workers. 

But Trump's suggestion on stopping purchases by suspects on the terrorism watch list or no fly list wouldn't have stopped Mateen from buying a gun since he'd been pulled from the watch list roughly two years ago, and there's no mechanism in place to bar an individual who was previously on such a list from purchasing a firearm. Rep. Adam Schiff said this week that he wants to explore the potential for a system that would trigger an alert when someone who was previously on a terrorism watch list wants to buy a gun 

Trump frequently declares that he is one of the nation's biggest supporters of the 2nd Amendment, which guarantees the right to bear firearms, and he often warns his supporters that Clinton aims to take away their guns. 

But his suggestion to prohibit those on the lists from getting the guns, though out of step with many leading Republicans, is not entirely new for the celebrity businessman. In an interview on ABC in November after a terror attack in Paris, George Stephanopoulus asked "Mr. Trump, yes or no, should someone on the terror watch list be allowed to buy a gun?" 

Trump replied, "If somebody is on a watch list and an enemy of state and we know it's an enemy of state, I would keep them away, absolutely." 

Speaking at a rally in Atlanta Wednesday afternoon, Trump made no mention of meeting with the NRA but talked about the benefits of armed citizens. 

"I'm going to save your Second Amendment," he told the crowd, arguing that, had the victims of the Orlando and Paris shootings had been armed, the carnage would have been minimized. 

But the position he took Wednesday breaks from the NRA, which denounced any possible ban just the day before. 

"Restrictions like bans on gun purchases by people on 'watch lists' are ineffective, unconstitutional, or both," the NRA tweeted Tuesday. The NRA has maintained previously that it "does not want terrorists or dangerous people to have firearms," claiming that "any suggestion otherwise is offensive and wrong." 

On Capitol Hill, Democrats are determined to force a tough election-year vote on Sen. Dianne Feinstein's proposal that would let the government bar sales of guns and explosives to people it suspects of being terrorists, a measure opposed by the NRA. 

Last December, a day after the San Bernadino shootings left 14 dead, Senate Republicans led the way in rejecting that proposal by Feinstein, D-Calif. 

That same day, the Senate also fell short of the necessary votes for a rival plan by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, that would let the government delay firearms sales to suspected terrorists for up to 72 hours. Under that proposal, the transaction could be halted permanently if federal officials could persuade a judge to do so during that waiting period. 

The NRA has backed Cornyn's plan. Some Democrats and gun-control advocates have criticized it for not going far enough.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Mateen Called Fla. Station: Report]]>Wed, 15 Jun 2016 10:16:05 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/split-suspect.jpg

An Orlando TV station says the man who shot and killed 49 people inside a popular nightclub contacted them moments after opening fire early Sunday morning.

News 13's Matthew Gentili said he was staffing the station's phones as the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history unfolded a few blocks away at Pulse.  

"I was receiving phone calls from viewers saying, 'What's going on? What's happening? What's happening in Orlando?" Gentili recalled Tuesday.

At about 2:45 a.m., Gentili said he received a call from a man asking whether he had heard of the shooting. As the TV producer began to respond, the person on the other end of the phone interrupted Gentili.

"I'm the shooter. It's me. I am the shooter," the caller said.

Gentili said the man told him he "did it for ISIS" and then started speaking in Arabic before eventually hanging up the phone. NBC News has not independently confirmed News 13's report. 

The station's managing editor, according News 13, confirmed the caller's phone number matched that of the gunman, identified as Omar Mateen.

Gentili was interviewed by the FBI, who would not confirm if it was indeed Mateen who he had spoken to.



Photo Credit: MySpace, Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Orlando Surgeon Describes Chaotic Scene at Hospital After Attack]]>Wed, 15 Jun 2016 08:39:01 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-540148214-chadwick.jpgAlternative Video Workflow Media with title ChadwickSmithComments-1465919723042

Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Orlando Survivor: 'Was It Supposed to Be Me?']]>Wed, 15 Jun 2016 08:40:43 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP_160534260047-DemetriceNaulings.jpgDemetrice Naulings decided to flee a bathroom at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, and lived. His best friend, Eddie Justice, got left behind, and died. Through tears, Naulings talks about that night. "My friend wasn't supposed to die in the bathroom on the floor," Naulings said.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Orlando Victim Texted Brother]]>Wed, 15 Jun 2016 07:51:40 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Jeff+Rodriguez+Hospital.jpg

The younger brother of one of the Orlando, Florida, nightclub shooting victims says he thought his sibling was joking when he texted him that he was shot at a club.

"Lmao," Santos Rodriguez responded. 

Jeff Rodriguez, 37, was born and raised in Leominster, Massachusetts. He was shot three times when a gunman opened fire at Pulse nightclub, killing at least 49 people. Jeff is in critical condition at a local hospital.

His younger brother Santos, who lives in Florida, says Jeff texted him during the shooting rampage. The first message was sent at 2:25 a.m. Sunday, "dead bodies on top of me...tell everyone i lovethrm[sic]."

Santos thought this was a joke. "No Joke Santy," Jeff texted back. "Call mami...tell her i kve[sic] her."

Nearly an hour later Santos realized his brother was telling the truth after an online search.

Santos says his brother survived thanks in part to a friend who kept him alive for hours in that club, "putting pressure on his wounds. She was there covered in blood, talking to him, waking him up, talking to him, telling him to stay up."

"I just want to see him and say like, I believe you now… I'm sorry that I didn't believe your text," he told NBC News.



Photo Credit: Santos Rodriguez]]>
<![CDATA[School's 'Too Gay' Banner Debate]]>Wed, 15 Jun 2016 06:55:34 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/thompson+banner.jpg

A gay pride banner proclaiming "Too Gay" hanging from Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey, is spurring controversy in the wake of the massacre that claimed at least 49 lives in Orlando over the weekend. 

Sophomore John Bell says he came up with the idea long before Sunday's mass shooting at the gay night club in Orlando, and that the banner intends to ask a question, not making a statement. 

"In society, a lot of straight people may view people as 'too gay' or too flamboyant and when we are open about our gayness are we perceived as 'too gay?'" Bell, an advanced placement art history student who conceived the banner as his final project, asked in an exclusive interview with NBC 4 New York. 

Fellow student Bianca Bristol told NBC 4 New York that she felt uncomfortable entering school under a banner dealing with LGBT issues. 

"Not everyone is gay so those in the club should stay in the club," Bristol said. 

Bristol said she also worries the banner may make her school a target for the type of violence seen in Orlando. 

Other students dismissed that fear, applauding the banner for showing how inclusive the South Orange-Maplewood school district has become. 

Bell's project has the full support of the administration. 

Principal Elizabeth Aaron emailed parents that it was planned over several months.



Photo Credit: NBC 4 New York ]]>
<![CDATA[NRA Blames Obama for Orlando Shooting]]>Wed, 15 Jun 2016 06:23:05 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP_450170648610.jpg

After each mass shooting in the U.S., calls for stricter gun control grow louder but responses from the National Rifle Association are minimal or non-existent, NBC News reported. 

On Tuesday, Chris W. Cox, executive director of NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, broke the NRA's silence two days after a rampage at a gay Orlando club where 49 were killed and dozens wounded. In an op-ed for USA Today, Cox blamed the Obama administration's "political correctness" for failing to prevent the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. 

The FBI looked into gunman Omar Mateen in 2013 after he claimed a family connection to al Qaeda, said FBI Director James Comey Monday. The bureau closed the 10-month investigation after Mateen explained that he made the comments out of anger because he thought his co-workers were discriminating against him. 

Cox said gun control "will do nothing to prevent the next attack." The only solution, he wrote, is to address terrorism head on.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA['Premature' to Consider Charges in Massacre: Feds]]>Wed, 15 Jun 2016 15:58:41 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/noor_blurred.jpg

The Orlando gunman's wife, Noor Salman, feared he was going to attack a gay nightclub, but she did not call the police or give anyone a warning, NBC News has learned Wednesday.

Salman told the FBI Omar Mateen told her he was simply going to meet with friends, although she believed he was actually planning to attack the Pulse nightclub, a two-hour drive from their home in Port St. Lucie.

Salman told the FBI she was with Mateen when he bought ammunition and a holster, several officials familiar with the case told NBC News on Tuesday. She also told the FBI that she once drove him to Pulse, because he wanted to scope it out.

At a news conference Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Lee Bentley said it was "premature" to talk about whether charges would be brought in the case.

"It would interfere and hamper the investigation" to talk about possible charges, he said.

Investigators want to continue questioning Mateen's wife because she was closer to Mateen than anyone else, NBC News reported Wednesday. 

Investigators are trying to figure out what led to Mateen's murderous rampage in the club where patrons say they knew him as just another regular who danced and sometimes tried to pick up men. Mateen and 49 others were killed in the attack.

A number of possible explanations and motives for the bloodbath have emerged, with the Muslim Mateen professing allegiance to the Islamic State group in a 911 call during the attack, his ex-wife saying he was mentally ill and his father suggesting he was driven by hatred of gays. 

On Tuesday a U.S. official said the FBI was looking into news reports quoting patrons of the Pulse as saying Mateen frequented the nightspot and reached out to men on gay dating apps. The official was not authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity. 

Some psychologists raised the possibility that Mateen was sexually conflicted and that those feelings might have contributed to his lashing out against gays. 

"People who are struggling to come to terms with their sexual identity do at times react to that by doing the exact opposite, which could be to become more masculine or more vocal about their ideals of a traditional family," said Michael Newcomb, a Northwestern University psychologist. 

Mateen passed a psychological evaluation in 2007 as part of his application to be a private security guard.

Florida records show Mateen was determined to be mentally and emotionally stable in September 2007 so he could work for The Wackenhut Corp., later renamed G4S Secure Solutions. The records state he took a written psychological test or had an evaluation by a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Mateen also stated in his 2007 firearm application that he neither had been diagnosed with a mental illness nor had a history of alcohol or substance abuse.

The documents were obtained by The Associated Press under open records laws. They are part of paperwork he filed to the state agency that issues firearms and security officer licenses.

Records show Mateen also scored well on his firearms tests.

The gunman's father, Sediqque Mir Mateen, spoke at a news conference Wednesday, blaming ISIS for his son’s actions. He said he’s a victim of terrorism because he lost his son, too. 

He said he didn’t know his son bought the weapons he used to carry out the rampage.

Federal officials told NBC News the FBI's analysis of electronic devices belonging to Mateen has so far not turned up anything that would help determine his motive for the massacre.  

Mateen had a Samsung cellphone, a computer and a digital camera. Investigators found that he downloaded terrorist-related material, including sermons from Anwar al-Awlaki, the notorious al Qaeda propagandist killed in 2011, and videos of ISIS beheadings. But they have not found anti-gay material or anything written by Mateen related to the rampage, NBC News reported. 

A water pipe was broken in the club during the operation to breach an outside wall to free people, NBC News reported, and water flooded at least some of the nightclub floor, making post-shooting forensic work more difficult

Matteen's cellphone had been sitting in the water when it was found, which made it harder for FBI to recover data from it, but analysts were able to get information from the phone. 

The attack early Sunday ended with Mateen being shot to death by a SWAT team. Of the 53 people wounded, six were listed in critical condition Tuesday and five others were in guarded condition. 

At a news conference at Florida Hospital Orlando, Patience Carter described praying to die as she lay on a nightclub bathroom floor covered in water and blood. 

"We knew what his motive was. He wasn't going to stop killing people until he was killed," she said Tuesday during a riveting hospital news conference.

"I really don't think I'm going to get out of there," Carter, 20, recalled. "I made peace with God. 'Just please take me. I don't want any more.' I was just begging God to take the soul out my body."

In Washington, President Barack Obama said investigators had no information to suggest a foreign terrorist group directed the attack. He said it was increasingly clear the killer "took in extremist information and propaganda over the internet. He appears to have been an angry, disturbed, unstable young man who became radicalized." 

The president also blasted Donald Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric as dangerous and contrary to American values, challenged Congress to reinstate the assault weapons ban and lashed out at his Republican foes who have criticized him for not using the term "radical Islam." 

"If someone seriously thinks we don't know who we're fighting, if there's anyone out there who thinks we're confused about who our enemies are," Obama said, "that would come as a surprise to the thousands of terrorists we've taken off the battlefield." 

Although some men told stories of Mateen contacting them on social media platforms used by gay men, gay dating app Jack'd said it has been unable to confirm so far that Mateen had a profile on the service. Grindr officials said they "will continue to cooperate with the authorities and do not comment on ongoing investigations." And Adam4Adam said the company is looking at conversations and profiles in the Orlando area for any activity by Mateen but hasn't found anything yet.

Mateen's father denied his son was gay and said that if he had been in the nightclub before, he may have been "scouting the place." The elder Mateen, who lives in Port St. Lucie, Florida, said that apart from the time his son got angry a few months ago over seeing two men kissing, he never saw any anti-gay behavior from him.

Mateen's ex-wife, Sitora Yusufiy, said earlier in the week that he was mentally ill, controlling and abusive. Amid the latest reports about his club going, she told CNN: "Well, when we had gotten married, he confessed to me about his past that was recent at that time and that he very much enjoyed going to clubs and the nightlife and there was a lot of pictures of him."

"I feel like it's a side of him or a part of him that he lived but probably didn't want everybody to know about," she said. 

The FBI has recovered Mateen's phone and will use location data to verify whether he previously visited the club, said an official who was not authorized to discuss the case publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



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<![CDATA[In Afghan-American Community, Attack Elicits Horror, Sorrow]]>Wed, 15 Jun 2016 06:39:14 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/SHOOTING_AP_16167143964142.jpg

In this Northern California city where people can buy prayer flags at the dollar store, fresh-baked Afghan bread at corner markets and feast on beef kabobs in "little Kabul's" many restaurants, Afghan-Americans are angry.

Fremont, about 40 miles southeast of San Francisco, is a bedroom city of 220,000 people with a thriving waterpark, leafy streets and a public lake. It is also home to the largest population of Afghan-Americans in the country.

With news that Omar Mateen killed 49 people at an Orlando, Florida, gay nightclub and was born to Afghan immigrant parents, those in the community are expressing horror, sorrow and disbelief that one of their own could commit the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

"Every single Afghan feels really horrible because so many innocent people were killed by a mad guy," said Waheed Momand, president of the Afghan Coalition, the largest nonprofit advocating for Afghan people in the U.S.

It was a tragedy that brought Momand back 15 years, when the community realized the Sept. 11 terror attacks were orchestrated by al-Qaida in Afghanistan.

In last weekend's shooting, Mateen's motivations were not yet clear. Despite pledging support to the Islamic State group in a 911 call during the attack, other possible explanations could be mental illness and shame about his own sexuality, a divisive subject among a Muslim community that often shuns gays.

"What motivated him doesn't matter — it's wrong and it's very close to our hearts. We feel sorry for the victims, and we feel sorry for the pain of their families and their loved ones. The fact that this guy was from Afghan origin makes it even worse for us," Momand said.

Federal authorities are investigating whether Mateen regularly went to the nightclub he attacked and had used gay dating apps.

Bilal Miskeenyar, a 29-year-old musician from Fremont, believes the shooter was motivated by hatred, saying it's anathema to Muslim and Afghan views.

"Whether it was anti-homosexual or not, my religion, my people and my culture does not believe in such things," he said. "I think it was hateful, and I think it was a very hideous crime, and I think people should not judge (Afghan people) because of one bad apple."

From the markets with handmade meat kabobs to the stores stocked with traditional Afghan candies and nuts, some Afghan-Americans in Fremont say they don't believe there will be a backlash against their community because of Mateen's actions.

"I have American customers, Mexican customers, Chinese customers, and everybody likes me," said Sardar Ghuss, a clerk at the Little Kabul Market. "I don't have any problems. We all work together."

But at the Maiwand Market, where fresh bread comes out of the oven throughout the day, Mojgan Mohammad Parwes said she felt some fear Monday.

"I was a little hesitant coming here today," said the 36-year-old mother of three who wears a hijab. "People are angry, and it's understandable."

What's more, those in her community are heartbroken, she said.

"They're very distraught," Parwes said. "Emotionally, they are not doing well."

Behind the market's counter Monday, it was business as usual for Kais Karimi, a 33-year-old clerk at his family's business. But his emotions were running high.

"I feel terrible. Human lives are being lost regardless of age, religion, sexual orientation or anything like that," Karimi said. "It's just sad that people are dying over the way that they think. Everybody has the right to live however they want and they should be left alone."

In the wake of Sunday's shooting, Afghan Coalition members are meeting this week to plan an interfaith vigil or service, like they did after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Momand, the group's president, remembers its effect on the U.S. Afghan community.

"Right after I found out the attack was organized from Afghanistan by al-Qaida, honestly it was one of the darkest days," he said. "Firstly, because so many people were killed that day, and second, it was coming from Afghanistan."

But 15 years later, he thinks most people understand that Afghan-Americans are just like everyone else, and they condemn terror just like everybody else.

"(Terrorism) is not the human way, it's not the American way, it's not the Afghan way and it's not the Muslim way," Momand said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Rainbow Over Orlando Lights Up Social Media]]>Wed, 15 Jun 2016 05:15:17 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/pulse-nightclub-rainbow-alexa-score.jpg

A rainbow appeared over the city of Orlando Tuesday night, according to social media posts, a sight many of them took as a symbol of hope two days after one of the country's worst tragedies.

The images showed a rainbow shining in golden light in front of dark clouds. Some said it seemed to come directly from Pulse nightclub, where a heavily armed gunman killed at least 49 people Sunday, the deadliest mass shooing in U.S. history.

Twitter user @AlexaScore used the hashtag #OrlandoStrong when she posted a photo of the rainbow. She said she was going to her gym near Pulse "and this rainbow is hanging over the nightclub."

Rainbows have been used the world over — hanging over the historic Stonewall Inn in New York and draping the Eiffel Tower in — as a symbol of solidarity with the attack on the popular gay nightclub. 

Still reeling from the shooting, the city held a prayer service Tuesday night as well. 

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said he was uplifted by the way the community has come together as more than a thousand people — including many clergy and local, state and national civic leaders — met Tuesday night at First Baptist Orlando to hold a vigil for the shooting's victims.

Dyer said to the crowd: "We will not be defined by the act of a hate-filled killer. We will be defined by our love, compassion and our unity."

NBC Southern California's Irene Moore contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: Twitter user @AlexaScore
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<![CDATA[Orlando Survivor Shares Story]]>Wed, 15 Jun 2016 09:26:33 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Patience+Carter+Pulse+Nightclub+Hospital+sideby.jpg

A young Philadelphia woman who survived the Pulse nightclub massacre Sunday said gunman Omar Mateen "wasn’t going to stop killing people until he was killed, until he felt like his message got out there."

Patience Carter, 20, who graduated from University City High School and attends New York University, was wounded in the Orlando shooting and "laid there for hours and hours" bleeding on a bathroom floor, hoping police would come save her.

Carter and another survivor, Angel Santiago, spoke Tuesday afternoon from Florida Hospital in Orlando. They were among dozens injured in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. At least 49 others were killed, and a handful of survivors remain in "grave condition," officials said.

Carter opened with a poem, saying "my healing process is writing."

"The guilt of feeling grateful to be alive is heavy," she read.

Carter was shot while at the club with two friends, cousins Akyra Murray and Tiara Parker. The three were on vacation together.

"We were all having the night we dreamed of, going out on the first night of vacation," Carter said. "We just went from having the time of our lives to the worst night of our lives all within a matter of minutes."

She and Murray fled the club as gunfire erupted but ran back inside to look for Parker, who survived. Carter said they became trapped in a women's bathroom as Mateen wandered around shooting and talking on the phone to police. Authorities have said Mateen pledged his support to ISIS during a 911 call.

"People were getting hit by bullets, blood was everywhere and there was a moment when he stopped shooting in the bathroom," she recalled, saying Mateen tried at one point to fix a jammed assault rifle.

"The motive was very clear to us who were laying in our own blood and other people’s blood," Carter said. "He wasn’t going to stop killing people until he was killed, until he felt like his message got out there."

She said victims were draped over toilets and strewn across the floor. Murray, who turned 18 in January, was among them. She is the youngest confirmed victim in the weekend attack.

Carter believed she, too, would die and prayed it would be quick.

"[I was] begging God to take the soul out of my body because I didn't want to feel any more pain," she recalled.

