Details continue to emerge amid the chaos of what’s being described as the deadliest mass shooting in United States history late Saturday night at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando.
Now Orlando Police Chief John Mina has upped the casualty list to a staggering 103, with 50 dead and another 53 injured.
Police say the gunman, Omar Mateen, 29, of Fort Pierce, FL, stormed the downtown nightclub around 2 a.m., opening fire on the crowd. He then took dozens of people hostage in a an hours-long standoff with police. That ended around 5 a.m., when authorities executed e a rescue operation during which Mateen was shot and killed. Police drove a truck through the wall to distract the shooter.
“Our SWAT officers exchanged gunfire with the suspect. The suspect is dead,” Mina said at a press conference. “He appeared to be carrying a rifle, an assault-type rifle and a handgun and had some type of device on him.”
FBI agent Ron Hopper said Mateen may have ties to radical Islam, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
“We are investigating this from all points of perspective as an act of terrorism,” said Special Agent Danny Banks, in charge of Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement.
Pulse posted a brief and harrowing Facebook message during the attack, urging patrons to find safety:
Christopher Hansen was getting a drink by the bar when he “just saw bodies going down,” he told CNN.
“It’s just shocking, just one after another after another. It could have lasted a whole song.”
He instinctually dropped to the ground and crawled along the floor, eventually finding a man who had been shot.
“I took my bandana off and shoved it in the hole in his back,” Hansen said.
“The shots did not sound like a regular handgun. It sounded like it was shooting repetitively and it wouldn’t stop,” said Anthony Torres, who was also inside the club.
President Obama is receiving updates from Homeland Security and is expected to address the nation soon. (UPDATE: See President Obama’s remarks here.)
Orlando blood donation centers have been overwhelmed, though it should be noted there are still federal restrictions on gay men donating blood in place.
A rumor circulated online that the ban was lifted temporarily due to these extreme circumstances, but it was later reported to be unfounded.
Steve Helling, a writer at People, shared this video of “600 people in line waiting to donate blood for the victims”:
— Steve Helling (@stevehelling) June 12, 2016
The attack at Pulse was only a few miles from Orlando’s Plaza Live theater, where 22-year-old The Voice singer Christina Grimmie was shot and killed Friday night.
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