The Pulse Nightclub Shooting

            Four years ago, June 12, 2016, a nightclub in Orlando, FL experienced a tragic event that scarred the entire LGBT+ community. While my friends and I were home in bed, having gone to our first Pride parade that very day, those celebrating Pride at the club were gunned down in a place we are supposed to be safe. The effects of this event are still felt today, four years after the event. None of us went to Pride events without thinking of the possibility that we may end up attacked before the Pulse shooting. Afterwards, we couldn’t even go into places made for us, where we should have been safe, without thinking we may still be killed going inside. For us, the places meant to be for us, where we could be ourselves and be safe, were taken away by this event.

            The attack began to 2 AM, while the club was holding a Latin-themed night. With the club filled with more than 300 people, the gunman opened fire as the event for the night was coming to the end. He had an automatic rifle, meaning there was little that could be done by the clubgoers to stop him. Just minutes after the shooting began, the club Facebook page posted a message urging everyone to get out of the club and keep running (BBC 2016). I remember the questions on motive when this happened; was it homophobia, or was it racism that fueled the shooter? In the days that followed the shooting, the question would continue to baffle those investigating the shooting and the victims and their families.

            The shooter, Omar Mateen, was a native of Queens, New York, born to parents who immigrated from Afghanistan. Three years prior to the shooting, in May 2013, Mateen was brought to the attention of law enforcement as a possible danger to others. At the time, Mateen was working for a security firm and his coworkers reported that he claimed to have ties to known terrorist organizations, al-Qaeda and Hezbollah. While the investigation, which went on for 10-months, turned up no evidence the investigators could use, he was questioned by the FBI in 2014. A known associate of his had become a suicide bomber associated with the Nusrah Font. He was investigated again when a friend reported that he claimed to have been watching videos from al-Qaeda, but this investigation also went nowhere. Despite these investigations, Mateen was able to keep his license for firearms that he had had since 2007, and would have been able to receive one once his name was no longer on the Terrorist Watch List regardless (Ray 2020).

            In the days leading up to the attack, Mateen bought a Sig Sauer MCX semiautomatic assault rifle and a Glock 17 9mm semiautomatic pistol. Both of these guns would be used in the attack on the nightclub. When Mateen began shooting, an off-duty officer who was working security at the club began to shoot back, but relented due to being out-gunned. However, the officer, Adam Gruler, was able to call for back up and the club was quickly surrounded by the Orlando police (Ray 2020). The call came through just two minutes after the shooting reportedly began, at 2:02 AM, and the backup called in arrived at 2:04 AM (Zambelich & Hurt 2016). A triage center was set up across the street and the victims began to be brought over for treatment. While the victims who made it out were being treated, there were dozens more inside still. Some dead, some wounded, and some unable to escape. A group of officers, some of whom had SWAT training, used a broken window to enter the club and began to exchange gunfire with the shooter for approximately 10 minutes. During the next 20 minutes, the story began to immerge. While reports were being made, survivors were getting online and posting their first hand accounts of what happened. People were talking about hearing the shooting as the gunman made his way through the club. Mateen called 911 himself, to declare his “allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State” (Ray 2020).

            Victims inside the club tried to escape, some managing to get out and others not. Some hid in the bathroom stalls and texted their loved ones. Others, in hopes they would make it out, pretended to be dead and lay on the ground. According to survivors, Mateen paced around the club, laughing as he shot at the bodies on the ground (Zambelich & Hurt 2016).

            Eventually, the officers in the club were able to corner the gunman in the bathroom, where he remained for some time. For a total of 28 minutes, Mateen spoke with negotiators through the phone, as the situation had gone from an active shooter, to a hostage situation. According to his claims, a car outside had a bomb in it, and he was wearing a vest with explosives. While stuck inside the bathroom, he was regularly checking the internet to see what was being reported on his attack, and he was texting his wife as well (Ray 2020). While the gunman was trapped, responders were able to remove an air conditioning unit with the help of some of those trapped inside and allow a few more to escape the nightmare event occurring inside. This occurred at 4:21 AM, over two hours after the event began. As the police were working to break through the door, hostages saw Mateen getting more nervous. At some point, right as the police called for the hostages to move away from the wall, Mateen called to one hostage and shot them, then shot more (Zambelich & Hurt 2016). According to the victims fleeing, the gunman planned to use four of his hostages and put explosive vests on them. They told the responders he planned to have them on the hostages in 15 minutes, meaning they didn’t have much time (Ray 2020).