A bullet shattered her right femur and entered her left leg. Carter remembered being pinned beneath another victim and said she owes her life to someone who blocked her from the spray of bullets.

"If it wasn't for that person shielding me, I wouldn't be sitting her today," she said.

Finally, it was over. Officers blasted their way into the club and a SWAT team member lifted her from the floor. Carter said she grabbed Murray's cellphone on the way out, hoping she'd have the chance to return it to her friend at the hospital. She never did.

Carter now struggles to reconcile relief with guilt, as she details in her poem:

The guilt of feeling grateful to be alive is heavy

Wanting to smile about surviving but not sure the people around you are ready

As the world mourns the victims killed and viciously slain

I feel guilty about screaming about my legs in pain because I could feel nothing

Like the other 49 who weren't so lucky to feel this pain of mine

I never thought in a million years that this could happen

I never thought in a million years that my eyes could witness something so tragic

Look at the souls leaving the bodies of individuals

Looking at the killers machine gun throughout my right peripheral

Looking at the blood and debris covered on everyone's faces

Looking at the gunman's feet, under the stall as he paces

The guilt of feeling lucky to be alive is heavy

It's like the weight of the oceans walls uncontrolled by levees

It's like being drugged through the grass with a shattered leg and thrown in the back of a Chevy

It’s like being rushed to the hospital and told you're going to make it, when you laid beside individuals whose lives are brutally taken



Photo Credit: NBC10/Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Obama Blasts Trump's Proposed Muslim Ban]]>Tue, 14 Jun 2016 12:18:53 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/obama-AP_16166614992974.jpg

President Barack Obama on Tuesday delivered a scathing rebuke of Donald Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric, blasting the Republican presidential nominee's immigration proposals as dangerous and "not the America we want." 

His comments from the Treasury Department come the day after Trump doubled down on his proposal to temporarily ban foreign Muslims from the entering the country.

Obama argued that antagonizing Muslims would undermine American values and compromise safety by fueling the notion among ISIS that the West hates Muslims.

"If we ever abandon those values, we would not only make it a lot easier to radicalize people here and around the world, but we would have betrayed the very things we are trying to protect." Obama said. "And then the terrorists would have won and we cannot let that happen. I will not let that happen."

He said the terror group wants a war between Islam and the U.S.

"They want us to validate them by implying that they speak for ... Islam. That's their propaganda. That's how they recruit," Obama said. "And if we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims with a broad brush and implying that we are at war with an entire religion, then we are doing the terrorists' work for them."

The president pushed back against those who have criticized his decision not to use the phrase "radical Islam."

"Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away. This is a political distraction," Obama said.

Instead, he said, there are ways to protect the Second Amendment while taking "common-sense steps that could reduce gun violence."

Trump tweeted later in the day, "Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs."

Obama called for the reinstatement of the federal assault weapons ban and said "people who can't get on a plane shouldn't be able to buy a gun." The president also pushed for more resources to enforce existing gun control laws.

"We have to make it harder for people who want to kill Americans to get their hands on weapons of war that let them kill dozens of innocents," he said.

Otherwise, Obama warned, "these kinds of events are going to keep happening and the weapons are only going to get more powerful."

The president also highlighted progress in the fight against ISIS, saying the number of fighters associated with the terror group has reached its lowest point in 2 1/2 years.

The president said ISIS is losing ground in Syria, Iraq and Libya and that coalition forces have taken out more than 120 leaders and commanders.

"Our message is clear: If you target America and our allies, you will not be safe," Obama said. "You will never be safe."

His statement came on the heels of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, in which gunman Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded dozens more at a gay nightclub in Orlando early Sunday.

Mateen pledged his support to ISIS on the phone with 911, authorities have said, and the massacre is being investigated as an instance of domestic terror.

The gathering of top officials at the Treasury Department was scheduled before Sunday's mass shooting.

NBC's Ari Mason contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Orlando Gunman's Wife Could Face Charges: Sources]]>Wed, 15 Jun 2016 03:38:04 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/noor_blurred.jpg

Orlando gunman Omar Mateen's wife, Noor Salman, has told the FBI that she drove Mateen to the Pulse nightclub on a prior occasion but that she tried to talk him out of the attack, officials told NBC News.

Several officials familiar with what she has told the FBI said she was with him when he bought ammunition and a holster. She also once drove him to the nightclub because he wanted to see it in advance, the officials said. 

Mateen shot and killed 49 people at the club and injured another 53.

Law enforcement officials said authorities are considering filing criminal charges against Salman for failing to tell them what she knew before the attack, but no decision has been made.

Several officials said she is cooperating with the investigation.



Photo Credit: facebook]]>
<![CDATA[Orlando Survivor: 'I Regret Having the Second Chance']]>Tue, 14 Jun 2016 09:56:04 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/survivorspulse.jpgLuis Burbano felt his bones shake when bullets started flying early Sunday at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. At first, he thought it was part of the music. Burbano, who rushed to the aid of the injured, is now unable to sleep and struggling to understand why he was spared.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago

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<![CDATA[Orlando Shooter Was a 'Regular' at Pulse: Patron]]>Wed, 15 Jun 2016 08:39:43 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/pulsepatron.jpgRegular customers of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando say they recall seeing shooter Omar Mateen at the gay bar on several occasions. Jim Van Horn, 71, said he was a frequent patron at Pulse and Mateen was another "regular." Van Horn told The Associated Press on Monday that Mateen "was a homosexual and he was trying to pick up men."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago

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<![CDATA[Orlando Gunshot Victims Arrived by 'Truckloads': Doctor]]>Tue, 14 Jun 2016 12:11:54 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Orlando-PD-LGBT-Hug-AP_16164614451710.jpg

The first victim of the nightclub shooting arrived shortly after 2 a.m. and was relatively stable, giving doctors working the overnight shift hope that any others would arrive in a similar condition. 

Then five more came, in much worse shape, and then more, and more still, until so many bleeding people were lining up in the emergency room that even hardened trauma surgeons and nurses were brought to tears. 

"They were dropped off in truckloads, in ambulance-loads," said Dr. Kathryn Bondani. The hospital ran out of ambulances, so firefighters, police and truck-driving citizens ferried the injured. 

The trauma bay quickly overflowed with patients with serious gunshot wounds, forcing doctors performing triage to move critically injured people elsewhere and focus on those whose lives were most in danger. 

Luckily, the Pulse nightclub isn't far from Orlando Regional Medical Center, the region's main trauma hospital, but its emergency room staff usually gets advance word when severe cases are on their way. 

This time, victims started arriving within minutes after the shooting started. The staff had to scramble. 

Choking up a bit, the attending trauma surgeon on call that night, Dr. Chadwick Smith, described how he and others called for reinforcements. 

"I said, 'please come, please come. We need your help,'" Smith said. 

"This is not a drill. This is not a joke," he told them. "'I need you as fast as I can.' Every answer I got was, 'I'll be right there.'" 

Nurses and technicians also arrived, many without being told to come, turning much of the hospital into emergency response areas. Doctors quickly expanded from two operating rooms to six, performing surgery after emergency surgery. Another eight operations were scheduled for Tuesday. 

Trauma surgeon Dr. William Havron was one of those called in, and found a hospital flooded with bloody victims with severe wounds. He called it a surreal experience. 

"We were just given patient after patient after patient," he said. "We'd literally walk from that operation room to another operating room and just do it again and again." 

Dr. Joseph Ibrahim said the hospital looked like a "war scene" with "patients in every corner." Some had wounds from both large and small ammunition, suggesting the gunman used both his assault rifle and pistol. 

Angel Colon, 26, was shot three times in his leg, and his bones shattered as he was trampled in the crowd. Then he was hit again, in the hand and hip, as the gunman shot the injured, apparently "making sure they're dead." Later, as a policeman dragged him to safety, his body was cut by shards of broken glass. 

Appearing in a wheelchair Tuesday at the hospital's news conference, Colon turned to the doctors and nurses and said: "I will love you guys forever." 

The trauma center is used to handling four or five people each shift. A total of 44 patients arrived that night, with all manner of bullet wounds, broken bones and other injuries. Nine of them were too far gone to be saved, said Dr. Michael Cheatham, a critical care surgeon. 

Of the rest, 27 remained hospitalized Tuesday, including six in intensive care. Two of these patients may be permanently disabled, but no patient has succumbed since the nine who were pronounced dead on arrival, he said. 

Eleven victims were treated at other hospitals, and most of them have been released, Cheatham said. He said patients are still coming into hospitals. 

"It was singularly the worst day of my career and the best day of my career," Smith said. "And I think you can say that of pretty much every person standing up here."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA['He Seemed So Sweet': Shooter's Former Neighbor Shocked]]>Tue, 14 Jun 2016 07:16:19 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/neighbormateen1.jpgA former neighbor of the Orlando nightclub shooter says she never noticed anything strange about Omar Mateen and that the woman who lived with him was "extremely nice." Tricia Adorno recalled seeing Mateen every day in his security guard uniform, and one time he helped her work on her car. Adorno was shocked to learn Mateen was behind the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago

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<![CDATA[Want to Buy an Assault Rifle in Florida? No Problem]]>Tue, 14 Jun 2016 06:22:13 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP_16165662794920.jpg

As in mass shootings elsewhere, the massacre of 49 people at an Orlando nightclub is raising questions about access to guns — assault rifles, in particular.

In Florida, buying one is no problem as long as you're 18, a legal resident of the United States, aren't a felon or a domestic abuser and have no documented mental health or substance abuse issues.

Here are the state's basic rules:

— All firearm purchases from federally licensed dealers require a background check, regardless of whether the buyer has a concealed weapons permit.

— There is no waiting period to buy a rifle. There is a three-day waiting period to buy a handgun, and handgun buyers must be 21 or older.

— People charged with or convicted of a felony can't buy guns. Neither can people who have been convicted of two or more DUIs, have been involuntarily committed to a mental health hospital or have a restraining order against them.

Whether Florida gets its gun laws right depends on the perspective. Brian Malte, the national policy director for the Brady Campaign, said getting a gun is far too easy in Florida and private sales don't require a background check.

"The corporate gun lobby seems to use Florida as their example, and unfortunately we've seen what that example has produced, including George Zimmerman, who had a history of violence and an arrest record and yet was able to carry a concealed gun," Malte said, referring to the neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012. "Florida is certainly no shining example of gun laws."

But former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey believes the state gets it right. He ran the agency that conducts background checks for gun purchases.

"I've had an opportunity to look at what a lot of states are doing. Florida is ahead of the pack with what they're doing with firearms," Bailey said. "It works as well in Florida as it does anywhere else."

Of course, some of the disqualifiers, like mental health and substance abuse, would have to be self-reported if there's no record of the problem.

Bailey said people can't be denied a gun just because other people think they're mentally ill.

"Not in a free society," he said. "There has to be some sort of determination that that person is mentally incompetent."

Florida also requires training and a background check before someone can get a license to carry a gun in public. But very few people are denied.

There are about 1.6 million concealed weapons permit holders. In the past 19 years, only 24,713 applications have been denied, and 17,557 of those were because the application wasn't filled out properly, not necessarily because the applicant didn't qualify.

Former Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson, who ran the agency that issues the permits, doesn't believe gun laws need to be changed. He said assault rifles like the AR-15 Omar Mateen used in the Orlando attacks also are used for legitimate purposes.

"People use AR-15s to hunt deer, to hunt hogs, to hunt all kinds of game," he said. "Think of the over 1 million people that have them and have never misused them, and they want to do away with certain aspects of the gun permitting or buying weapons because of one person's lawlessness."

Mateen bought his gun legally at the St. Lucie Shooting Center. Owner Ed Henson declined to discuss the sale or Mateen, who was killed in a shootout with police.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[FBI Probes Whether Gunman Visited Club Before Attack]]>Tue, 14 Jun 2016 05:35:21 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/split-suspect.jpg

The FBI is investigating whether gunman Omar Mateen visited Pulse nightclub and tried to communicate with some of its patrons on a gay dating app before killing 49 people and injuring scores at the Orlando club, authorities told NBC News.

Cord Cedeno, a customer at the club, told MSNBC on Monday that Mateen tried to get in contact with him through Grindr, a dating application for gay and bisexual men. Cedeno said he blocked Mateen "because he was creepy" and "recognized him off Grindr" after the rampage.

"That's not his first time there," Cedeno said. "He's been there several times. I know that for a fact."

An FBI official told NBC News that investigators are looking into similar reports.



Photo Credit: MySpace, Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Lady Gaga Attends Orlando Vigil]]>Tue, 14 Jun 2016 06:43:07 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/gaga-dtla-vigil.JPG

Thousands attended a downtown Los Angeles vigil for those killed in a rampage at a gay club in Orlando, Florida, as singer Lady Gaga read the names of the slain to a hushed crowd.

Los Angeles' lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community chanted loud and proud before Lady Gaga, an advocate for LGBT equality, approached the podium at City Hall Monday night in a surprise appearance.

"Like all prejudicial crimes, this is an attack on humanity itself," Lady Gaga said with tears in her eyes.

She led in reading the names of the 49 victims. Activists also spoke to the crowd, vowing not to give in to terror.

"We have fought for marriage. We have fought for equality. Every step of the way we have been afraid. We have walked forward anyway," West Hollywood councilman John Duran said.

Lady Gaga shed tears as many in the crowd embraced.

"We represent the compassion and loyalty of millions of people that believe in you. You are not alone!" Lady Gaga said.

Vivian Romero, Montebello Mayor pro tempore and a married gay woman, welcomed the words of solidarity after gunman Omar Mateen stormed a crowded nightclub and opened fire on the patrons over the weekend.

"If my wife and I can't live in a country where we are free to be who we are, love who we want, we don't want to live here," Romero said.

Her spouse also attended the vigil, saying love is the answer - not hate.

"We have to come together and understand each other," Shannon Calland said.



Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Late-Night Jokesters Get Serious About Shootings in Orlando]]>Tue, 14 Jun 2016 06:25:37 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/LATE_GettyImages-540008266.jpg

As they returned to work after Sunday morning's mass shooting in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, TV's late-night hosts faced the challenge none of them looks forward to.

Their specialty is mining laughs. Their quarry is the foolishness of the human race and the absurdities gleaned from the latest news. But when a national tragedy afflicts the nation — an event too wrenching to ignore and certainly no laughing matter — these jokesters must shift gears. They have to find a way to bond with their viewers, as they do every night, but with shared feelings unrelieved by the comfort of comedy.

That is what a number of these hosts did Monday night, opening their respective shows with apologies for departing from their customary hijinks, and with heart-felt expressions of shock and sorrow:

— Trevor Noah ("The Daily Show"): "I wonder if President Obama ever thought to himself that mass-shooting speeches would be such a big part of his job. Because at this point he's hosted 12 state dinners, but he's had to give 16 mass-shooting addresses. So right now the White House is using more Kleenex than it is good napkins. ... America needs to ask itself the question: Do you want to be a country that takes reasonable measures to protect its citizens, or should we tell the president to prepare speech No. 17?"

— Jimmy Fallon ("The Tonight Show"): "This (shooter) was just one bad guy here. Forty-nine good people, and one bad guy. And there will always be more good than evil. When I think of Orlando, I think of nothing but fun and joy and families. If anyone can do it, you can. Keep loving each other, keep respecting each other, and keep on dancing."

— Stephen Colbert ("The Late Show"): After so many mass shootings, "it's as if there's a national script that we have learned, and I think that by accepting the script we tacitly accept that the script will end the same way every time with nothing changing, except for the loved ones and families of the victims, for whom nothing will ever be the same. ... Love gives us the courage to act. Love gives us hope that change is possible. Love allows us to change the script. So love your country, love your family, love the families and the victims and the people of Orlando."

— Conan O'Brien ("Conan"): "Now I am not a pundit, I am not an expert, and I have always, always made it a policy to stick to my job and keep my opinions to myself. I have really tried very hard over the years not to bore you with what I think. However, I am a father of two, I like to believe I have a shred of common sense, and I simply do not understand why anybody in this country is allowed to purchase and own a semi-automatic assault rifle. These are weapons of war and they have no place in civilian life."

— Larry Wilmore ("The Nightly Show"): "When the news broke, the people of this nation were unified in a selfless outpouring of support for the victims and their families. Well, it was selfless except for one person," indicating a self-congratulatory tweet by presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

— Seth Meyers ("Late Night") also referenced Trump's tweet (which said "Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism...."): "I don't know who's been congratulating Donald Trump, but you may want to redirect your congratulations to the first responders or those waiting in line to give blood. ... I have a feeling Donald Trump's not giving blood, and if he did, no one would want it, because it probably looks like ectoplasm."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Did a Delay in Police Response Give Shooter More Time?]]>Tue, 14 Jun 2016 02:50:03 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/ORLANDO_COP_GettyImages-539766620.jpg

As the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history began to unfold, an off-duty police officer working at a gay nightclub exchanged gunfire with the suspect. But three hours passed before a SWAT team stormed the building and brought the attack to an end.

The decision by law enforcement to hold off on entering the Pulse club — where more than 100 people were shot, 49 of them killed — immediately raised questions among experts in police tactics. They said the lessons learned from other mass shootings show that officers must get inside swiftly — even at great risk — to stop the threat and save lives.

"We live in a different world. And action beats inaction 100 percent of the time," said Chris Grollnek, an expert on active-shooter tactics and a retired police officer and SWAT team member.

The gunman, Omar Mateen, first had a shootout with the off-duty officer at the club's entrance. Then two other officers arrived and the firing continued.

The situation changed from an active-shooter scenario to a hostage situation once Mateen made it into one of the bathrooms where club-goers were hiding, authorities said.

Experts say there's a big difference between responding to a lone gunman and a shooter who has hostages.

In active-shooter situations, police are now trained to respond immediately, even if only one or two officers are available to confront the suspect. In a hostage crisis, law enforcement generally tries to negotiate.

Orlando Police Chief John Mina said the presence of hostages required officers to "reevaluate, reassess what is happening and make sure all the pieces are in place."

From the restroom, Mateen called 911 and made statements pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. That's when the shooting stopped and hostage negotiators began talking with him, the chief said.

"We had a team of crisis negotiators that talked to the suspect, trying to get as much information as possible, what we could do to help resolve the situation ... He wasn't asking a whole lot, and we were doing most of the asking," Mina said.

Mateen soon began talking about explosives and bombs, leading Mina to decide about 5 a.m. to detonate an explosive on an exterior wall to prevent potentially greater loss of life. The explosives did not penetrate the wall completely, so an armored vehicle was used to punch a 2-foot-by-3-foot hole in the wall about 2 feet from the ground.

"We knew there would be an imminent loss of life," Mina said.

Hostages started running out, as did Mateen, who was killed in a shootout with SWAT team members. It turned out there were no explosives.

Police tactics changed after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, where the first officers to arrive exchanged fire with the gunmen but then stopped and waited for the SWAT team. That took 45 minutes. By then, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had killed 12 students and a teacher.

At the time, the standard police practice was to set up a perimeter, wait for SWAT officers and then go inside. Authorities began to realize that the delayed response gave suspects more time to kill.

"We can't just let him have free rein and continue to shoot," said Ben Tisa, a former FBI agent and former SWAT team member.

Experts point to other mass shootings where a delay in confronting the shooter probably gave the gunman time to maneuver and attack. A mass shooting in 1984 at a McDonald's in San Ysidro, California, offered one of the earliest lessons, with 21 people being killed and 19 wounded before a SWAT team killed the gunman about 45 minutes later.

Incorrect or incomplete information is typical during police emergencies. And the gravity of the decisions is not lost on SWAT teams and their commanders. Civilian lives are at risk, along with those of police officers who are often outgunned by suspects.

"You have split seconds," said Thor Eells, commander of the Colorado Springs Police Department and chairman of the board of the National Tactical Officers Association.

Almost immediately after the shooting began, the nightclub posted a note on its Facebook page telling people to get out and "keep running."

Grollnek, a consultant who conducts active-shooter training for law enforcement, said that's another lesson from other mass shootings: Civilians can't expect to stay safe by heeding the old advice to hide or shelter in place.

"The problem is we're failing to evolve by learning the lesson that hiding does not work," he said. "Running works. Everyone who escapes to tell their story says, 'I ran away. I heard a noise on my left, and I went to my right and I got out.'"

