At least 50 people are dead and more than 50 others are wounded after a gunman took hostages and opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, early Sunday morning, police said.
Officials stated a hostage situation developed after the gunman stormed the Pulse Nightclub about 2 a.m. The shooter has been identified by law enforcement as Omar Mateen and was shot dead around 5a.m. when a SWAT team entered the club during the standoff. Officials said the incident is being investigated as an act of terrorism.
Initially, Police Chief John Mina reported over 20 dead and 42 injured, but that numbered rose as the investigation continued. At a news conference Mina reported a uniformed officer working extra duty exchanged gunfire with the shooter. The shooter was reportedly armed with an assault-type rifle, a handgun and some type of 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,” Mina said.
Officials made the decision “to go in on a rescue” just after 5 a.m. Mina said, adding that an officer was injured after being shot in the head, but saved thanks to the protective helmet he was wearing. Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said the incident “could definitely be classified as domestic terrorism.”
Florida Department of Law Enforcement Special Agent in Charge, Danny Banks said authorities were also investigating whether international terror was involved, and if the shooter was acting alone.
A post to the club’s Facebook page at around 2 a.m. warned “everyone get out of Pulse and keep running.” “As soon as we have any information we will update everyone,” the club later posted to Facebook. “Please keep everyone in your prayers as we work through this tragic event. Thank you for your thoughts and love.”
The shooting comes at the beginning of national LGBT pride month. We’ll make sure to update this story as more information comes in.