            It was at 5:02 AM, approximately three hours after the shooting began, that police set off the first of several small, controlled explosions that broke down the integrity of the building wall enough to drive an armored car through. While Mateen engaged several officers in a shootout, which resulted in his death, hostages escaped through the broken-down wall. After it was finally over, police discovered that the explosive vests were nothing more than a bluff. There had been no explosives in the bathroom at all (Ray 2020). Mateen was reported as down at 5:15 AM, and he was declared dead at 5:53 AM (Zambelich & Hurt 2016).

            In the days following the massacre, reports flooding the internet of men claiming to have seen Mateen on several gay dating apps and websites. These reports, however, were never substantiated, though his computer, online accounts, and phone were investigated. Even his 911 call where he claimed allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (from ISIS) was called into question, as he had made many contradicting statements claiming allegiance to other groups, the Nusrah Front, Syrian clients of al-Qaeda fighting Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shi’ite militia allied with Assad. ISIS was known to be fighting against both these groups at the time. It seemed that Mateen was unable to understand the differences between the groups’ ideologies and had made his own identity between the three, resulting in a “lone wolf” terrorist (Ray 2020).

            Across the world, landmarks were lit up with six colors of the Gay Pride flag in honor of the victims of the Pulse shooting. The president, Barack Obama, and vice president, Joe Biden, met with survivors and their families, as well as the families of the victims who did not survive, and President Obama called again for gun control reform (Ray 2020). Mateen’s father condemned the attack, claiming that he did not know why his son did it, but knew he had recently started becoming enraged at the sight of two men kissing. Some of the victims at the club thought they had seen him at the club before, leading some to believe that Mateen may have been closeted. Others have posited that he could have been planning the shooting long before actually doing it, and could have been going into the club to plan (Zambelich & Hurt 2016).

            Mateen had a history of violence. His ex-wife divorced him due to the abuse she suffered at his hands. He claimed, along with his allegiance to ISIS, that he was friends with the Tsarnaev brothers, who committed the Boston Marathon bombings. While, unsurprisingly, many placed the blame on religion, specifically Islam, his father insisted that the attack was not motivated by religion. Despite the horrific acts that occurred on June 12, 2016, guns sales increased after the shooting, and a candidate for congress from Florida posted a contest to Facebook that was essentially a give away of an AR-15, a weapon very similar to the one used. Four separate gun-control measures were brought before the senate, but none of them passed (Zambelich & Hurt 2016).

            Four years later, the LGBT+ community still feels what happened the night. Every year, when I prepare for Pride, I remember the victims. I remember exactly what I felt when I woke up that morning and found out that so many of us were gone. 49 people died that night. Many more were injured. Bellow are the names of the victims.

Stanley Almodovar III, 23

Amanda Alvear, 25

Oscar Aracena-Montero, 26

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21

Martin Benitez Torres, 33

Antonio Brown, 30

Darryl Burt II, 29

Jonathan Camuy Vega, 24

Angel Candelario-Padro, 28

Simon Carrillo Fernandez, 31

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25

Luis Conde, 39

Cory Connell, 21

Tevin Crosby, 25

Franky Dejesus Velazquez, 50

Deonka Drayton, 32

Mercedez Flores, 26

Peter Gonzalez-Cruz, 22

Juan Guerrero, 22

Paul Henry, 41

Frank Hernandez, 27

Miguel Honorato, 30

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40

Jason Josaphat, 19

Eddie Justice, 30

Anthony Laureano Disla, 25

Christopher Leinonen, 32

Brenda Marquez McCool, 49

Jean Mendez Perez, 35

Akyra Monet Murray, 18

Kimberly Morris, 37

Jean Nieves Rodriguez, 27

Luis Ocasio-Capo, 20

Geraldo Ortiz-Jimenez, 25

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32

Enrique Rios Jr., 25

Juan Rivera Velazquez, 37

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24

Christopher Sanfeliz, 24

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34

Shane Tomlinson, 33

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25

Luis Vielma, 22

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37

Jerald Wright, 31 (Wikipedia)

“Orlando Nightclub Shooting: How the Attack Unfolded.” BBC News, BBC, 15 June 2016, www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-36511778.

Ray, Michael. “Orlando Shooting of 2016.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 5 June 2020, www.britannica.com/event/Orlando-shooting-of-2016.

Zambelich, Ariel, and Alyson Hurt. “3 Hours In Orlando: Piecing Together An Attack And Its Aftermath.” NPR, NPR, 26 June 2016, www.npr.org/2016/06/16/482322488/orlando-shooting-what-happened-update.

“Orlando Nightclub Shooting.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 13 June 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orlando_nightclub_shooting#Names_of_the_deceased.

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