But Grollneck reserved his anger for the police commanders in Florida who didn't allow SWAT team members to enter until several hours after the shooter began the attack.

"How have we failed so poorly that we did not learn our lesson ... when we see SWAT teams respond and not making entry creates victims," he said. "Period. End of story."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: Brendan Smialwoski/AFP/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Obama to Pay Respects in Orlando Thursday ]]>Mon, 13 Jun 2016 21:34:41 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-539566942-obama.jpg

President Barack Obama will travel to Orlando on Thursday to pay respects to the victims of last weekend's nightclub shooting and to stand in solidarity with the community as it embarks on recovery, the White House said Monday night.

Press Secretary Josh Earnest did not provide more details about the trip. Obama had canceled what was to be his first campaign event with presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the wake of the shooting at a gay nightclub that killed 49 and wounded dozens more. That event was scheduled for Wednesday.

The announcement came after thousands gathered in downtown Orlando for a vigil to support the victims and survivors of the shooting.

The vigil was held on the lawn of the Dr. Phillips Center, the area's main performing arts venue and the location of a makeshift memorial, where folks have been leaving flowers, candles and notes for the victims.

Many in the crowd Monday evening said they were inspired to attend because Pulse played a huge role in their lives as gays and lesbians.

"It was a place that a young 20-year-old who wasn't openly gay felt safe for the first time," said Cathleen Daus, now 36 — she worked at Pulse in her twenties. "Pulse gave me confidence, made me realize I was normal and so much like everyone else."

The role of consoler-in-chief is not a new one for Obama, who has traveled to Newtown, Connecticut, Charleston, South Carolina, and among other places to meet with families who have lost loved ones to gun violence.

Obama has called the Orlando shooting an act of terrorism and an act of hate. He noted that the site of the shooting was more than a nightclub, calling it a place where people came to raise awareness, speak their minds and advocate for their civil rights.

Also Monday night, Orlando Health, the hospital agency that received over 40 patients in the aftermath of the attack, announced on Twitter that all its patients "have a positive prognosis and appear to be improving."

Trauma surgeons from the agency were expected to give a press conference Tuesday to share their experiences from Sunday morning.

Earlier Monday, Obama said the gunman was inspired by extremist information over the internet, calling it an apparent example of "homegrown extremism" that U.S. officials have been worrying about for years.

Obama, speaking in the Oval Office after meeting with the FBI director, said the attack appears similar to the shooting late last year in San Bernardino, California, though he added that "we don't yet know." Investigators in that attack determined the killers weren't directed from overseas but were at least partly inspired by the Islamic State group.

"At this stage, we see no clear evidence that he was directed externally," Obama said, referring to suggestions that the Islamic State group or other extremists had orchestrated the attack. "It does appear that at the last minute, he announced allegiance to ISIL," he said, using an acronym for the extremist group.

He said the probe was being treated as a terror investigation and said investigators were examining materials from the internet that the shooter may have consumed.

Obama said investigators are still looking into the motivations of the shooter and considering all possibilities. He said gays and lesbians are targeted by organizations like IS, al-Qaida and others because of their "vicious, bankrupt ideology" and their religious beliefs about homosexuality.

"The fact that it took place at a club frequented by the LGBT community I think is also relevant," Obama said.

Obama spoke after getting briefed on the investigation by FBI Director James Comey, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and other officials.

Associated Press writer Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Pulse Nightclub Owner: 'I Will Not Let Hate Win']]>Mon, 13 Jun 2016 20:11:16 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/barbara-poma-nbc-news-interview.jpg

Barbara Poma, owner of Pulse nightclub, where 49 people were killed early Sunday morning, promised Monday that the club will "always continue to be the heartbeat of Orlando," NBC News reports.

"I will not let hate win," said Poma, who told NBC News she started the gay nightclub 14 years ago to honor her brother, John, who died of AIDs in 1991.

"For nearly 14 years, Pulse has served as a place of love and acceptance for the LGBTQ community," she said. "It should be the last place for such a tragedy."

Poma said that she learned of the shootings Sunday from the club's manager in what she called "the most surreal phone call I'd ever received."



Photo Credit: NBC News
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<![CDATA[Gun Shop Owner: Orlando Killer Bought Weapons Legally]]>Mon, 13 Jun 2016 19:39:53 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/GunOwner_1200x675_704853571962.jpg

The owner of a gun store where the Orlando nightclub shooter bought his weapons said Monday the gunman passed a full background check and that if he hadn't bought the guns from him, he would've purchased them somewhere else.

Ed Henson, owner of the St. Lucie Shooting Center, told reporters during a news conference outside his business that Omar Mateen legally purchased a long gun and a handgun about a week ago but he didn't know exactly when. He said they weren't bought on the same day.

Henson said Mateen had two security licenses, an armed one and an unarmed one. He added he is sorry the "evil person" bought the guns from his store.

"It's horrible," said Henson, who according to NBC News is a retired NYPD police officer. "I'm just sorry he picked my place. I wish he picked no place but that's society."

The 29-year-old Mateen was killed in a shootout with police after he attacked a gay nightclub early Sunday. At least 49 other people died in the attack.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: WPTV]]>
<![CDATA[Florida Gunman's Father Known for Rambling Videos]]>Mon, 13 Jun 2016 16:05:12 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/dadAP_590341488008.jpg

The father of the Orlando nightclub gunman came to the U.S. from Afghanistan more than 30 years ago and has made a series of rambling political videos about his former homeland, even once describing himself as its "revolutionary president."

Seddique Mir Mateen maintained a high profile on social media in the U.S., but is a mystery to Afghan authorities. Some government departments ran background and security checks Monday and found no trace of him, an official said.

Mateen met with reporters Monday at his home in Port St. Lucie, Florida, and called the massacre by his son, Omar Mateen, "the act of a terrorist."

The deadly weekend attack shocked the family, the father said, and went against what he had taught his son. The elder Mateen also said that if he had known what the 29-year-old was planning, he would have arrested him himself.

In a Facebook video posted after the killings, Mateen said: "I don't know what caused him to shoot last night."

"On the issue of homosexuality, it can be punished only by God, it is not the business of a person. But he (Omar) has killed those people, and I am so saddened," he added.

The elder Mateen is a life insurance salesman who started a group in 2010 called Durand Jirga, Inc., according to Qasim Tarin, a businessman from California who was a Durand Jirga board member. The name refers to the Durand Line, the long disputed border established by the British between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He apparently left Afghanistan more than 30 years ago, after the 1979 invasion by the Soviet Union touched off a decade-long war of resistance. A civil war was followed by five years of radical Islamist rule by the Taliban until the U.S. invasion of 2001.

Since then, the country has been trying to rebuild, with help from the U.S. and other countries, while the Taliban continue to fight the Kabul government.

With constant turnover in government departments in the past 15 years, there appears to be no record of Mateen. Efforts were made to find out about his past, "but we haven't found a clue," according to an official in the Afghan intelligence agency, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

But Kabul-based political analyst Ahmad Saeedi said Mateen, who is about 70, is from the eastern province of Laghman and was living in the capital when he left 31 years ago for the U.S.

A fierce anti-communist, Mateen was a captain in the ranks of the mujahedeen who fought the Soviet occupation, Saeedi said. Once in the U.S., he promoted himself to the rank of general.

Mateen made a series of videos on social media in the Dari language in which he blamed Afghanistan's ills on a variety of people and organizations, notably Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI. The videos were called the "Durand Jirga Show."

"For the past three or four years, he has been uploading these videos in which he claims to be the 'revolutionary president' of Afghanistan," Saeedi said. Many of the videos drew only a few hundred views.

A former Afghan official said the "Durand Jirga Show" appears on Payam-e-Afghan, a California-based channel that supports ethnic solidarity with the Afghan Taliban, which are mostly Pashtun. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to be linked to coverage of the shooting.

But video reviewed by The Associated Press on Monday did not show support by Mateen for the Taliban. In an April 2015 video, Mateen said he and his supporters had called on the Taliban to join the peace initiative by current Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Mateen once had "a brief and inconsequential meeting" with Rep. Ed Royce, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the California Republican said in a statement. Royce said he routinely meets Afghan-Americans and he vaguely recalls a discussion about relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan with Mateen.

In a video dated May 23, 2015, Mateen declared himself a candidate for the Afghan presidency.

"Afghanistan's sovereignty is in danger due to the free hand of foreigners on our territory, and the result is that 95 percent of the country is not under the government's control," he said, a reference to the influence of Pakistan.

"Due to a lack of planning, and resultant economic crisis, I, Seddique Mateen, am declaring myself as a candidate for the presidency in order to rescue Afghanistan."

A photo was posted of of a bright green T-shirt depicting him in a black jacket and red tie — the colors of the Afghan flag — and the words: "Seddique Mateen: the real leader of the Afghan people."

His Facebook page includes a number of posts introducing "members of our government," showing young men but no biographical information.

In another video, he accused President Barack Obama of supporting Pakistan's security agency and urged him to cut off U.S. funding.

A YouTube video dated Jan. 11, 2014, showed Mateen interviewing Ghani during his presidential campaign. He deferentially asked Ghani about poverty, unemployment and corruption, and politely allowed the candidate to answer for 13 minutes.

But in a video posted Monday on Facebook, Mateen listed senior Afghan officials, including Ghani and former President Hamid Karzai, and he twisted their names to show his disapproval of them. In a repetitive ramble, he called for Afghan unity.

Mateen's views on Pakistan's role in Afghanistan reflect those of many Afghan people. Recently, Ghani has publicly blamed Pakistan and its secret service for using the Taliban to wage war on Afghanistan. Pakistan denies the allegations.

Ghani's efforts to draw the Taliban into peace talks have failed, with the Taliban saying they have no intention of cooperating. Ghani has also pressured Pakistan to force the Taliban to the table, to no avail.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Gay Club Patrons Treasure a Place to Feel Safe]]>Mon, 13 Jun 2016 16:41:57 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/orlando9_SN.jpg

Like many gay men across America, Jamie Brown has treasured memories of nights spent reveling at a gay club, a boisterous community gathering place where he could feel safe and be himself. He remembers it as a sanctuary.

After the nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida, "it just won't be the same," Brown wrote in an emotional Facebook post. "The sanctuary has been defiled."

Sunday's attack on the Pulse nightclub, in which at least 49 people were killed and gunman Omar Mateen died in a gun battle with police, prompted an outpouring of reminiscence and reflection on the vital roles that such clubs have played for many lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people across the U.S.

"Clubs are terribly important to the LGBT community," said Ken Darling, owner of the Minneapolis club LUSH.

"It's where we can be ourselves, develop relationships, be with your community," he said. "It's where our history is."

Indeed, one pivotal moment in gay-rights movement revolved around a gay bar in New York City, the Stonewall Inn. A police raid there in 1969 led to violent street riots that emboldened gay activists nationwide.

After the Orlando shooting, clusters of flowers were laid outside the Stonewall's door. Among them was a bouquet of white roses, accompanied by this message: "Never stop dancing."

The club that holds such a fond place in Jamie Brown's memory is called Hula's, in one of Honolulu's edgier neighborhoods. He was stationed in Hawaii with the Army two decades ago as a 21-year-old, in an era when being outed as gay would lead to ouster from the military.

"I imagine that a lot of young gay people could feel the same way about their own regular weekend hot spot as I did about Hula's," Brown wrote in his post. "It's where you go when you don't want to lie... It's where you go to connect, to experience community, forget your secret, and to combat the isolation that a secret of that magnitude can cause."

Now 42, Brown lives in Columbia, South Carolina, and works as a brain-wave analyst for a hospital system. Two years ago, he married his longtime partner; they go out to clubs infrequently, usually for special occasions.

"When we do go, you still have that nostalgia," he said.

Paul Guequierre, now 38 and working for the American Constitution Society in Washington, D.C, says he has vivid memories of his first visit to a gay bar as a 21-year-old college student in Milwaukee.

"It was so exciting," he said. "You walk into a club as a young gay man, barely out of the closet, and see all these other people who were just like you, and you felt this sense of community that you didn't know existed."

That communal sprit was especially powerful at holiday parties, said Guequierre, recalling times when he would have Thanksgiving dinner with his family in a small town about an hour from Milwaukee, then drive back to the city for the nighttime revelry at a club.

In Madison, Wisconsin, members of the LGBT community still harbor fond memories of the Hotel Washington, a building housing a gay bar, dance club, restaurant and music hall that burned down in 1996.

"We still miss it," said Michael Bruno, 60, who sometimes served as a master of ceremonies there. "I don't think the community has ever rebounded from its loss."

There's a Facebook page devoted to memories of the place. A reunion picnic is scheduled for this August.

"It was such a wonderful, safe place," said Bruno. "Everyone was welcome — no one was made to feel ostracized."

Across the country, many gay bars served as venues for vigils or commemorations honoring the victims of the Orlando attack.

At LUSH in Minneapolis — where weekend brunches rival drag performances as favored attractions — patrons were brimming with emotion on Sunday as details of the Orlando shooting emerged.

"It was exactly the right place to be — in my bar with all the people I care about," said Ken Darling. "There was singing and laughing. There were tears and hugs of love, not tears and hugs of fear and foreboding."

Nonetheless, the attack was sobering, he said.

"We in the LGBT community have had to live with this threat of random violence forever," he said. "We've had a lull where we didn't have to think about it, and then something like this happens and we're reminded what's out there — an ideology of hate that's directed toward us."

Prior to the attack on Pulse, a handful of other U.S. gay bars have been targeted, including Neighbours, a popular gay nightclub in Seattle. It was packed with New Year's Eve revelers on Dec. 31, 2013, when a man poured gasoline on a carpeted stairway and set it ablaze. No one was injured; Masub Masmari was sentenced to 10 years in prison for arson.

Robert Matencio, who works as a host at Neighbours, said the club opened in 1983.

"For gays and lesbians, before social media and the internet, we were forced to build community in person, and one of the most natural places for us to congregate are the nightclubs and bars," he said. "It's a place to let loose."

Associated Press writer Phuong Le in Seattle contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[US Calls on UN to Protect LGBT People From Attacks]]>Mon, 13 Jun 2016 16:00:03 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/BanKiMoon-AP_545014972401.jpg

The U.S. on Monday called on all 193 members of the United Nations to not only condemn the terrorism that resulted in the mass killing of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Florida over the weekend, but also to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from such attacks.

Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. David Pressman, speaking at the session that elected Fiji Ambassador Peter Thomson to the post of 71st General Assembly president, said protecting the dignity of all human beings should be at the heart of the assembly's work going forward.

He said outrage over the killings should be directed at protecting members of the LGBT community "not just around condemning the terrorists who kill them."

On Monday, the city of Orlando, Florida, mourned the 49 people killed and many others wounded in the attack at the Pulse nightclub — the biggest mass shooting in U.S. history. The White House and the FBI, meanwhile, portrayed shooter Omar Mateen as an apparent "homegrown extremist" who supported the Islamic State and other militant Muslim groups. Mateen was killed in a gun battle with police.

Pressman pointed to a General Assembly resolution that calls on member states to protect the lives of all people and investigate killings. Yet "every time it is up for consideration, there is a pitched fight" over whether it is appropriate to include sexual orientation and gender identity in its language.

The U.N. has worked to improve the rights of the LGBT community in recent years but has repeatedly run into opposition from some member states — especially from some countries in the Middle East and Africa as well as China and Russia.

Pressman's comments come after nearly two dozen civil society organizations that provide services for LGBT communities and others were banned last week from a high-level three-day General Assembly meeting on AIDS. Under U.N. rules, any U.N. member country can veto the participation of any non-governmental organization without providing a reason.

Current General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft said at a news conference with Thomson that it's the right thing to do to step up in defense of the human rights of the LGBT community.

"I find it very regrettable the opposition to the participation of those groups" at the U.N. AIDS conference, he said.

Thomson said advocates can rest assured of his commitment to the rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation, when he takes over the presidency. "You'll have a president in the 71st session who stands for (LGBT) rights," he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote to the governor of Florida and the mayor of Orlando to convey his condolences at "the horrific and hateful act of terror" that targeted the LGBT community. Ban, a strong supporter of LGBT rights, said "such violence is despicable, and contrary to the values of equality, peace and mutual respect that underpin the United Nations," spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Monday.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Tim Cook Reacts to Fla. Shooting]]>Tue, 21 Jun 2016 11:59:59 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-539895888.jpg

Apple CEO Tim Cook addressed the massacre in Orlando and asked for a moment of silence Monday at the tech giant's annual developer's conference.

Cook spoke to the crowd Monday at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco during the weeklong Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, where the company touted its new line of smart watches and TV features. 

Cook wrote at length about being gay in a 2014 op-ed, and on Monday celebrated the multiculturalism of Apple’s own Cupertino-based workforce.

"At Apple, we celebrate our diversity. We know that it makes us stronger and moves everyone forward," Cook told the audience, saying the massacre of at least 49 people at a gay nightclub Sunday was a "senseless, unconscionable act of terrorism and hate, aimed at dividing and destroying."

He called for silence, and as the audience hushed for a moment in the dark theater, Cook wiped a tear from his eye.

Having diversity in the world, Cook said Monday, “makes us stronger and moves everyone forward.”

Since Cook came out to the public, he's supported several LGBT causes, including last year when he lent his name to an anti-discrimination bill in his native state of Alabama

Last spring, under Cook's leadership, Apple announced it was giving $50 million to nonprofits to recruit a more diverse tech workforce. Most recently, in March, Cook and other tech leaders signed letters of disapproval to the North Carolina's governor over a state law derided by the Department of Justice for limiting legal protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[How the Pulse Nightclub Shooting Unfolded]]>Tue, 14 Jun 2016 02:19:07 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP16164335462542_opt.jpg

Jon Alamo was ready for a good time.

The 22-year-old clothing store sales clerk arrived at Pulse in Orlando at 10:30 p.m. Saturday, clad all in blue from his button-down shirt adorned with palm trees to his loafers.

"It was definitely going to be an awesome night," he said.

Like young people in clubs the world over, Alamo met up with some friends, and then some more friends. He danced in Pulse's main room, where people swayed to the beat of salsa music. Then Alamo drifted into the club's two other rooms, which grooved to more of a hip-hop vibe. He remembers hearing Rihanna's "Work," one of his favorite songs, and grinding to it on the dance floor.

It was supposed to be just a night of dancing and drinking, of looking good and gleefully partying into the early morning hours. It was Latin night at Pulse, one of Orlando's top gay venues, and two drag performers were scheduled to perform, one of them a big draw for appearing on a season of the TV show "RuPaul's Drag Race."

"I was in the zone," Alamo recalled. "I wasn't even paying attention — just dancing."

About three and a half hours after he arrived, the gunshots began. And the first of the 49 victims began to die.

Residents of the Delaney Court condos next door to Pulse first heard the shooting about 2:03 a.m. Marlon Massey was watching the movie "Creed" when he heard "pop, pop, pop!" He checked his phone for the time: The shots went on until 2:05 a.m.

A uniformed Orlando police officer working at the club off-duty had heard gunshots himself and spotted Omar Mateen outside the club. He fired his gun at the 29-year-old security guard from Fort Pierce, Florida, and two other officers quickly joined in. Mateen was not armed lightly: Police said he had an AR-15 assault-type rifle, a handgun and an explosive device.

Undeterred, he re-entered the club.

Inside, those on the dance floor weren't sure if what they heard was just part of the DJ's set.

"Everyone was getting on the floor. ... I thought it was just part of the music, until I saw fire coming out of his gun," patron Rose Feba explained to the Orlando Sentinel.

Mina Justice was sound asleep when she received the first text from her son, Eddie Justice, who was in the club.

"Mommy I love you," the first message said. It was 2:06 a.m.

"In club they shooting."

It was around this time that Alamo wandered back into the main room.

"He was holding a big weapon," Alamo said. "He had a white shirt and he was holding the weapon ... you ever seen how Marine guys hold big weapons, shooting from left to right? That's how he was shooting at people."

Alamo dashed toward the back of one of the smaller dance rooms, and said people then rushed to an area where two bouncers had knocked down a wooden fence to create an escape route.

"My first thought was, 'Oh my God, I'm going to die," Alamo said, his voice very quiet. "I was praying to God that I would live to see another day. I couldn't believe this was happening."

