BREAKING NEWS – Authorities in c said at a news conference Sunday morning that “as many as 20 people died” in a shooting at an Orlando nightclub. The gunman was killed.
Orlando Police Chief John Mina said at least 42 people have been transported to area hospitals.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said officials are investigating the shooting as an “act of terrorism,” but it was unclear whether it was domestic or international terrorism, or if the shooter was a lone wolf.
Mina said officers were called to Pulse Orlando, a popular gay nightclub, at around 2 a.m. after reports of a shooting. He said officers were engaged in a gun battle outside the club before the suspect went back into the building where more shots were fired. He said the gunman then took several hostages.
About three hours later, Mina said officials made the decision to rescue the hostages in the club. He said SWAT officers exchanged fire with the gunman and killed him.
Mina said the suspect was found with some kind of assault rifle on the suspect along with a handgun and some kind of device on him. Officials stopped short of saying it was a bomb and were still investigating whether it was something real or a hoax device.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer credited law enforcement with saving more lives by their heroic efforts.
“Many were saved by the heroic efforts of the Orlando Police Department and Orange County Sheriff’s Office,” he said.
Orlando Police said a controlled explosion did take place, Mina said they used the sound as a diversion.
Officials said the next update will take place at 9 a.m. Police said local, state and federal agencies were investigating.
Witnesses in the club reported mass chaos after hearing several shots ring out inside the nightclub.
Pulse Orlando posted on its own Facebook page around 2 a.m.: “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.” Just before 6 a.m., the club posted an update: “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.”
Mina Justice was outside the club early Sunday trying to contact her 30-year-old son Eddie, who texted her when the shooting happened and asked her to call police. He told her he ran into a bathroom with other club patrons to hide. He then texted her: “He’s coming.”
“The next text said: ‘He has us, and he’s in here with us,'” she said. “That was the last conversation.”
Jon Alamo said he was at the back of one of the club’s rooms when a man holding a weapon came into the front of the room.
“I heard 20, 40, 50 shots,” Alamo said. “The music stopped.”
Club-goer Rob Rick said it happened around, 2 a.m., just before closing time.
“Everybody was drinking their last sip,” he said.
He estimated more than 100 people were still inside when he heard shots, got on the ground and crawled toward a DJ booth. A bouncer knocked down a partition between the club area and an area in the back where only workers are allowed. People inside were able to then escape through the back of the club.
Christopher Hansen said he was in the VIP lounge when he started hearing gunshots. He continued to hear shooting even after he emerged, where police were telling people to back away from the club. He saw injured people being tended to across the street.
“I was thinking, are you kidding me? So I just dropped down. I just said please, please, please, I want to make it out,” he said. “And when I did, I saw people shot. I saw blood. You hope and pray you don’t get shot.”
The incident follows the fatal shooting late Friday of 22-year-old singer Christina Grimmie, who was killed after her concert in Orlando by a 27-year-old Florida man who later killed himself. Grimmie was a YouTube sensation and former contestant on “The Voice.”
Source: The Associated Press