At 2:09 a.m., Pulse posted a chilling, hurried message on its Facebook page: "Everyone get out of pulse and keep running."

Brand White and her cousin were on the dance floor in the main room when White's cousin yelled to her, "B, it's a guy with a bomb!" Before she knew it, White was hit in the shoulder.

"All of a sudden it just started like a rolling thunder, loud and everything went black," White wrote in a Facebook message to an Associated Press reporter from her hospital room Sunday. "I think I was trampled."

She didn't recall leaving the club, but she remembered the state she was in: "Covered head to toe in blood."

"I remember screaming and mass chaos," she wrote. "There were hundreds of people there."

She made it to the hospital, where she got a blood transfusion. As Sunday wore on, her cousin remained missing.

Brett Rigas and his partner also were dancing in the main room when they heard the crack of gunfire. "About 70 bullets," Rigas described in a terse Facebook message.

He was shot in the arm and a man next to him was struck in the leg before police entered the room.

"I was behind the bar with four other people under the well. They called out to us and had us run out," he said.

Rigas saw dead bodies as he barreled out of the club. In the rush to escape, he became separated from his partner, who remained unaccounted for.

Three patrons, including a performer, ran to the nearby home of club regular David "Brock" Cornelius. Cornelius had gone to a different bar Saturday night and wasn't yet home, but he texted them his garage code and they hid in his house.

Police said a dozen or so other patrons took cover in a restroom.

At 2:39 a.m., Eddie Justice texted his mother from the bathroom, pleading for her to call police:

"Call them mommy

Now."

He's coming

I'm gonna die."

Justice asked her son if anyone was hurt and which bathroom he was in.

"Lots. Yes," he responded at 2:42 a.m.

The last text she received from Eddie was at 2:50 a.m. His name was later added to the city's list of those killed in the attack.

"All I heard was gunfire after gunfire," Brandon Wolf, who was in a restroom hiding, told the Sentinel. "Eventually, I thought you were supposed to run out of ammunition. But it just kept going and going," he said.

What happened in the three hours after the shooting broke out and the gunman was killed was not immediately clear.

As people lay dying in the club, the shooting developed "into a hostage situation," Orlando Police Chief John Mina said.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said officers initially mistakenly thought the gunman had strapped explosives to some of his victims after a bomb robot sent back images of a battery part next to a body. That held paramedics up from entering the club until it was determined the part had fallen out of an exit sign or smoke detector, the mayor said.

The robot was sent in after SWAT team members used explosive charges and an armored vehicle to knock down a wall in an effort to access the club.

About 5 a.m., a decision was made to rescue the remaining club-goers, who authorities said likely were in one of the smaller dance rooms, the Adonis Room. Law enforcement officers used two explosive devices to try to distract the killer and then 11 officers stormed the club and exchanged gunfire with Mateen.

The explosives jolted some Pulse neighbors awake, including Dorian Ackerman, 28, who noted that it was just after 5 a.m.

"I heard a woman screaming," he said. "It was really terrifying."

The gunman started firing, hitting an officer who was saved by protective armor.

"That's when we took him down," the mayor said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Gay Men's Chorus Mourns Orlando]]>Mon, 13 Jun 2016 05:51:35 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Vigil14.jpg

Hundreds of mourners gathered outside the White House Sunday night to honor the 49 people killed when a gunman sprayed a crowd with bullets at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

The vigil began at the U.S. Capitol, where members of the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington joined hands in solidarity as they sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "We Shall Overcome."

"It was incredibly moving to me and incredibly encouraging as an LGBT person for me and my friends," said Mary Elizabeth, a Capital Pride participant.

After the choir's solemn performance, dozens walked to the White House for a candlelight vigil. Some simply prayed, while others held signs condemning gun violence and calling on better gun legislation.

One person clutched a sign that read: "Stop Homophobia. Stop Islamaphobia."

The vigil came hours after authorities say 29-year-old Omar Mateen opened fire at Orlando's Pulse nightclub, unloading an AR-15 on clubgoers in the early hours of the morning. Mateen traded fire with a police officer and took clubgoers hostage before a SWAT team shot and killed him.

The massacre left at least 50 people dead, including Mateen, and another 53 wounded in what is now the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

D.C. police increased security Sunday at Capital Pride festivities.


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<![CDATA[Artists Creates Gun Control Artwork]]>Mon, 13 Jun 2016 05:16:56 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/212*120/06-13-2016-west-hollywood-orlando-house-art.JPG

Between the birthday greetings he got as he woke up, visual artist ChadMichael Morrisette said his heart broke for what he saw on the news Sunday morning as details emerged about the mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando.

"This affected me so much. I wanted people to see as the biggest shooting in American history, what that might look like, and I have the ability to show them that," he said.

It was his call to action. His vision was to show people the horror of what the aftermath of a shooting of that magnitude would look like.

Morrisette created a dramatic representation of the carnage inside Pulse nightclub, with 50 mannequins on the roof of his West Hollywood home.

"I put 50 bodies on the roof of my house so that people could drive by and see what 50 human bodies looks like. Piled up," he said of the installation.

No two mannequins' expressions are the same, no positions are the same. It is the visual of what first responders must have seen inside that nightclub, where Omar Mateen killed at least 49 people and wounded 53 more. 

"The bodies are still in there. Right now. They’re still in there," Morrisette said Sunday night. "This is exactly what they’re walking into."

His art piece is titled "No One Is Safe," and he is calling on lawmakers to change that.

"It doesn’t matter if it’s a church or a movie theater or a gay club or an elementary school. All of us at this point should be able to relate to it," Morrisette said.

"I don’t care what you say about all this we cannot have 50 Americans killed in a nightclub and continue to do nothing about it."



Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Tributes to Orlando Shooting Victims Pour in From Around the World]]>Sun, 19 Jun 2016 20:17:27 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/OrlandoVigil-AP_16172067187635.jpgPeople from around the world lit up buildings in rainbow colors and attended vigils in memory of the people who died in a mass shooting and apparent terror attack at an Orlando nightclub on Sunday, June 12, 2016.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Clinton and Trump React to Shooting at Florida Nightclub]]>Sun, 12 Jun 2016 19:48:01 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/split2-clinton-trump-somber.jpg

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton adjusted their presidential politicking Sunday, first offering prayers and support to the victims of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. But they both infused their sympathy with statements that favor their presidential aspirations, and the presidential race rolled on.

The presumptive candidates made statements hours after a gunman wielding an assault-type rifle and a handgun opened fire inside a crowded gay nightclub early Sunday, killing at least 49 people before dying in a gunfight with SWAT officers, police said. Another 53 were hospitalized, most in critical condition. Officials identified the shooter as Omar Mateen of Fort Pierce, Florida, a U.S. citizen born in New York.

Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, pushed for gun control and reached out to a key constituency — gays and lesbians.

"The gunman attacked an LGBT nightclub during Pride Month. To the LGBT community: please know that you have millions of allies across our country. I am one of them," she said in a statement, adding a call to keep assault weapons out of the hands of "terrorists or other violent criminals."

Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, also offered words of support. But he then spent the day congratulating himself apparently for predicting more attacks inside the U.S. On Twitter, he renewed talk of his plan to ban Muslims from the U.S. for an indeterminate time. And he went after President Barack Obama.

As Obama stepped to the podium in Washington to address the nation early Sunday afternoon, Trump tweeted:

"Is President Obama going to finally mention the words radical Islamic terrorism? If he doesn't he should immediately resign in disgrace!"

In his address Obama called the tragedy an act of terror and hate. He didn't talk about religious extremists, nor did others, reluctant to inflame a stunned nation already on edge about attacks inspired by the Islamic State group. Obama said the FBI would investigate the shootings in the gay nightclub as terrorism but that the alleged shooter's motivations were unclear. He said the U.S. "must spare no effort" to determine whether Mateen had any ties to extremist groups.

Hours later, a law enforcement official confirmed to The Associated Press that Mateen had made a 911 call from the club, professing allegiance to the leader of Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The official was familiar with the investigation but not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The shootings inspired the candidates to shift their schedules and focus.

Clinton's presidential campaign announced it was postponing its first joint event with Obama on Wednesday in Green Bay, Wisconsin, because of the Orlando shooting.

Trump said he was changing the focus of his speech Monday at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire from his case against Clinton to "this terrorist attack, immigration and national security."

He also noted that he "said this was going to happen" and repeated his call for Obama to resign for refusing to use the words "radical Islam." Clinton, Trump added, should drop out of the presidential race for the same reason.

Trump has proposed temporarily barring all foreign Muslims from entering the country and has advocated using waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods.

Trump's first tweet of the day was factual: "Really bad shooting in Orlando. Police investigating possible terrorism. Many people dead and wounded."

Tweeted Clinton: "Woke up to hear the devastating news from FL. As we wait for more information, my thoughts are with those affected by this horrific act."

The Clinton campaign later released a statement regarding Trump's comments saying: "Donald Trump put out political attacks, weak platitudes and self-congratulations. Trump has offered no real plans to keep our nation safe and no outreach to the Americans targeted, just insults and attacks. In times of crisis more than ever, Americans are looking for leadership and deserve better."

And then they resumed their plans Sunday.

On schedule, Clinton's campaign unveiled its first general election ad Sunday morning. It will run in battleground states beginning Thursday.

And Sen. Bernie Sanders, still in the contest for the Democratic nomination despite Clinton's claim on it, went on with a round of appearances on the Sunday talk shows. He acknowledged the tragedy — then said he would not drop out of the race and endorse Clinton until he's convinced she's committed to fighting wealth disparity. He later issued a statement of sympathy to the Florida victims, with no political overtones.

Two hours later, Trump responded to the Clinton ad.

"Clinton made a false ad about me where I was imitating a reporter GROVELING after he changed his story. I would NEVER mock disabled. Shame!"

The Clinton ad uses footage of Trump onstage, flailing his arms in an apparent attempt to mimic New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who suffers from a congenital condition that restricts joint movement. At the time, Trump was taking issue with a story Kovaleski had written for The Washington Post.

Roughly two hours after that tweet, Trump returned to the shootings.

"Horrific incident in FL. Praying for all the victims & their families. When will this stop? When will we get tough, smart & vigilant?" he tweeted.

An hour later, he followed up with some self-praise: "Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don't want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!"

Trump later postponed a Monday rally in Portsmouth, New Hmapshire, but will make a speech at St. Anselm's College in the afternoon, his campaign said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[AR-15-Style Rifles Used in Orlando Has Bloody History]]>Tue, 14 Jun 2016 16:43:59 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/ARGettyImages-159576904.jpg

The massacre in Orlando was the latest time an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle was used in a mass killing.

The AR-15 was used to slaughter first graders at Sandy Hook, murder Batman fans at a Colorado movie theater and kill county workers at a holiday party in San Bernardino.

On Sunday, officials said a semi-automatic rifle was found amid the dozens of dead, and dozens of wounded, at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

In the aftermath, President Obama once again railed at the ease with which domestic terrorists bent on killing as many people as possible can get their hands on high-powered guns and rifles.

Update: Authorities initially identified the rifle used in the June 12 Orlando shooting as an AR-15, but multiple sources now tell NBC News the gun was a Sig Sauer MCX, a similar semi-automatic rifle. This story has been updated to clarify.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Orlando Gunman Had Strong Indications of Radicalization: FBI]]>Mon, 13 Jun 2016 12:56:19 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/TLMD-florida-orlando-masacre-pulse-omar-mateen------crop.jpg

The gunman in the Orlando nightclub attack that killed 49 people had "strong indications of radicalization" and was likely inspired by foreign terrorist organizations, FBI Director James Comey said Monday.

The early Sunday attack marked the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Shooter Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old American-born Muslim who worked as a security guard in Florida, died in a gun battle with police.

Comey told reporters Mateen spoke with a 911 operator three times early Sunday morning before opening fire on the crowd at Pulse, a gay club that was hosting Latin night. Mateen also pledged loyalty to the head of ISIS on his last call, Comey said.

Mateen was not unknown to law enforcement: In 2013, he made inflammatory comments to co-workers and was interviewed twice, according to FBI agent Ronald Hopper, who called the interviews inconclusive.

In 2014, Hopper said, officials found that Mateen had ties to an American suicide bomber, but the agent described the contact as minimal, saying it did not constitute a threat at the time.

Mateen exchanged gunfire with 14 police officers at the club and took hostages at one point. In addition to the assault rifle, he had a handgun. Police Chief John Mina said officers held back for some time because Mateen indicated he had a bomb vest.

Earlier Monday, President Barack Obama said there was no clear evidence Mateen was directed to conduct his attack or part of a larger plot. He said it appears the shooter was inspired by extremist information disseminated over the Internet.

Obama said the probe is being treated as a terrorism investigation and appears to be similar to last year's shooting spree in San Bernardino, California. Investigators are still looking into the motivations of the shooter, including the fact that the shooting took place at a gay venue.

Two law enforcement sources told NBC News on Monday that Mateen may have traveled to Disney World to plan an attack there. One source said it was "pre-operational," meaning Mateen had not developed a plan. A second source was less certain Mateen had even gotten that far and said it's possible Mateen's visit was simply a social one.

Disney spokesperson Lisa Haines said in a statement, “Unfortunately we’ve all been living in a world of uncertainty, and during this time we have increased our security measures across our properties, adding such visible safeguards as magnetometers, additional canine units, and law enforcement officers on site, as well as less visible systems that employ state-of-the-art security technologies.”

Wielding an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and a handgun, Mateen opened fire at the crowded club in such close quarters that the bullets could hardly miss. He was gunned down after police used explosives and a small armored vehicle to punch a hole in a wall and allow dozens of clubgoers to escape, police said.

"He had an automatic rifle, so nobody stood a chance," said Jackie Smith, who saw two friends next to her get shot. "I just tried to get out of there."

Mateen bought at least two guns legally within the last week or so, according to Trevor Velinor of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

"I've always felt so safe here for my family, kids. And now, I don't know," said Marlon Massey, who lives across the street from the club, in the city known to tourists around the globe as the home of Walt Disney World and other theme parks.

Obama on Sunday called the shooting an "act of terror" and an "act of hate" against a place of "solidarity and empowerment" for gays.

Mateen's Afghan immigrant father, Seddique Mir Mateen, suggested anti-gay hatred as a possible motive. The father said his son got angry a few months ago when he saw two men kissing in Miami.

His father told reporters Monday that the massacre was "the act of a terrorist," and added: "I apologize for what my son did. I am as sad and mad as you guys are."

He wouldn't go into details about any religious or political views his son held, saying he didn't know. Asked whether he missed his son, he said: "I don't miss anything about him. What he did was against humanity."

Mateen's ex-wife attributed the violence to mental illness, saying he was bipolar.

The Islamic State's radio called Mateen "one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America." Al-Bayan Radio, a media outlet for the extremist group, hailed the attack, saying that it targeted a gathering of Christians and gays and that it was the worst attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.

It was unclear, though, whether the group planned or knew of the attack beforehand.

Meanwhile, the last of the bodies were removed from the club overnight as investigators dug into Mateen's background. Workers removed them four at a time on stretchers and loaded them into white vans. The covered bodies were taken to the county medical examiner's office.

"We will not be defined by the act of a cowardly hater," Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer vowed.

Thirty-nine of the dead were killed at the club, and the others died at hospitals, the mayor said. By Monday morning, families of 24 of the victims had been notified, Dyer said.

At least 53 people were hospitalized, most in critical condition, and a surgeon at Orlando Regional Medical Center said the death toll was likely to climb.

Officials emphasized Monday morning there was no immediate threat to the public.

On the same day as the Orlando attack, an Indiana man armed with three assault rifles and chemicals used to make explosives was arrested in Southern California and told police he was headed to a West Hollywood gay pride parade, authorities said.

The previous deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history was the 2007 attack at Virginia Tech, where a student killed 32 people and took his own life.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: Orlando Police
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<![CDATA['Mommy I Love You': Chilling Accounts of Massacre]]>Tue, 14 Jun 2016 18:29:54 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/AP_16164335437168-orl.jpg

The Pulse nightclub was filled with more than 300 people for Latin night, when a gunman identified as 29-year-old Omar Mateen began shooting around 2 a.m. Sunday. As bullets flew, club-goers struggled to understand what was happening. Here are accounts from witnesses as the horror unfolded:  

Brandon Wolf, a former contestant on the Bravo show Kandi factory, tweeted: "Omg. Shooting at pulse. We hid in the bathroom. And we can’t find our friends."

Later he wrote that a friend had died.

"My heart is broken. We couldn’t save Juan. Thank you everyone who was praying and hoping. May he rest easy."

Luis Burbano told CNN: "The DJ was playing a typical set that incorporated what we thought was gunshots as part of the music, four shots — bah, bah, bah, bah — but for some reason it was different. No one put two and two together until the fifth and sixth, between 10 and 20, that’s when everything really started getting real and then we all at that point did a domino effect all to the floor."

Christopher Hansen told NBC News he had taken his first sip from a drink when he heard what he thought was the beat of a song until he saw people falling to the dance floor.

"I just saw bodies going down," he said. "Bang, bang, bang."

He crawled past a bathroom and made it outside, where people were bleeding. A man whose pants were drenched in blood had a bullet in his back, he said. Hansen used his bandana to stop the bleeding.

"I had just seen the movie 'The Conjuring 2'" he said. "To go from a horror movie to a real horror, it's just shocking."

Brand White and his cousin were on the dance floor when White's cousin yelled to him, "B, it's a guy with a bomb," the AP reported. Suddenly, White was hit in the shoulder.

"All of a sudden it just started like a rolling thunder, loud and everything went black," White wrote in a Facebook message to the AP from his hospital room Sunday. "I think I was trampled."

He didn't recall leaving the club, but he remembered the state he was in: "Covered head to toe in blood."

"I remember screaming and mass chaos," he wrote. "There were hundreds of people there."

He got to the hospital, where he received a blood transfusion. As Sunday wore on, his cousin remained missing.

Mina Justice was asleep when she got the first text from her 30-year-old son, Eddie Justice, who was inside the Pulse. Here is their exchange of messages, according to The Associated Press.

"Mommy I love you," the first message said. It was 2:06 a.m.

"In club they shooting."

Mina Justice tried calling her 30-year-old son. No answer.

Alarmed and half awake, she tapped out a response.

"U ok"

At 2:07 a.m., he wrote: "Trapp in bathroom."

Justice asked what club, and he responded: "Pulse. Downtown. Call police."

Then at 2:08: "I'm gonna die."

Now wide awake, Justice dialed 911.

She sent a flurry of texts over the next several minutes.

"I'm calling them now."

"U still in there"

"Answer our damn phone"

"Call them"

"Call me."

The 911 dispatcher wanted her to stay on the line. She wondered what kind of danger her son was in. He was normally a homebody who liked to eat and work out. He liked to make everyone laugh. He worked as an accountant and lived in a condo in downtown Orlando.

"Lives in a sky house, like the Jeffersons," she would say. "He lives rich."

She knew he was gay and at a club — and all the complications that might entail. Fear surged through her as she waited for his next message.

At 2:39 a.m., he responded:

"Call them mommy"

"Now."

He wrote that he was in the bathroom.

"He's coming"

"I'm gonna die."

Justice asked her son if anyone was hurt and which bathroom he was in.

"Lots. Yes," he responded at 2:42 a.m.

When he didn't text back, she sent several more messages. Was he with police?

"Text me please," she wrote.

"No," he wrote four minutes later. "Still here in bathroom. He has us. They need to come get us."

At 2:49 a.m., she told him the police were there and to let her know when he saw them.

"Hurry," he wrote. "He's in the bathroom with us."

She asked, "Is the man in the bathroom wit u?"

At 2:50 a.m.: "He's a terror."

Then, a final text from her son a minute later: "Yes."

More than 15 hours after that text, Justice still hadn't heard from her son. She and a dozen family and friends stayed at a hotel Sunday evening that was used as a staging area for relatives awaiting news.

Early on Monday, authorities identified Eddie Justice as one of the people killed in the rampage.

Read More:



Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Who They Were: Portraits of the Orlando Victims]]>Thu, 16 Jun 2016 13:08:24 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/orlando-victims-split.jpg

They were dancers, immigrants, world travelers, partners. One was his family's "superhero," another deployed to Kuwait in the Army Reserve. The youngest had only just graduated from high school. All have been described as kind, loving and full of joy.

Their lives were cut short when a gunman wielding a semi-automatic rifle and a handgun opened fire inside a packed gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, early Sunday, killing 49 in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Here are some of the victims' stories: 

Stanley Almodovar III's mother had prepared a tomato-and-cheese dip for him to eat when he came home from his night out.

Instead, Rosalie Ramos was awakened by a call at 2 a.m. Sunday telling her something had happened.

Ramos told the Orlando Sentinel her son, a 23-year-old pharmacy technician, posted a Snapchat video of himself singing and laughing on his way to Pulse nightclub.

"I wish I had that (video) to remember him forever," she told the newspaper.

A friend, Hazel Ramirez, told the Washington Post she also saw a video from Almodovar on Snapchat and learned Sunday afternoon what had happened.

Ramirez described Almodovar as "kind, but sassy," and someone who was comfortable with his own sexual identity.

"He was so proud of who he was," she told the Post. "He would do his makeup better than anyone else. It was so easy to be myself with him."

___

Amanda Alvear, 25, had bonded with friend Sandy Marte over breakups and health problems. Marte said he was trying to comfort her after the breakup. She had lost a lot of weight following gastric bypass surgery and Marte encouraged her to socialize and enjoy life. 

"She was loving, she was caring, she always had an open ear, she always wanted to help people," Marte said of Alvear. "She had an amazing heart. She was a really good person." 

Both Alvear and her friend, Mercedez Marisol Flores, posted on Snapchat from the nightclub before the shooting. Flores was also killed.

Marte said Alvear's post on Snapchat showed a packed club full of revelers, flashing lights and thumping music — then a selfie video of Alvear with a series of gunshots in the background. 

Marte said he understands what it's like to be at a nightclub during a shooting. He was at the Glitz Ultra Lounge in Orlando in February when two people were killed. He said he froze in place from the shock of it.

___

Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26, lived with his partner, Simon Adrian Carillo-Fernandez, and three Chihuahuas in a home they bought last year, a friend, Andrea Herrera, told the Orlando Sentinel. 

Yamilka Pimentel, a cousin, said Araceno-Montero moved with his father from the Dominican Republic to Central Florida as a child. 

"Oscar was a very sweet guy. Very sweet to everybody," Pimentel told the newspaper. "Every time he met somebody they would like him a lot. He was the type of guy who goes along with anybody."

___

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33, was a biologics supervisor at the OneBlood donation center, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

"He's alive in the people's lives that he saved," said Mat Simons, who worked under Ayala-Ayala and said his supervisor was also a blood donor.

Ayala-Ayala had bought a car and a house within the past year. Wednesday would have been his one-year anniversary of home-ownership.

___

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21, had recently moved to Florida from Cuba and was still trying to master English, according to a friend.

Sarai Torres told the Orlando Sentinel she met Martinez last year, and he "always had a smile on his face."

"Every interaction I had with him was totally positive," she said, adding that she remembers Martinez as an outgoing person who introduced her to his other friends. "He's the type of person [who would] see you in a parking lot and he'd have a whole conversation with you."

Torres, 30, said she saw Martinez several times at Pulse nightclub, which she described as a good place to meet new people. She was not at the club during the shooting.

Martin Benitez Torres, 33, had recently moved to Orlando and was working to become a pharmacy technician.

Benitez was a student at a Tampa satellite campus of the Ana G. Mendez University System, based in Puerto Rico, where he was born. In a university statement, one of his professors called him a "diligent and extremely hardworking student."

Benitez was "thankful for the opportunity to advance his career and hopeful to make his dreams a reality," according to Spanish professor Carla Zayas.

He posted several photos and videos on his Facebook page in the days before the shooting, including one in the kitchen cooking with family members.

The cover photo on his Facebook profile includes a quote in Spanish: "If God takes away my eyesight, it's because I've been allowed to see everything that's beautiful in the world."

___

Capt. Antonio Davon Brown, 29, served in the Army Reserve and deployed to Kuwait for nearly a year.

Brown graduated in 2008 from Florida A&M, where he majored in criminal justice and participated in the ROTC program.

Lt. Col. Kelvin Scott, a ROTC instructor, remembered Brown's positive attitude and sense of humor.

"He kept a smile on his face," Scott told the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper. "He was willing to work very hard to earn his commission."

Devonta White, a friend of Brown's, said Brown was known in their dorm for waking up early for drills and becoming close friends with his fellow trainees, but also making friends outside of ROTC.

"He had a car so when he went to Wal-Mart, I would ride with him," White said. "We just became good friends over time. He helped me more than he knows."

An Army service record shows Brown deployed to Kuwait from April 2010 to March 2011.

___

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29, worked as a financial aid officer for Keiser University's Jacksonville, Florida, campus.

As a volunteer, he co-chaired a clothing drive for the homeless for the Jacksonville Jaycees, a nonprofit organization.

"Darryl was very passionate about working in the community and wasn't afraid to take the lead," Jacksonville Jaycees President Shawn DeVries told the Indianapolis Star. "If someone needed anything, he'd usually just ask for the details: where, when and what are the deadlines."

Burt left behind family in central Indiana, and recently earned a degree in human resources management.

Keiser University's chancellor, Arthur Keiser, called Burt "a highly respected member of the KU team" on the school's website, and the school was providing grief counselors to help Burt's colleagues.

___ 

Jonathan Camuy, 25, moved to Central Florida from his native Puerto Rico to work for the Spanish-language television network Telemundo, which is owned by NBCUniversal.

"We want to extend our thoughts, prayers and deepest condolences to Jonathan's family and friends," NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises Chairman Cesar Conde said in a statement.

Camuy was a contractor who worked in audience management on the Telemundo show "La Voz Kids," a singing competition for children inspired by NBC's "The Voice," according to NBCUniversal President and CEO Steve Burke.

He previously worked for Telemundo Puerto Rico's "Alexandra de Noche" and was killed at Pulse, family and friends told Telemundo.

Camuy was also a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, which confirmed his death in a statement from the president Monday.

Those who knew Camuy described him as caring and talented with a bright future.

___

Angel Candelario-Padro moved to Orlando from Chicago in January to be closer to family. 

The 28-year-old nurse from Guanica, Puerto Rico, soon found a new job and a new love. 

"He was a humble boy, a good student. He liked to work and wasn't too much into partying," his aunt Leticia Padro told Univision

But he made an exception Saturday night, when he and his boyfriend went to Pulse with friends. 

Leticia Padro said her nephew's boyfriend, who was shot several times and is in the hospital, told her that after hearing several shots he turned to Candelario-Padro and asked if he was OK. 

"He told him he was OK, but in that instant he fell to the floor," Padro said. 

Minutes before the shooting, Candelario-Padro had posted a photo on Facebook that showed him smiling broadly while standing next to his boyfriend and two friends. 

Candelario-Padro, who served in the National Guard, loved music and had played the clarinet in his hometown's band, Efrain Padro, an uncle who lives in Guanica, told The Associated Press. 

"A lot of people know our family in Guanica and are showing a lot of support in this tough time," he said. "We're waiting for his body to be brought home. We will welcome him with music." 

Simon Adrian Carrillo-Fernandez, 31, loved to travel and "worked to be able to enjoy his life," said co-worker Ivonne Irizarry.

A manager at McDonald's, Carillo-Fernandez had traveled to the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Mexico and went on cruises, Irizarry said.

He and his partner, Oscar Aracena-Montero, who also was killed at the nightclub, had just returned from Niagara Falls, Irizarry told the Orlando Sentinel.

Carillo-Fernandez never forgot a birthday, she said, and would bring in cakes for his McDonald's co-workers.

Colleagues said Carrillo-Fernandez's attention to detail was a trademark of his leadership style.

"He had to be the best, that was his thing. I cook the best, I clean the best, I work the best," she said of him.

___

Juan Chavez Martinez, 25, was a beloved boss and friend, friends and co-workers told the Orlando Sentinel.

Friends said Martinez came to the U.S. from Huichapan, Mexico, and worked as a housekeeping supervisor for a hospitality service company.

"He was extremely friendly, very dedicated to his family, to his co-workers . It is very difficult. Everybody loved him," said Alicia Amarro, chief financial officer for the company, APDC Services.

Jose Crisantos used to work with Martinez at Reunion Resorts and also remembered Martinez's kindness.

"He was very well known among us as very kind and loving," Crisantos said. "There was nobody else like him. It is a devastating loss."

___

Luis Daniel Conde, 39, ran Alta Peluqueria D'magazine, a beauty salon in Kissimmee, with his longtime partner, Juan Pablo Rivera Velasquez, who was also killed at Pulse.

"Everyone knows about this beauty salon," Irene Rivera told the Orlando Sentinel. She spoke of the couple's work on the Belieza Latina pageant.

Tania Mercador was in tears as she described how she was supposed to have joined Conde and Velasquez at Pulse the night they died.

"I used GPS and got lost," she said. "It kept sending me to the wrong address."

___

Cory James Connell, 21, was his family's superhero, his brother Ryan said in a Facebook post.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, friends and even a former middle school teacher posted to Facebook remembering Connell.

"I've taught almost 1,700 kids at Lee. He was so special," said Shelley Klein, a science teacher at Lee Middle School. "All of his teachers at Lee adored him. We describe him as our all-time favorite."

Nancy Robbinson, a member of the Orange County School Board, remembered the smiles and hugs Connell greeted her with when she saw him at Publix where he worked.

"Every time I saw him, he greeted me with a warm, inviting smile and a cheery, 'Hey, Mrs. Robbinson,' and sometimes I was even blessed to get a hug," she wrote. "I just saw him at Publix a week ago and got one of those great hugs.

___

Tevin Eugene Crosby's inspirational posts on Facebook — "2016 will be the best year ever" — represented his drive for success. 

Chavis Crosby, told the Orlando Sentinel that his brother was ambitious and hard-working. "Whatever goal he had in mind, he worked hard. Whether alone or on a team, he worked on that goal." 

Tevin Crosby, 25, was director of operations for a Michigan marketing firm. He recently visited his family in Statesville, North Carolina, to watch several nieces and nephews graduate. Then he traveled to Orlando after passing along some brotherly advice about business and setting goals. He loved to travel for work and fun, Chavis Crosby said. 

"He was definitely a good person and a good brother to me," he said.

Franky Jimmy De Jesus Velazquez, 50, worked as a visual merchandiser, designing displays for an Orlando clothing store, according to his Facebook page. He posted international and funny messages on his page, including a T-shirt that read: "Never underestimate an old man who is also a visual merchandiser."

On a list of victims with an average age of 29 years old, Velazquez was the oldest. But age never became a barrier for Velazquez, former co-worker Bret Werner said.

"He was a very outgoing, friendly person," said Werner, who worked with him at a clothing store in Miami. "Everyone wanted to be around him."

Among family and friends in his native Puerto Rico, Velazquez was known for Jibaro folk dancing, said his sister Shiela De Jesus. "He was a very loved person."

___

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32, was quick to tell someone off if she thought they were in the wrong, but it was her way of showing she cared, an ex-girlfriend said.

Drayton had been in legal trouble involving drugs, but Ashleigh Alleyne told the Orlando Sentinel Drayton was changing after they had been arrested together a couple years ago.

"She was actually putting in effort, because we both hit rock bottom at the same time," Alleyne said. "She pushed me to get through her issues,a nd I always tried to do the same for her."

___

Frank Escalante Hernandez, 27, loved fashion and lived to purchase the finest pieces of clothing at Calvin Klein or Armani.

"He had the best of everything, the most expensive," said Jessica Leal, 19, one of his five siblings. "He liked the good stuff. And he worked hard for it."

A manager at a Calvin Klein store in Orlando, Hernandez grew up in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, near the U.S.-Mexico border, and had lived in Central Florida for three years.

Hernandez also loved Beyonce and going out to dance, and he frequented Pulse, Leal said. According to media reports, Hernandez's boyfriend was able to escape, but lost track of Hernandez in the chaos.

His sister has planned a fitting tribute: She'll wear Calvin Klein at his funeral.

"I'm pretty sure he'd love it if he saw it," she said.

___

Mercedez Marisol Flores went to Pulse nightclub almost every weekend, Flores' sister-in-law said Monday, often with her best friend Amanda Alvear. Both women died in the shooting. 

"She was very outgoing," Nancy Flores said of Mercedez Flores. "She had lots of friends. They used to always meet up at Pulse." 

Born in Queens, New York, the 26-year-old Flores moved to Florida when she was a child, her sister-in-law said. She worked at Target and studied at Valencia College, a local community college. She wanted to become a party planner so she could coordinate events with her two older brothers, who are both DJs. 

Flores' family spent hours waiting at Orlando Regional Medical Center, then a staging area at a nearby hotel. 

Someone came to read the names of victims still hospitalized or being released. Mercedez Flores' name wasn't on the list. 

It wasn't until the early hours of Monday that her father got a call from the sheriff's office that his daughter had died, Nancy Flores said.

___

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 — known among family and friends as "Ommy" — was always the life of the party. 

"Peter makes a difference everywhere he goes. He was a happy person. If Peter is not at the party, no one wants to go," said his aunt, Sonia Cruz.

Gonzalez-Cruz went to Pulse on Saturday night with his best friend, 25-year-oldGilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, who was also killed. After news of the mass shooting emerged, Cruz said she held out hope for hours that her nephew would turn up in a hospital bed. 

Silva grew up in Manati, Puerto Rico, and moved to Orlando a few years ago, his cousin Irma Silva-Lauer told the Orlando Sentinel. He was an only child and "the light and the life of all the family gatherings," Silva-Lauer said.

But late Sunday afternoon, she was told he was among those killed at the club. 

Cruz said she had her nephew's car keys and was hoping to collect his car Sunday evening. It was parked at a Wendy's across the street from Pulse, one of many with yellow police caution tape tucked under the windshield wipers, vehicles left behind by victims of the shooting. 

Cruz said her nephew worked at UPS.

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22, told his cousin Robert Guerrero he was gay about two years ago, but he was worried about how the rest of his family would react. He did not tell them until just before the beginning of this year. And when he did?

"They were very accepting," said Guerrero, 19. "As long as he was happy, they were OK with it."

On Sunday morning, after learning that so many people had died at a gay nightclub, Pulse, that his cousin had gone to once in a while, Guerrero started to become concerned. Later in the day, his fears were realized when the family learned that Guerrero was identified as one of the victims.

Robert Guerrero said his cousin worked as a telemarketer and in recent months he started attending college at the University of Central Florida. Guerrero said his cousin didn't quite know what he wanted to study, but he was happy to be in school. And he was happy in a relationship with a person his relatives came to regard as a member of the family, Guerrero said.

"He was always this amazing person (and) he was like a big brother to me," he said of his cousin. "He was never the type to go out to parties, would rather stay home and care for his niece and nephew."

Guerrero's boyfriend was identified as Christopher Leinonen, and Robert Guerrero said Juan's boyfriend was regarded by relatives as part of the family.

___

Paul Terrell Henry, 41, was a caring father of two who loved to dance, play piano and sing, according to his friends and his boyfriend.

Francisco Hernandez, Henry's boyfriend, told the Orlando Sentinel the Chicago native's main priority was to make sure his kids were taken care of.

"Such a loving spirit. I'll always have him in my heart," said Hernandez, who added that he will most remember Henry for his smile.

Bettye Edwards, of Oviedo, told the newspaper that she and Henry started a church briefly and that Henry had a master's degree in business from Florida State University and a theological degree. Henry never took a lesson, Edwards said, but he was a talented musician who sang and played the organ and piano.

Danielle Biggers, of Orlando, said she worked with Henry as a sales representative at a resort company.

"He always would make sure he would say hello," she said. "He just was over the top and made everybody smile."

___

Jose Honorato wrote a simple, heartfelt message on his brother's Facebook page Sunday: "Come home bro, I'm waiting for you." 

Miguel Honorato did not survive the shooting.

A father of three, among them a one and two-year-old, 30-year-old Miguel Honorato managed four restaurants in central Florida along with a catering business on the side and was always the one to drop everything to help out his family, which included seven siblings. 

"He was my mentor and my supporter. He helped very much in my parent's house and work," Jose Honorato said. Even though Miguel was younger he was the one who gave sage advice about the family business, his brother said. 

Jose Honorato changed his Facebook photo Monday to one of the two brothers smiling over a charcoal grill, one of many happy memories cooking together.

___

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40, was known as "Javi" by his friends and as "Harvey George-Kings" on Facebook — a literal English translation of his name.

But his Facebook profile name belied a deep pride in his Latino heritage, friends told the Orlando Sentinel.

"He was proud to be Latino, super proud," friend Jose Diaz told the newspaper, adding: "He was always positive. He was very humble. He was a lovely friend."

Diaz recalled being sold a wallet by Jorge-Reyes, who worked at a Gucci store at an Orlando mall.

Another friend, Edith Colon of Miami, said Jorge-Reyes was a top salesman and makeup artist.

___

Jason Josaphat, 19, called his mother as a gunman opened fire to ask for help, his aunt and uncle said.

She stayed on the line with him and could hear gunshots in the background, but tried to calm him down as he hid in the bathroom, Jimmy and Myrleine Inelus told KPNX-TV in Arizona, where Josaphat went to high school.

His mother then didn't hear anything for as many as 20 seconds.

"It was dead silence on the phone ... I think that's when the gunman finally made his way into the bathroom," Jimmy Inelus said.

Josaphat moved to Orlando after graduating from high school in 2014. A childhood friend, Messiah McMillian, told KNXV-TV that he was one of the first people whom Josaphat told he was gay.

"When I found out, I never judged him," McMillian said. "I never looked at him any differently. He was always my friend."

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice tapped out a series of chilling text messages to his mother from a bathroom at the Orlando nightclub. The 45-minute exchange began with a message of love. 

"Mommy I love you," the first message to Mina Justice said at 2:06 a.m. The messages became more frantic as he confirmed to her that the shooter was in the bathroom where he was hiding. 

"He's a terror," her son said. 

Eddie Justice, 30, was normally a homebody who liked to eat and work out, his mother said. He liked to make everyone laugh. He worked as an accountant and lived in a condo in downtown Orlando. 

"Lives in a sky house, like the Jeffersons," his mother said she liked to say, referring to the TV sitcom about a family living in a hi-rise.

___

Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25, started dancing at the age of 10 and was comfortable with any number of styles, from salsa to ballroom, his cousin Ana Figueroa said. 

Figueroa told the Orlando Sentinel that Laureano Disla invited her out for a night of dancing at Pulse nightclub, but she told him she was too tired. 

He was out with two roommates, both of whom were injured in the shooting, she said. The newspaper did not identify the roommates. 

Born in Puerto Rico, Laureano Disla moved to Orlando about three years ago to become a dancer and choreographer, Figueroa said. 

"I want people to remember Anthony as someone who was very happy and very kind," Figueroa said. "This is just devastating for our family and his friends."

___

Christopher Leinonen, 32, was at Pulse with his boyfriend, Juan Ramon Guerrero, and friend Brandon Wolf, who sent a text to Leinonen's mother to say a shooting had occurred and her son was missing. 

Christine Leinonen drove to Orlando at 4 a.m. from Polk County, southwest of the city. When she arrived, she began checking emergency rooms to find her son. She never did. 

"These are nonsensical killings of our children," she said, sobbing. "They're killing our babies!" 

She said Wolf survived by hiding in a bathroom and running out as the bullets flew.

___

Isaiah Henderson watched his mother die. The 21-year-old was out with Brenda Lee Marquez McCool when bullets sprayed the crowd at Pulse nightclub shortly after 2 a.m. Sunday. McCool, 49, would often visit the club with her son, who is gay.

A two-time cancer survivor and mother of 11, McCool had roots in New York and spent time in California before heading back east. She settled down in Florida with six of her kids, her oldest daughter, Khalisha Pressley, told NBC News.

"She was always really cool, but really a mom at the end of the day," Pressley explained, calling McCool "the lovingest person in the world."

Pressley answered her brother's call early Sunday. He was screaming.

"He saw everybody getting killed," Pressley said, adding that Henderson, who survived, "feels it was his fault" their mother died.

___

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35, had a humor and warmth that made him a great salesman — and helped him find love, a co-worker said. 

"He laughed with the people and would make jokes," said Claudia Agudelo, who worked with Perez at a perfume store. "He was always happy." 

Mendez Perez met his longtime partner, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, about a decade ago when he sold him the fragrance Declaration by Cartier, Agudelo told the Orlando Sentinel. Wilson-Leon also died in the nightclub shooting. 

Mendez Perez moved to the U.S. from Puerto Rico when he was a teenager, and made friends quickly, father Angel Mendez said. 

"He was a real dynamic kid," he said. 

Sister-in-law Katia Mendez said Mendez Perez also was a fun-loving and doting uncle who would buy her three children candy and ice cream. 

"He was like a little kid when he was with them," she said.

Kimberly Morris, 37, moved to Orlando just months ago and had taken a job at Pulse nightclub as a bouncer, friends told NBC Connecticut. Morris was a native of Torrington, Connecticut.

"She was so excited," ex-girlfriend Starr Shelton told the Orlando Sentinel. "She'd just started working there and told me how she was thrilled to get more involved in the LGBT community there," Shelton said.

Friends described Morris as a kind, sweet person.

Narvell Benning met Morris when they were in college at Post University in Waterbury, Connecticut, where Benning said they both played basketball.

"I can't think of a time when I did not see a smile on her face," Benning told the Sentinel. "I'm so thankful of the good memories I have of her. This is just unreal."

___

Akyra Murray — the youngest victim to be identified — was barely a week out of high school when she was slain.

The 18-year-old basketball star at Philadelphia's West Catholic Preparatory High School was on vacation visiting her brother when she ventured to the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. She never left.

Murray, who had a full ride to Mercyhurst College, graduated third in her class and was a leading scorer on the basketball team, hitting the 1,000-point mark early in her senior season, according to the school.

"Akyra was a superstar who was a leader amongst her classmates and teammates," the school said in a statement posted on its website Monday.

___

Jean Carlos Nieves Rodriguez, 27, was remembered by family and friends as a kind man and a hard worker.

Nieves Rodriguez, originally from Puerto Rico, had worked as manager of a McDonald's and a check-cashing store and bought his first house a month and a half ago, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

"He wanted to be the best at what he did, and he would work very hard to achieve that... That's why whatever job he went to, he became a manager," friend Ivonne Irizarry told the newspaper.

His sister Valeria Monroig said he "cared more about others than about himself."

___

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo wanted to be a star. The 20-year-old dancer was working at Starbucks inside a Kissimmee Target store while studying theater, and would have auditioned on Tuesday for a play, said his sister, Belinette Ocasio-Capo. 

"He was one of the most amazing dancers," she said. "He would always call me and say, 'I'm going to be the next Hollywood star.' He really did want to make it and be known. 

"Now his name ended up being all around the world, like he wanted — just not this way." 

Omar, as he was known to family and friends, seemed brash to 70-year-old Claudia Mason, who worked with him at Starbucks. But after getting to know her much younger co-worker, "I realized he had a very outgoing personality," said Mason. "His sense of humor was definitely his defining personality trait." 

Ocasio-Capo was hired as a cashier before moving over to the Starbucks, and became a great barista, Mason said. 

"Omar got along with everyone. Young, old, male, female, gay, or straight, it didn't matter to Omar," she said.

___

Geraldo Ortiz-Jimenez, 25, was known to friends and on Facebook as "Drake." He was proud of his Dominican heritage, posing with a flag of the Dominican Republic in celebration of a Dominican model winning Nuestra Belleza Latina 2016. The photo, posted on Facebook, included Spanish-language hashtags that translate as #proud #Dominican. 

Ortiz-Jimenez graduated from J.P. McCaskey High School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 2010, school district spokeswoman Kelly Burkholder told The Associated Press. He was living in Puerto Rico, according to his social media accounts, and studying at Universidad del Este in Carolina, Puerto Rico. 

Kevin Ortiz, a friend from college, described him as a humble man who was always concerned about staying fit and working toward fulfilling his dream of being a dancer.

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36, followed the crowd from a housewarming party to Pulse, according to former roommate Abismael Colon Gomez.

"I am really in shock that he was in the club, because he was not usually a club-scene person," Colon Gomez told the Orlando Sentinel.

Ortiz-Rivera worked in merchandise management and had earned a degree in communications from a university in Puerto Rico.

He left behind his husband of a year, Ivan Dominguez; they were married June 26, the day the U.S. Supreme Court gave same-sex couples the right to marry in all 50 states.

"It was a big and happy coincidence," Dominguez, 30, told The Associated Press. Dominguez is grieving, but said he still feels connected to his husband. He was not at the nightclub because he was supposed to work the next day.

Another friend posted on Ortiz-Rivera's Facebook page after learning of his death: "God just gained one funny and caring angel today."

___

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32, moved to Florida from Mexico in the early 2000s in search of a better life. 

He went back to his home state of Veracruz for several years to live with his family but returned to Tampa less than a year ago, relatives and friends said. 

"We came here for a better life," his cousin Jose Paniagua told Newsday. "We came because here in the United States there are many opportunities here and because we were fleeing because in our country there was a lot of crime, violence and death ... and we expect it should be more peaceful here." 

Rayon Paniagua, a construction worker, was looking forward to meeting friends at Pulse nightclub for another night of dancing, something he loved to do, longtime friend Lorena Barragan told the Orlando Sentinel

Barragan said Rayon Paniagua was a hard worker who sent money back home. 

"He was the best," said Barragan, who met Rayon Paniagua at church. "He was loyal. He was always trying to do stuff to make you feel better." 

___

Enrique Rios Jr. — a churchgoer and college student from New York — was on vacation when he was gunned down at the Pulse nightclub. He was in Orlando to celebrate a friend's birthday.

"I'm not angry at the gunman. I'm angry about the situation. I'm going to forever miss my son ... but I still have the hope that I'm going to see him again one day," Rios' mother, Gertrude Merced, told reporters as she packed her bags outside her New York apartment and headed to Florida.

The 25-year-old lived in Brooklyn and studied at St. Francis College, where he had transferred last summer in hopes of completing his degree, the school said.

"Sadly, his dreams were cut short by this senseless act of violence," St. Francis College said in a statement to NBC New York.

Neighbors in Brooklyn remembered Rios as a "sweet person" who was community oriented and "always smiling."

___

Juan Pablo Rivera Velazquez, 37, worked at Alta Peluqueria D'Magazine with Conde.

Client Alexandra Ale told the Orlando Sentinel the salon would often be filled with clients who were there just to see the Velazquez and Conde.

Ale said the salon would often provide free services to women who had been victims of domestic abuse.

"They would take the shirt off their back to help others," said Jocelyn De Leon, another client.

Messages were left in chalk on the sidewalk outside their salon. "We will always thank you for making us feel beautiful," one message read.

___

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24, was out for a night of dancing with her brother-in law and a friend, and posed for a photo before a gunman opened fire. 

Known as "Mary" to family and friends, Rodriguez Solivan was married to race car driver Juan Borges and had two children, the Orlando Sentinel reported. 

Her friend, Jonathan Antonio Camuy, also died. Her brother-in-law, William Sabad Borges, was shot twice, but the injuries were not serious, the newspaper reported. 

"I swear, my heart has a ladder tall enough to reach you both," Sabad Borges wrote on Facebook. "Mary, you leave me with a pain that I never thought I would feel."

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24, was always friendly and outgoing, "the most positive guy I've ever known," friend Josh Palange said.

They became friends during middle school, and in high school, took honors classes and band together — Sanfeliz on trumpet. Though they didn't see each other much after graduating in 2010, "we stayed friends on Facebook," Palange told the Tampa Bay Times.

Sanfeliz's family moved there from Cuba in the 1960s, family friend Mike Wallace said. Sanfeliz took business classes at a community college and was hired as a bank teller and worked his way up to become a personal banker, Wallace said.

"He (was) a wonderful person and this is such a tragedy," said Wallace. "He was cut down in his prime."

___

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35, went by Eman Valentino on the stage. He dressed elegantly in a top hat, tie and gloves, collecting tips from the audience between high kicks and spins, according to a YouTube video. 

Off the stage, Rosado had a young son who had graduated from pre-kindergarten. 

"I have no words to express how proud and happy I am of my little boy," Rosado wrote on Facebook recently about his son. 

Yemil Royce, a friend, described Rosado as hard-working, talkative and friendly: "He was a lovely friend, brother and father."

___

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25, moved to Orlando a few years ago, his cousin, Irma Silva-Lauer, told the Orlando Sentinel. 

He was an only child and "the light and the life of all the family gatherings," Silva-Lauer said.

He worked at UPS and died at Pulse alongside his best friend, Peter "Ommy" Gonzalez-Cruz.

___

Edward Sotomayor, 34, was a caring, energetic man known for wearing a silly top hat on cruises, according to David Sotomayor, who said the two discovered they were cousins after meeting at Orlando's annual Gay Days festival around a decade ago. 

David Sotomayor, who lives in Chicago, told The Associated Press Sunday that Edward worked for a company that held gay cruises and often traveled to promote the company's events. 

"He was just always part of the fun," David Sotomayor said. 

The two texted regularly and kept in touch, last seeing each other earlier this year at a filming of the television reality show "RuPaul's Drag Race," David Sotomayor said. 

David Sotomayor is a drag queen who appeared on a season of the show using the name "Jade." He said Edward Sotomayor supported him and often sent him Facebook messages. They last exchanged messages late last week. 

"You never think that's going to be the last time you speak to him," David Sotomayor said. "It's just heartbreaking to know it just can happen anytime."

David Sotomayor is a drag queen who appeared on a season of the show using the name "Jade." He said Edward Sotomayor supported him and often sent him Facebook messages. They last exchanged messages late last week.

"You never think that's going to be the last time you speak to him," David Sotomayor said. "It's just heartbreaking to know it just can happen anytime."

___

Singing was Shane Tomlinson's passion. He had just performed as the lead vocalist with "The Frequency Band" on Saturday night at Blue Martini club before going to Pulse, according to the Orlando Sentinel. 

"He was destined for a grand stage and he was doing exactly what he wanted to do," said Dr. Lathan Turner, associate director of student transitions at East Carolina University, where Tomlinson graduated in 2003 with a degree in communication. 

Tomlinson, 33, was a vibrant and charismatic lead vocalist for the band, performing at night clubs and weddings in the Orlando area. 

"I've never met anyone like him," said Carey Sobel, an Orlando resident who hired Tomlinson's band to play for his upcoming wedding. "He was really special." 

Tarrick Cox, an adviser for Eastern Carolina's gospel choir who worked with Tomlinson when he was a member, remembers his contagious personality and the laughter that surrounded him. 

"He was gifted and creative. He was a go-getter," Cox said in a statement from the university. 

Leroy Valentin Fernandez recently had found a job as a leasing agent for an Orlando apartment complex, said his friend, Jennifer Rodriguez. "He had finally found something he liked. He was taking care of his mom," she said. 

He was her hair stylist and became one of her best friends, she said. "He was like a brother," she said. "He was just really very spirited and always happy, you know?" 

Fernandez, 25, recently had been dating an older man, a dancer known by the stage name Eman Valentino. That dancer was Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35, who also died and left behind a young son who had graduated from pre-kindergarten earlier this month. 

"I have no words to express how proud and happy I am of my little boy," Rosado, 35, wrote on Facebook recently about his son. 

A friend described Rosado as hard-working, talkative and friendly. Said Yemil Royce: "He was a lovely friend, brother and father." 

A YouTube video shows him dancing as an elegantly dressed Eman Valentino at the Orlando club Parliament House. He wears a cape, tie and gloves and collects tips from the audience between high kicks and spins.

___

Luis Vielma worked as a ride attendant at Universal Studios' Wizarding World of Harry Potter, according to NBCUniversal president and CEO Steve Burke.

Author J.K. Rowling tweeted about Vielma's death.

"Luis Vielma worked on the Harry Potter ride at Universal. He was 22 years old. I can't stop crying," she wrote.

Vielma studied emergency medical services at Seminole State College and was enrolled in a CPR class over the summer, according to a press release from the college.

"These events have shocked and saddened the Central Florida community and we are heartbroken over the tragic events this weekend," the college wrote.

High school friend Eddi Anderson told the Tampa Bay Times that Vielma loved his job at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and was known for his pleasant attitude and warm demeanor. 

Josh Boesch, who worked with Vielma at Universal, told the Orlando Sentinel: "He was always a friend you could call. He was always open and available." 

Vielma "just wanted to make people smile," another co-worker, Olga Glomba, said.

___

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, who went by Dani, barely spoke English when he moved from Puerto Rico to Florida in 2004, but he wasn't deterred by the language barrier. His cousin, Laly Santiago-Leon, said he learned English in six months, got a job at a store that sells fragrances and quickly rose through the ranks. 

"He was loved by everyone," Santiago-Leon said. "He walked into the room and all eyes were on him because of his positive energy, just what he radiated." 

She said her cousin frequented Pulse nightclub with his partner of six years, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, who also was killed in the attack. The two loved Latin Night, and Wilson-Leon, 37, had posted pictures of the club online before Sunday morning's rampage. 

Santiago-Leon, 40, said her cousin wanted to be treated like everybody else, to be a family man, to be a good person and to help people in need. He had an infectious laugh and loved to cook Puerto Rican food, she said. 

She learned of his death Sunday. 

"I couldn't believe that he was gone. That he is gone. That this is happening," she said. "I'm heartbroken."

___

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31, was quiet but knew how to treat guests at Walt Disney World, where he worked as a seasonal employee, a former co-worker said.

"He was one of the kindest people you could meet," co-worker Kenneth Berrios told the Orlando Sentinel. "We had students from the London program ... and Jerry was always willing to give rides to them and show them around town."

Wright "was a great guy to work with," former co-worker Scott Dickison said. "He was quiet but really wonderful with all the guests. He always had a smile on his face."

Dickison said Wright had worked most recently in merchandising on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, but also had worked in Tomorrowland and at Universal Studios in Orlando.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: Family Photos
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<![CDATA[Gay Pride Celebrations Turn Somber After Massacre]]>Tue, 14 Jun 2016 14:36:55 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-539566938-pride.jpg

What should have been a celebratory time for gay, lesbian and transgender communities around the world became a time of mourning following the slaughter of at least 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando.

June is pride month, but parades on Sunday took on a somber tone after the attack on Pulse, where 29-year-old Omar Mateen opened fire in the early morning hours.

Los Angeles had a particular scare, when a heavily armed man with possible explosives was arrested before the pride parade in West Hollywood. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said there did not appear to be any link to the Orlando massacre but that the man said was heading for the parade.  

Meanwhile, the parades in Los Angeles and Philadelphia began with moments of silence and police increased their presence. Marchers in Philadelphia said the killings gave them new resolve to live their lives openly, without fear.

"It's so sad, and you would think that we'd come further," Haden Reed, an assistant manager at an LGBT bookstore in Philadelphia, told NBC Philadelphia. "But this is just a reminder there's a really long way to go."

The rampage during pride month left people across the country stricken and Orlando's gay community in shock, said Bill Manes, an editor of the city’s LGBT newspaper, "Watermark."

"As far as I know, this was not an orchestrated effort," he said. "It's just something that happens when someone wants to be a really bad person."

The shooter's father, Seddique Mir Mateen, told NBC News on Sunday his son apparently was motivated by anger toward gay men rather than religion. He had recently gotten upset when he saw two men kissing in front of his wife and child, the father said.

"They were kissing each other and touching each other and he said, 'Look at that. In front of my son they are doing that,'" the father said. "And then we were in the men's bathroom and men were kissing each other."

Sources told NBC News that Mateen, in a phone call to 911 in the moments before the rampage, swore allegiance to the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. ISIS has reportedly treated gay people brutally, releasing images that seem to show gay men being hurled off buildings and then stoned to death.

At the Stonewall Inn in New York City, a symbol of gay rights after a police raid led to riots in the late 1960s, flowers were left at its entrance before a Sunday evening vigil. The National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in Orlando said it was heartbroken by the senseless attack.

"We mourn for those lost and in need of answers," it said in a statement.

"This only reaffirms and strengthens our commitment to fight for the inclusion and protection of the LGBT community nationwide and around the globe."

In Toronto, police tweeted that they were reassessing security for all pride events for the month. A candlelight vigil was being planned for downtown Sunday night and Pride Toronto said that as a community it stood united during a painful time.

"What a terrible day," Pride in London tweeted. "But let's remember that #LoveWins and we show our strength by coming together in Pride."

The Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity said it was devastated. It urged others not to rush to assign blame to any individual or group beyond the shooter.

"It is also not lost on us that this horrific tragedy occurred during LGBTQ Pride month, which this year coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, typically a period of peace and intense self-reflection," it said in a statement. "It pains us to see that these periods of joy, celebration, and peace have been marred so violently with such horror."

The Harvey Milk Foundation, created in honor of one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States, said prayers and love were not enough. Hate continues to cause too much grief, it said.

"As we reach out to comfort the Orlando families, and as we support the courage for the injured to heal, may we also have the strength to address and deal with the roots of hatred and separation that target any minority community with violence, any where in the world," the foundation said.



Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Stonewall Inn Tributes]]>Mon, 13 Jun 2016 17:22:59 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/189*120/61216inn.jpg

A memorial for the victims of the nation's deadliest mass shooting grew at the Stonewall Inn on Monday morning, less than a day after a spontaneous vigil drew hundreds of mourners to New York City's landmark of gay rights. 

Those who turned out at the historic Greenwich Village bar on Sunday night mourned the dozens of people killed at a gay nightclub in Orlando and decried violence and intolerance aimed at the LGBT community.

"I can't even begin to comprehend it," said John Simpson, an Upper West Side resident. "It's just beyond tragic. It's just such a flood of emotions right now. Sadness. Despair. Anger and just wondering why?"

Buildings in the city's skyline also paid tribute to the victims Sunday night. The Empire State Building went dark and the One World Trade Center's spire was lit up in a rainbow. The spires of One Bryant Park and 4 Times Square were also lit up in rainbow colors. 

At street level, candles, rainbow flags and bundles of flowers, some fresh, some wilted from the morning sun, had been placed in front of the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village bar that became a symbol of gay rights after a 1969 police raid led to a violent street riot.

Pockets of NYPD officers, some armed with automatic weapons, stood nearby. There was a heavy police presence outside a number of gay bars and businesses throughout the night following the targeted attack in Florida. 

New York City went on high alert after gunman Omar Mateen opened fire and killed at least 49 people and wounded 53 others at a gay nightclub in Orlando. 

"We are in contact with law enforcement authorities in Florida, as well as the FBI, and we are closely monitoring developments in the investigation,” the New York Police Department said in a statement.

Another vigil was planned for 7 p.m. Monday outside the Stonewall Inn.

Activist Andy Humm, host of the "Gay USA" TV show, said Stonewall is "where we go when things like this happen." Sunday's gathering is spontaneous for individuals feeling a need to be together, he said.

One of those drawn to Stonewall was Jonathan Foulk, 32, of San Francisco, who left a bouquet of sunflowers on the sidewalk outside the bar.

"The thought of someone even planning something like that just breaks my heart," he said of the Orlando massacre.

Foulk, a development officer for the Trevor Project, which operates a suicide hotline to serve the LGBT community, said he worries about the impact of the shootings on gay youths.

"People will be afraid to be themselves," he said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio condemned the Orlando shootings as "not just an attack on human beings, but an attack on our values; our values of tolerance and freedom and belief and respect for all faiths."

He assured New Yorkers that there have been no credible threats made against the city, but noted that law enforcement is on high alert.

"There is no city in the world better prepared to stop terror, to stop hate crimes – you will see the evidence of that in the coming days," the mayor said.

The mayor and first lady Chirlane McCray plan to attend the vigil on Monday.

De Blasio and two police officials declined to confirm reports that Mateen was born in New York. De Blasio said there was "very limited evidence of any connection to this city." The Washington Post said his ex-wife told the newspaper his family is from Afghanistan and he was born in New York before the family later moved to Florida.

Police Chief of Department James O'Neill said there are pictures of Mateen wearing an NYPD T-shirt circulating on social media.

"At this time, he has no — absolutely no — connection to anything NYPD. I don't know where he got the shirts, but they are easily available in a lot of places throughout the United States," he said.

De Blasio said a police force of more than 500 officers specially trained to fight terrorism would be deployed, particularly at key institutions representing the gay and lesbian community, including Stonewall Inn.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement he was "shocked" and "saddened" by the shooting.

"New Yorkers stand in solidarity with the people of Florida, and the LGBT community and I have directed flags at state buildings to be flown at half-staff in the memory of those who were lost in this terrible act of mass murder," Cuomo said.

“This is just one more horrific reminder of the need for Congress to pass real and sensible gun safety legislation, just as we did in New York.‎ It is far past time for Washington to act."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago

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<![CDATA[Obama Speaks Following Deadliest Massacre in US History]]>Sun, 12 Jun 2016 16:25:39 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/ObamaWhiteHouseOrlando-AP_16164669590260.jpg

President Obama addressed the nation Sunday following the deadly shooting at an Orlando nightclub, calling the massacre "an act of terror and an act of hate."

"Today as Americans, we grieve the brutal murder, the horrific massacre of dozens of innocent people," Obama said. "We pray for their families who are grasping for answers with broken hearts. We stand with the people of Orlando who have endured a terrible attack on their city."

A gunman wielding an assault-type rifle and a handgun opened fire inside a crowded gay nightclub early Sunday, killing at least 49 people before dying in a gunfight with SWAT officers, police said. It is the worst mass shooting in American history. 

Sunday's address from the White House briefing room marked the 15th time during his presidency that Obama has spoken in the wake of a mass shooting, according to NBC News. The briefing room is named for James S. Brady, the former press secretary who was shot and permanently disabled in an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, according to The Associated Press.

"We are still learning all the facts," Obama said.

Obama spoke after meeting with FBI Director James Comey and his homeland security and national security advisers, he said. The FBI is leading the investigation in partnership with local law enforcement agencies. 

"I've directed that the full resources of the federal government be made available for this investigation," said Obama, who spoke earlier in the day with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.

"This could have been any one of our communities, so I told Mayor Dyer that whatever help he and the people of Orlando need, they are going to get it," Obama said. "As a country, we are going to be there for the people of Orlando today, tomorrow, and for all the days to come."

The suspect was identified as Omar Mateen of Port St. Lucie, Florida. Law enforcement sources told NBC News that Mateen was born in New York in 1986 and lived in Port St. Lucie, 125 miles south of Orlando. 

"We must spare no effort to determine what, if any, inspiration or association this killer may have had with terrorist groups," Obama said. "What is clear is that he was a person who was filled with hatred."

The suspect exchanged gunfire with an officer working at the gay club known as Pulse around 2 a.m., when more than 300 people were inside. The gunman then went back inside and took hostages, Police Chief John Mina said.

Around 5 a.m., authorities sent in a SWAT team to rescue the hostages. 

"This is an especially heartbreaking day for all of our friends, our fellow Americans, who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender," Obama said.

"The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together with friends, to dance, and to sing, and to live. The place where they were attacked was more than a nightclub. It was a place of solidarity and empowerment, where people come together to raise awareness to speak their minds and to advocate for their civil rights," he said.

Expressing gratitude to law enforcement and first responders, Obama said the massacre was a "sobering reminder" that an attack on any American is an attack "on all of us."

"No act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or our values as Americans," he said.

Obama signed a proclamation on Sunday ordering flags to be flown at half-staff until sunset on Thursday in honor of the victims, the AP reported.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Tony Awards Mourn Orlando Victims]]>Mon, 13 Jun 2016 08:46:24 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-539730804-beacon.jpg

The shooting at a gay Florida nightclub has cast a shadow on the upcoming Tony Awards, with organizers dedicating Sunday's ceremony to the dead and Broadway performers rushing to embrace the LGBT community.

"Our hearts are heavy for the unimaginable tragedy that happened last night in Orlando. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those affected," the Tony Awards said in a statement Sunday. "The Tony Awards dedicate tonight's ceremony to them."

At least 49 people died early Sunday when a gunman opened fire inside a crowded nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It was the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

Organizers didn't say how the evening's Tony broadcast would be affected, but "Hamilton" — the musical about Founding Father Alexander Hamilton that is expected to win big — will drop its use of muskets in its performance, according to a show's spokesman.

The performance from the revival of "Spring Awakening," featuring a mix of hearing and deaf performers, was dedicated to the victims. The show's director, Michael Arden, called the attack "senseless."

Performers who have strong ties to the gay community like Donna Murphy and Audra McDonald took to Twitter to express their outrage over the attack. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the star and creator of "Hamilton" tweeted a rainbow-colored heart with "Orlando" written beneath it.

The shootings threatened to put a damper on the expected victory lap for "Hamilton," Miranda's hip-hop-flavored biography about the first U.S. treasury secretary starring diverse actors. It has become a cultural phenomenon, bringing attention to Broadway like no other.

"Hamilton" and the 38 new productions this season helped Broadway's attendance figures hit a record high, up 1.6 percent to 13.3 million ticket buyers. The box offices reported a record total gross of $1.37 billion - up 0.6 percent from the previous season.

This season featured unusual musical stories for Broadway: an unhappy wife and pie-maker in "Waitress;" the inside story of a forgotten 1920s African-American musical in "Shuffle Along;" and a bluegrass show about an unwed mother in the South in "Bright Star." One of the most dark and twisted shows was "American Psycho," with a knife-wielding hero smeared in blood.

The plays and play revivals included a look at Liberian sex slaves in "Eclipsed," a fractious family's Thanksgiving get-together in "The Humans," a tale about what might happen when the current English queen dies in "King Charles III" and two Arthur Miller unconventional revivals of "The Crucible" and "A View from the Bridge." In one, the actors were barefoot. In the other, a wolf-like dog made a chilling appearance.

Thomas Kail, nominated for a best directing Tony for "Hamilton," said he's noticed a shift away from traditional Broadway fare and an embrace of unconventional tales.

"Inherently what I think Lin's show is saying and what so many of the shows this season are saying is, 'Your story matters.' It can be about a waitress in a little town. It can be about a woman in the South. It can be about a group of dockworkers. It can be about a musical in the 1920s," he said. "We're listening and we heard you and we're responding to that."

The season also was rich in diversity among actors: Fourteen of the 40 Tony nominees for acting in plays and musicals - or 35 percent - are actors of color. And there are more non-whites nominated on the other side of the stage, including choreographer Savion Glover, directors George C. Wolfe and Liesl Tommy, and playwright Danai Gurira.

Women also broke records: "Eclipsed" is the first ever Broadway play to feature a director, writer and cast who are all women and, incidentally, all black women. On the musical side, "Waitress" marked the first time that the four top creative spots in a show — composer, choreographer, book writer and director — were four women.

Deaf performers also shined on Broadway in the revival of the musical "Spring Awakening," which also featured the first-ever performer in a wheelchair to perform in a Broadway show. The show used American Sign Language, attracting new theater-goers.

"It's a season that has brought audiences to Broadway that probably wouldn't have been interested or don't get the chance to come and see themselves onstage portrayed in ways where they feel moved and connected," said Adrienne Warren, who is nominated for a Tony in "Shuffle Along."

"That's changing. Audiences are changing. Stories are changing. The narrative is changing. This is a season where I see that we are in charge of the narrative and we're pushing the boundaries way past what we've seen in other seasons."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: Getty Images for Tony Awards Pro
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<![CDATA[How to Help the Victims of the Pulse Nightclub Shooting]]>Mon, 13 Jun 2016 12:27:50 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-539800056-orland.jpg

Support has been pouring in for the victims of the deadly mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, and their families.

A GoFundMe page set up by Equality Florida, the state's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, has already raised more than $1.5 million toward its goal of $2 million. The campaign raised $1 million faster than any other page in the history of GoFundMe, according the company vice president Dan Pfeiffer.

The money will be directed to the victims of Pulse Nightclub and their families.

"Funds raised on this page will be going directly to the victims and families affected by the horrific shooting at Orlando's Pulse Nightclub. Equality Florida is working with local organizations — who are also helping to raise funds — to ensure the money is distributed properly. Thank you for the support!" the page's administrators wrote.

At least 49 people died in the attack, when a Florida man opened fire on the packed club. He died in a shootout with police officers after taking hostages, authorities said.

Makeup artist Jeffree Star, who has a huge following on social media, apparently donated $20,000, which is listed on the page as the largest donation as of Sunday afternoon.

"For everyone donating and showing so much heartfelt love, it gives me hope. We have to stand together and BE HERE FOR EACH OTHER," he tweeted

The FBI has asked that anyone who was at the club with information call 1-800-CALL-FBI.

The city of Orlando created a page that will list names of deceased victims: Cityoforlando.net/victims. The blood donation organization OneBlood had requested people in the area donate, but later tweeted that it was at capacity.

Anyone in the area can check into Facebook as safe using the social media site's Safety Check page.

The Better Business Bureau is offering a list of tips for those wishing to donate to victims of rampage and their families.

The BBB warns against donating to poorly managed or unregistered charities and those who do not identify the intended use of funds. Additionally, it cautions well-intending donors not to fall victim to common click-bate scams that lead internet users to websites that look like those of reputable organizations but force them to divulge extensive financial information or lure them to download malware.

Following the shooting at a Colorado movie theater in 2012, the BBB said some organizations raising money failed to get permission from victims' families to use names and photographs. Ensuring that the families' wishes are respected is important in the wake of tragedy, the BBB emphasized. Furthermore, funds set up by the families are often not created as charities and it is important to verify they are managed by a third party such as a bank and used for their intended purpose such as funeral or medical costs.



Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[#NotInMyName: Muslims Condemn Orlando Nightclub Shooting]]>Sun, 12 Jun 2016 18:55:15 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/179*120/GettyImages-539547382.jpg

After 49 people were killed and another 53 wounded in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, many Muslims took to Twitter to express empathy for the victims by tweeting messages with #NotInMyName. 

The suspected gunman, Omar Mateen of Port St. Lucie, pledged allegiance to ISIS during a 911 call before the attack, law enforcement sources told NBC News. Officials have not identified a motive for the rampage. 

CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad condemned the attack and said the Muslim community stands "shoulder to shoulder" with the LGBTQI community.

"This is a hate crime, plane and simple, and we condemn it," Awad said at a news conference on Sunday. 

He added, "I have a word for ISIS and their supporters: How would you stand before God and answer for your crimes against innocent people?"

"You do not speak for us. You do not represent us. You are an aberration," he continued. 

Like many others, some Muslims turned to Twitter in the aftermath of the massacre to express outrage and sorrow and send condolences to the victims. 



Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Family, Friends Distraught After Deadly Orlando Shooting]]>Sun, 12 Jun 2016 17:07:32 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/AP_16164433526546-orl.jpg

Families and friends waited outside an Orlando hospital Sunday anxious to hear about their loved ones following the shooting.

Police said 49 people were killed and 53 others were wounded at Pulse Nightclub, in what is the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The shooter was identified as Omar Mateen, 29, a resident of Port St. Lucie, Florida. 

Christine Leinonen, who waited outside Orlando Regional Medical Center hospital, said she drove to Orlando at 4 a.m. when she hadn't heard from her son, Christoper Leinonen, 32.

"These are nonsensical killings of our children. They're killing our babies!" she said, fearing the worst for her missing son.

Leinonen said her son's friend made it out alive by hiding in the bathroom and running out as bullets were flying. 

The City of Orlando began to release the names of some of the victims of Sunday's deadly mass shooting at a popular night club. Seven of the victims were identified on the city's website: Edward Sotomayor Jr., Stanley Almodovar III, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo and Juan Ramon Guerrero, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz,Luis S. Vielma.

Mina Justice was outside the dance club early Sunday, trying to contact her 30-year-old son, Eddie. He had texted her that he ran into a bathroom after the gunfire erupted and asked her to call police, then texted: "He's coming."

"The next text said: 'He has us, and he's in here with us,'" Mina Justice said. "That was the last conversation."

Many of the injured were critically injured and were being operated on, according to Michael Cheatman from the Orlando Regional Medical Center. 

Fatriana Evans frequents the club and was outside when shots were fired: "It sounded like fireworks — pop, pop, pop — and then everybody scatters." 

Jackie Smith, who was inside the club, said two friends next to her were shot. She said she hasn't gotten updates on their conditions. She came out of the hospital and burst into tears in the arms of friends. 

"Some guy walked in and started shooting everybody." she said. "He had an automatic rifle, so nobody stood a chance. I just tried to get out of there." 

Facebook added a "Facebook Safety Check" Sunday morning for people to find out whether friends and family have tagged themselves as safe. The social network is using the heading "The Shooting in Orlando, Florida." 

A hotline has been set up for families of the victims to call: 407-246-4357.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Lift Gay Blood Donor Ban, 3 Democrats Say]]>Tue, 14 Jun 2016 14:40:43 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/blood+donors.jpg

Three Democrats in Congress are objecting to restrictions that prevented gay and bisexual men from donating blood in Orlando after the massacre at the gay nightclub early Sunday morning.

Even as donors waited on long lines to help the victims, many gay men were unable to give. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration forbids donations from men who have had sex with a man in the previous year.

Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley, the vice-chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, California Rep. Barbara Lee and Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin issued a statement asking the FDA to lift what they called "this prejudicial ban." 

"Tragedies like the one we witnessed in the early morning hours on Sunday show how crucial it is for FDA to develop better blood donor policies that are based on science and on individual risk factors; that don't unfairly single out one group of individuals; and that allow all healthy Americans to donate," they wrote.

Omar Mateen opened fire at the Pulse nightclub around 2 a.m., exchanging shots with a police officer and taking club-goers hostage before being killed by a SWAT team, authorities said. Mateen was armed with an assault rifle and a handgun, they said.

At least 49 people were killed in the massacre, the worst mass shooting U.S. history. It occurred as the country celebrated LGBT pride month.

In Orlando officials on Tuesday urged people to continue to give blood and asked that they make appointments at their local blood banks. Stephanie Zaurin, a spokeswoman for OneBlood, a non-profit donation center, told The Associated Press that donors were coming "in record numbers."

One of OneBlood's own team members was killed in the attack on the nightclub. On its website, it said that it was grieving the death of Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, a supervisor at the center's Orlando laboratory. 

"He was passionate about saving lives and took great pride in the lifesaving work he performed," the center said.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman Tara Goodin said in an email to The Associated Press that the Interorganizational Disaster Task Force met on Sunday to ensure that all immediate needs for blood were met.

The continued appeal for blood donors comes on World Blood Donor Day, designated by the World Health Organization as a way to encourage people across the world to donate. The theme this year is "Blood connects us all."

Only 62 countries get close to all of their national blood supplies from voluntary unpaid blood donations, WHO says. Thirty-four countries still dependent on family donors and even paid donors for more than three quarters of their blood supply, it says.

That gay men were unable to give blood for a rampage at a gay nightclub was a twist not lost on social media over the weekend.

"The awful irony that the blood banks of Orlando are not accepting gay donors is just awful," tweeted Nick Nazzaro, an illustrator in Boston. "Awful awful awful. Not funny irony, just awful."

Another tweet, from Brian Gerald Murphy, co-creator of activist group Legalize Trans, urged the FDA to change its policy on blood donations.

"Gay. Men. In. Orlando. Can't. Give. Blood. To. Their. Bleeding. Battered. Community. Dear @US_FDA, CHANGE THAT NOW," he tweeted.

The lifetime prohibition against gay and bisexual men donating blood — enacted in 1983 to protect those receiving blood transfusions from being infected with HIV — was lifted in December, when the FDA announced the new policy. But some activists say the new policy is still discriminatory.

OneBlood, the nonprofit clinic in Orlando, put out a call for blood early Sunday. By early afternoon, it thanked donors on its website, said it was at capacity and asked donors to give over the next few days.

But on Twitter it also cautioned against false reports that FDA guidelines had been lifted. All FDA guidelines remain in effect, it said.



Photo Credit: NBC6.com
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<![CDATA[Calif. Weapons Arrest ]]>Mon, 13 Jun 2016 14:24:37 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/222*120/06-12-2016-pride-parade-suspect-howell-james.jpg

Assault rifles, high capacity magazines, ammunition and chemicals used to make explosives were found Sunday in the vehicle of a man from Indiana, according to Santa Monica police.

Despite an earlier report from Santa Monica's police chief, the man did not indicate he was targeting LA's PRIDE festivities, only that he intended to go to the event.

Authorities arrested the man Sunday morning just hours after a mass shooting in Orlando left at least 50 dead at a nightclub, including the gunman, and before the start of the LA PRIDE parade in nearby West Hollywood, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks identified the man arrested in the beach community as James Howell, 20. During the arrest, Howell told one of her officers "of wanting to do harm to the gay pride event," Seabrooks told NBC News earlier in the day, before later sending a tweet indicating that report was inaccurate.

During a mid-day news conference, the chief did not elaborate on specifics, stressing the investigation was still preliminary. Jail records show Howell was in custody with bail set at $500,000. A court appearance was scheduled for Tuesday.

He is being held on weapons and explosives charges.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the case does not appear linked to the Orlando mass shooting, but that the man was heavily armed and told police he was going to the LA PRIDE parade nearly 10 miles away.

Howell was arrested after police responded to a prowler call near Olympic Boulevard and 11th Street. The suspect was allegedly knocking on a resident's door and window.

Officers found Howell seated in a nearby vehicle, in which they found three assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and ammunition, Santa Monica police said. Officers also found a 5-gallon bucket with chemicals "capable of forming an improvised explosive device."

The LA County Sheriff's Department bomb squad responded to the scene. Authorities said they have no additional information about the suspect's intentions.

The NBC4 I-Team uncovered records that show Howell is on probation in Indiana after an altercation with a neighbor, during which he reportedly pulled a gun out in an attempt to intimidate.

As part of his probation, Howell is not supposed to be in possession of firearms.

The arrest came hours after a gunman opened fire in a gay Orlando nightclub, killing at least 49 and injuring more than 50 others.

Sunday's parade in West Hollywood began at about 11 a.m. with a moment of silence at Crescent Heights Boulevard, then continued west along Santa Monica Boulevard to Robertson Boulevard. The usually festive atmosphere included a more somber tone on a day when the United State witnesses its deadliest mass shooting.

Deputies routinely patrol the parade, held every year since 1970, except for 1973 when infighting over displays the previous two years left the organizers in disarray. The parade was held in Hollywood until 1979, when it moved to West Hollywood.



Photo Credit: Santa Monica PD]]>
<![CDATA[LA Pride Mourns Orlando Victims]]>Sun, 12 Jun 2016 22:52:02 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/209*120/06-12-2016-west-hollywood-pride-1.jpg

Southern California's 46th annual LA PRIDE parade began Sunday with a moment of silence just hours after a gunman opened fire at an Orlando nightclub, killing at least 49 people in the country's worst mass shooting.

Some participants who marched and mourned wore black arm bands in memory of the victims killed at Orlando's Pulse nightclub, where a gunman opened fire early Sunday morning. The gunman, identified by the FBI as Omar Mateen, 29, of Port St. Lucie, Florida, died in a SWAT operation after what authorities described as a case of domestic terrorism. An ISIS-affiliated news agency claimed the attack was carried out by an "Islamic State Fighter."

The gunman's father told NBC News his son may have been motivated by hatred for the LGBT community. 

Sunday's parade in West Hollywood began at about 11 a.m. at Crescent Heights Boulevard. It continued west along Santa Monica Boulevard to Robertson Boulevard in a relatively somber procession that contrasted the event's usually festive atmosphere.

"I wouldn't have brought him if I didn't think we'd be safe," Liz Heron, who had brought her 9-year-old son told NBC4 radio partner KPCC. "Everyone seems to be in really good spirits. They're not going to let the event yesterday dampen it or silence them, which is great."

The message of love continued to echo throughout the crowd of hundreds of thousands.

"Forty six years ago, members of the LGBTQ community came out in cities across the country in response to the Stonewall Riots," said LA PRIDE President Chris Classen. "Today, we are heartbroken that so many of our brothers, sisters and allies were lost in this tragic attack. As we remember them today at our moment of silence, we must continue to show our pride, not just today but every day.

"Our brave founders made this happen to show the world who we are. We will be loud. We will be proud and we will celebrate in honor of all those lost."

Authorities said they received no specific threats to the parade, but safety concerns were elevated. Santa Monica police arrested a heavily armed man earlier Sunday who told police he wanted "to harm the gay pride event," Santa Monica's police chief said.

Assault rifles, high capacity magazines, ammunication and chemicals used to make explosives were found in the man's car, police said.

"Our hearts go out to the victims and survivors in Orlando, an attack not just on our LGBT brothers and sisters, but on all of us," said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. "As we mourn the dead and tend to the injured and bereaved, we redouble our commitment to the essence of America — diversity and inclusion make our nation strong.

"Once again, a shocking act of violence forces us to reflect on the price of allowing easy access to fearsome weaponry. We must distinguish between the freedom to bear arms and the irresponsible policies that open the way, again and again, for our enemies to turn their hatred into explosions of deadly mass violence."

Deputies routinely patrol the parade, held every year since 1970, except for 1973 when infighting over displays the previous two years left the organizers in disarray. The parade was held in Hollywood until 1979, when it moved to West Hollywood.

The festival, which includes several concerts, began Friday and concludes Sunday. Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Carly Rae Jepsen was the main stage headliner.

The grand marshal was Jewel Thais-Williams, who owned the Catch One disco in the Mid-City area, which featured performances by such prominent entertainers like Sammy Davis Jr., Chaka Khan, Sylvester, Weather Girls and Rick James and was a community center for Los Angeles' black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning community. It closed last year.

Thais-Williams' selection as grand marshal illustrates a shift in the position away from celebrities to "community activists who we consider to be our own celebrities and who have fearlessly fought for equality for our community," according to Marquita Thomas, a board member of Christopher Street West, which organizes the parade.

Thais-Williams co-founded the Minority AIDS Project, which aims to help blacks and Hispanics affected by the disease. She served as a board member of the AIDS Project Los Angeles, which provides HIV/AIDS care and prevention programs and seeks to improve HIV-related public policy, and co-founded Rue's House, described as the first housing facility for women with AIDS.



Photo Credit: Marin Austin/NBC4]]>
<![CDATA[Orlando Gunman Was From NY]]>Mon, 13 Jun 2016 10:09:30 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/TLMD-omar-mateen-st-1.JPG

The gunman who opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people early Sunday morning was born in New York, law enforcement sources told NBC News.

Omar Mateen, 29, was born in 1986 and moved to Florida as a young child. He was listed as living at a residence in Port St. Lucie, about 125 miles south of Orlando, law enforcement sources said. 

Mateen's father told NBC News, "this has nothing to do with religion." Mir Seddique said his son got angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami a couple of months ago and thinks that may be related to the shooting.

"We are saying we are apologizing for the whole incident. We weren't aware of any action he is taking. We are in shock like the whole country," Seddique said.

Seddique also said Mateen was a husband and father to a 3-year-old boy.

A man who picked up the phone at Mateen's listed address, Mustafa Abasin, told NBC News: "We are in shock and we are sad." He would not explain how he knew the gunman, but added that he was aiding investigators.

Law enforcement sources told NBC News just before the attack began, the shooter called 911 and swore allegiance to ISIS.

Rep. Alan Grayson, a Democrat from Florida whose district includes the site of the shooting, suggested to reporters that "more likely than not" the massacre was ideologically motivated.

"Let me put it this way," Grayson said, "the nationality of family members is indicative."

The family's background was not immediately clear, but Grayson said Mateen was a U.S. citizen.

The New York City Police Department said in a statement they are in contact with law enforcement authorities in Florida and the FBI as they closely monitor developments. “Meanwhile, the NYPD has placed our Patrol and Counter-terrorism resources, including CRC, SRG and ESU personnel, on alert pending further information."

Officials previously said a gunman opened fire at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando around 2 a.m. A uniformed officer working at the nightclub exchanged gunfire with the shooter, who was armed with an assault-type rifle, a handgun and a suspicious device.

"The officer engaged in a gun battle with that suspect. The suspect at some point went back inside the club and more shots were fired. This did turn into a hostage situation," Orlando Police Chief John Mina said during a news conference said.

The gunman was shot dead when a SWAT team entered the club, police said.

With at least 49 killed, the massacre is the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States. It comes amid national celebrations marking LGBT pride month.

"Our hearts break for the victims and families of this horrific act of violence. We stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community in #Orlando," GLAAD tweeted.


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<![CDATA[What Motivated Orlando Nightclub Shooter?]]>Sun, 12 Jun 2016 09:41:05 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP_16164449929875.jpg

While no one may ever know what was truly going through the head of the man who shot over 100 people at a gay Orlando nightclub on Sunday, his family says he may have been motivated by pure hate against the LGBT community, NBC News reports.

Various law enforcement officials have identified the shooter as Omar Mateen, 29, who was born in New York and lived in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Because of his name and heritage, there were immediately questions about Islamic fundamentalism — but his father said it may have been a recent incident involving two men showing each other affection that set the gunman off.

"We were in Downtown Miami, Bayside, people were playing music. And he saw two men kissing each other in front of his wife and kid and he got very angry," Mir Seddique, told NBC News on Sunday.

He also said the family was not aware he would take any action. "We are saying we are apologizing for the whole incident," Seddique said.



Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Florida Nightclub Attack Just the Latest US Mass Shooting]]>Sun, 12 Jun 2016 08:15:05 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/AP_16164430359068.jpg

A gunman took hostages and opened fire inside a crowded nightclub in Orlando, Florida, early Sunday morning, killing 49 people and wounding 53 others before SWAT officers killed him, authorities said. Police Chief John Mina said the shooter had an assault-style rifle, a handgun and a "suspicious device" with him during the attack, which is being investigated as an act of terrorism.

Here's a look at some of the nation's deadliest rampages since 2012: 

— Feb. 25, 2016: Cedric Ford, 38, killed three people and wounded 14 others lawnmower factory where he worked in the central Kansas community of Hesston. The local police chief killed him during a shootout with 200 to 300 workers still in the building, authorities said. 

— Feb. 20, 2016: Jason Dalton, 45, is accused of randomly shooting and killing six people and severely wounding two others during a series of attacks over several hours in the Kalamazoo, Michigan, area. Authorities say he paused between shootings to make money as an Uber driver. He faces murder and attempted murder charges.

— Dec. 2, 2015: Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, opened fire at a social services center in San Bernardino, California, killing 14 people and wounding more than 20. They fled the scene but died hours later in a shootout with police.

— Oct. 1, 2015: A shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, left 10 people dead and seven wounded. Shooter Christopher Harper-Mercer, 26, exchanged gunfire with police, then killed himself.

— June 17, 2015: Dylann Roof, 21, shot and killed nine African-American church members during a Bible study group inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Police contend the attack was racially motivated. Roof faces nine counts of murder in state court and dozens of federal charges, including hate crimes.

— May 23, 2014: A community college student, Elliot Rodger, 22, killed six people and wounded 13 in shooting and stabbing attacks in the area near the University of California, Santa Barbara, campus. Authorities said he apparently shot himself to death after a gunbattle with deputies.

— Sept. 16, 2013: Aaron Alexis, a mentally disturbed civilian contractor, shot 12 people to death at the Washington Navy Yard before he was killed in a police shootout.

— July 26, 2013: Pedro Vargas, 42, went on a shooting rampage at his Hialeah, Florida, apartment building, gunning down six people before officers fatally shot him.

— Dec. 14, 2012: In Newtown, Connecticut, an armed 20-year-old man entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and used a semi-automatic rifle to kill 26 people, including 20 first graders and six adult school staff members. He then killed himself.

— Sept. 27, 2012: In Minnesota's deadliest workplace rampage, Andrew Engeldinger, who had just been fired, pulled a gun and fatally shot six people, including the company's founder. He also wounded two others at Accent Signage Systems in Minneapolis before taking his own life.

— Aug. 5, 2012: In Oak Creek, Wisconsin, 40-year-old gunman Wade Michael Page killed six worshippers at a Sikh Temple before killing himself.

— July 20, 2012: James Holmes, 27, fatally shot 12 people and injured 70 in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

— April 2, 2012: Seven people were killed and three were wounded when a 43-year-old former student opened fire at Oikos University in Oakland, California. One Goh was charged with seven counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder, but psychiatric evaluations concluded he suffered from long-term paranoid schizophrenia and was unfit to stand trial.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Mass Shooting in Florida Nightclub Deadliest in US History]]>Sun, 12 Jun 2016 09:11:17 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/180*120/AP_16164349375401.jpg

With authorities reporting that 49 people were killed and 53 people wounded early Sunday morning at an Orlando nightclub, the massacre becomes the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States.

It nearly doubles the previous most deadly incident, the 2007 rampage at Virginia Tech, in which Seung-Hui Cho shot 32 people to death on the Blacksburg, Virginia, campus before killing himself, NBC News reports.

It also eclipses the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School committed by Adam Lanza in December 2012.

NBC News has reviewed the other deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Condolences Pour in After Mass Shooting at Orlando Nightclub]]>Mon, 13 Jun 2016 08:13:06 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/Orlando-PD-LGBT-Hug-AP_16164614451710.jpg

Well-wishers from around the world are sending messages of love and support to the city of Orlando, Florida, where at least 49 people were killed and dozens more wounded in a shooting early Sunday morning at a nightclub.

President Barack Obama ordered flags to be flown at half-staff until sunset on Thursday in honor of the victims, calling it "an especially heartbreaking day" for the LGBT community.

"Say a prayer for them, say a prayer for their families. May God give them the strength to bear the unbearable," he said. 

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, both presumptive presidential nominees, both Florida senators and many more elected officials and advocates have spoken or released statements about the shooting, the deadliest in U.S. history.

Americans from all over the country spoke up as well, expressing their solidarity on social media and by donating money or blood.

The owner of Pulse, the nightclub shuttered in the deadly attack, reached out with condolences. 

"Like everyone in the country, I am devastated about the horrific events that have taken place today. Pulse, and the men and women who work there, have been my family for nearly 15 years. From the beginning, Pulse has served as a place of love and acceptance for the LGBTQ community. I want to express my profound sadness and condolences to all who have lost loved ones. Please know that my grief and heart are with you," Barbara Poma said in a statement.

Statements from national figures

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, families and all those affected by this horrific tragedy. We are a strong and resilient state and we will devote every resource available to assist with the shooting in Orlando," Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement. 

"Woke up to hear the devastating news from FL. As we wait for more information, my thoughts are with those affected by this horrific act," Hillary Clinton tweeted. 

"Horrific incident in FL. Praying for all the victims & their families. When will this stop? When will we get tough, smart & vigilant?" Donald Trump said on Twitter.

"It's horrific, it's unthinkable. And just hopes go out to all those who were shot that they can recover," Bernie Sanders, Democratic presidential candidate, said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani tweeted: Severely condemn the heinous & unforgivable crime in Orlando. It was a coward act of terror. Praying for all those affected by this tragedy."

The Vatican said Pope Francis expressed "the deepest feelings of horror and condemnation."

"I stand with the City of Orlando against hate and bigotry. My thoughts are with all the victims of this horrific attack #lovewins," tweeted London's newly-elected mayor, Sadiq Khan.  

Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement that "the violence is not normal, and the targeting of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans is evil and abhorrent."

In a statement, French President Francois Hollande said he "condemns with horror" the mass killing in Florida and "expresses the full support of France and the French with America's authorities and its people in this difficult time."

Hundreds of people have written on the Facebook page of the club, called Pulse, in downtown Orlando. Many replied to two posts the club put online – a brief, frightening message around the time of the shooting saying "Everyone get out of pulse," and another, four hours later, that said it would provide more information when it was available and thanking for the messages that came in.

"Please keep everyone in your prayers as we work through this tragic event. Thank you for your thoughts and love," the club wrote around 6 a.m.

Equality Florida, the state's largest civil rights organization for the LGBT community, said in a statement Sunday it was "reeling from the tragic news."

"We are heartbroken and angry that senseless violence has once again destroyed lives in our state and in our country," the organization said. 

People from the U.S. and abroad wrote in — the shooting occurred as many were asleep in America — like Carley Swan, who said "Sending Prayers from Australia, hearing this down here."

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer spoke at a press conference Sunday morning, thanking first responders, hospitals and law enforcement for their work and noting the need to support the victims.

"Tonight we had a crime that will have a lasting effect on our community. We need to stand strong, we need to be supportive of the victims and their families," Dyer said.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted: "Our prayers are with those injured and killed early this morning in horrifying act of terror in Orlando."

House Speaker Paul Ryan issued a statement after ordering that flags above the Capitol be flown at half-staff in honor of the victims:

"It is horrifying to see so many innocent lives cut short by such cowardice. Tonight, and in the long days ahead, we will grieve with the families. We will thank the heroes. We will hope for a swift recovery for the injured," Ryan said.

"Our security depends on our refusal to back down in the face of terror. We never will."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shared his condolences by saying, "it is appalling that as many as 50 lives may have been lost to this domestic terror attack."

Sports world reacts to shooting

At NASCAR's race in Michigan on Sunday, Father Geoff Rose of St Francis de Sales High School said, "We begin with our thoughts and prayers for the Orlando community and all of those affected by the tragic events this early morning."

Many prominent athletes took to social media in the wake of the incident.

Shaquille O'Neal, who began his storied career with the Orlando Magic and is the most prominent star to ever play in the city, tweeted "My thoughts & prayers go out to my Orlando LGBT community brothers and sister during this senseless act of violence. Love is Love!"

Current Magic guard Shabazz Napier tweeted, "What has to plague the mind of any person to commit such heinous crimes? Life is so beautiful but we always tear it apart. #PrayforOrlando."

Michael Sam, the first openly gay player in NFL history, wrote a short essay on Instagram, stating in part that "50 people lost their lives because of a hateful coward with a gun. Let this hateful act of terror of the #LGBTQ community be a wake up call for America. Men and women of all races, ages, and sexual orientation are being slaughtered because of hate crimes. How many more must die from a hate crime? We need to create awareness to ALL that hate is not the foundation of our nation. Friends DO NOT let this coward put fear into your hearts!!!"

WNBA star Brittney Griner, also using the hashtag #prayfororlando, posted a picture of five hearts in the colors of the LGBT flag, with a red heart split in half.

Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, asked about the suspension of Warriors forward Draymond Green for Game 5 of the NBA Finals because of a flagrant foul he committed against James in Game 4, began his answer by instead offering condolences to the families who lost loved ones in the shooting.

"I think it's another hit for us as Americans and what we have to deal with in our world today, and it definitely puts things in perspective on basketball. For myself, it's just a small matter of what reality really is.

Baseball teams across the country also held moments of silence.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.



Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Gunman Pledged Loyalty to ISIS Before Massacre]]>Tue, 14 Jun 2016 11:19:43 -0600https://media.nbcchicago.com/images/213*120/lead-AP_16164430359068.jpg

It had been an evening of drinking, dancing and drag shows. After hours of revelry, the party-goers crowding the gay nightclub known as the Pulse took their last sips before the place closed.

That's when authorities say Omar Mateen emerged, carrying an AR-15-style rifle and spraying the helpless crowd with bullets. Witnesses said he fired relentlessly — 20 rounds, 40, then 50 and more. In such tight quarters, the bullets could hardly miss. He shot at police. He took hostages.

When the gunfire finally stopped, he had slain 49 people and critically wounded dozens more in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Mateen, who law enforcement officials said had pledged allegiance to Islamic State in a 911 call shortly before the attack, died in a gun battle with SWAT team members.

Authorities immediately began investigating whether the assault was an act of terrorism and probing the background of Mateen, a 29-year-old American citizen from Fort Pierce, Florida, who had worked as a security guard. The gunman's father recalled that his son recently got angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami and said that might be related to the assault.

Thirty-nine of the dead were killed at the club, and 11 people died at hospitals, Mayor Buddy Dyer said.

Jon Alamo had been dancing at the Pulse for hours when he wandered into the club's main room just in time to see the gunman. "You ever seen how Marine guys hold big weapons, shooting from left to right? That's how he was shooting at people," he said.

"My first thought was, oh my God, I'm going to die," Alamo said. "I was praying to God that I would live to see another day."

Pulse patron Eddie Justice texted his mother, Mina: "Mommy I love you. In club they shooting." About 30 minutes later, hiding in a bathroom, he texted her: "He's coming. I'm gonna die." As Sunday wore on, she awaited word on his fate.

At least 53 people were hospitalized, most in critical condition, and a surgeon at Orlando Regional Medical Center said the death toll was likely to climb.

The previous deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. was the 2007 attack at Virginia Tech, where a student killed 32 people before killing himself.

Mateen's family was from Afghanistan, and he was born in New York. His family later moved to Florida, authorities said.

His ex-wife, Sitora Yusufiy, told reporters that her former husband was bipolar and "mentally unstable."

 

The couple was together for only four months, she said in remarks televised from Boulder, Colorado, and the two had no contact for the last seven or eight years.

Mateen was short-tempered and had a history with steroids, she said. She described him as religious but not radical. He wanted to be a police officer and applied to a police academy, but she had no details.

A law enforcement official said the gunman made a 911 call from the club in which he professed allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The official was familiar with the investigation, but was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The extremist group did not officially claim responsibility for the attack, but the IS-run Aamaq news agency cited an unnamed source as saying the attack was carried out by an Islamic State fighter.

 

Even if the attacker supported IS, it was unclear whether the group planned or knew of the attack beforehand.

Mateen was not unknown to law enforcement: In 2013, he made inflammatory comments to co-workers and was interviewed twice, according to FBI agent Ronald Hopper, who called the interviews inconclusive. In 2014, Hopper said, officials found that Mateen had ties to an American suicide bomber, but the agent described the contact as minimal, saying it did not constitute a threat at the time.

Asked if the gunman had a connection to radical Islamic terrorism, Hopper said authorities had "suggestions that individual has leanings towards that."

Mateen purchased at least two firearms legally within the last week or so, according to Trevor Velinor of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

In a separate incident, an Indiana man armed with three assault rifles and chemicals used to make explosives was arrested Sunday in Southern California and told police he was headed to a Los Angeles-area gay pride parade.

The Orlando shooting started about 2 a.m., with more than 300 people inside the Pulse.

"He had an automatic rifle, so nobody stood a chance," said Jackie Smith, who saw two friends next to her get shot. "I just tried to get out of there."

At 2:09 a.m., Pulse posted on its Facebook page: "Everyone get out of Pulse and keep running."

Club-goer Rob Rick said the shooting started just as "everybody was drinking their last sip."

When he heard shots, Rick dropped to the ground and crawled toward a DJ booth. A bouncer knocked down a partition between the club area and an area where only workers were allowed. People were then able to escape through the back of the club.

Mateen exchanged gunfire with 14 police officers at the club, and took hostages at one point. In addition to the assault rifle, the shooter also had a handgun and some sort of "suspicious device," the police chief said. About 5 a.m., authorities sent in a SWAT team to rescue the remaining club-goers, Police Chief John Mina said.

At first, officers mistakenly thought the gunman had strapped explosives to the dead after a bomb robot sent back images of a battery part next to a body, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said. That prevented paramedics from going in until authorities determined the battery was something that fell out of an exit sign or a smoke detector, he said.

The robot was sent in after SWAT team members put explosive charges on a wall and an armored vehicle knocked it down in an effort to rescue hostages.

Just before 6 a.m., the Pulse posted an update on its Facebook: "As soon as we have any information, we will update everyone. Please keep everyone in your prayers as we work through this tragic event. Thank you for your thoughts and love."

Authorities were looking into whether the shooter acted alone, according to Danny Banks, an agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

"This is an incident, as I see it, that we certainly classify as domestic terror incident," Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said.

Mateen's father, Mir Seddique, told NBC News about his son seeing the men kissing a couple of months ago.

"We are saying we are apologizing for the whole incident," Seddique said. "We are in shock like the whole country."

Mateen was a security guard with a company called G4S. In a 2012 newsletter, the firm identified him as working in West Palm Beach. In a statement sent Sunday to the Palm Beach Post, the company confirmed that he had been an employee since September 2007. State records show that Mateen had held a firearms license since at least 2011.

President Barack Obama called the shooting an "act of terror" and an "act of hate" targeting a place of "solidarity and empowerment" for gays and lesbians. He urged Americans to decide whether this is the kind of "country we want to be."

Authorities said they had secured a van owned by the suspect outside the club. Meanwhile, a SWAT truck and a bomb-disposal unit were on the scene of an address associated with Mateen in Fort Pierce, about 120 miles southeast of Orlando.

Across the country, police departments stepped up patrols in neighborhoods frequented by the LGBT community. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC Chicago



Photo Credit: AP
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