Orlando Reels From Sunday's Deadliest Mass Shooting In U.S. History
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And I'm David Greene in Orlando, Fla. We arrived in the city last night, making an arrival that so many families make when they come to Orlando to vacation. That is one thing this city is known for. It's a tourist spot with the theme parks. But it is also now known as the scene of America's deadliest mass shooting. And one place we visited last night brought those two realities together. It's the Orlando Eye. It's this giant Ferris wheel. Last night, they lit it up in rainbow colors to support the city's LGBT community.
HECTOR VASQUEZ: The Orlando Eye actually showing a little love is just showing Orlando that we care.
GREENE: That's the voice of Hector Vasquez (ph). He's one of the many people who were just milling about, mostly quietly last night, taking photos of the Ferris wheel, looking at the colors or on their phones. And Hector was on his phone, Steve, because he had four friends who were at the Pulse nightclub the night before.
VASQUEZ: I know two of them that were there that are fine and then two more haven't heard anything from them. So, like, I'm actually, like, still on the phone to see if anybody has heard anybody from them. We've sent somebody over to their house. And - but we haven't heard anything.
GREENE: Waiting for word from people who were at that nightclub when it was when it was attacked the night before, Steve.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let's walk through what we know about what happened on Sunday morning and emphasize there is much that we do not know. And, as with many such stories, much of what we think we know this morning is going to change. But NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is gathering the best available information now. She's in our studios. Hi, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi. Steve.
INSKEEP: What happened first, 2 a.m. Sunday morning?
JOHNSON: There were reports of gunshots at the Pulse nightclub. The nightclub in Orlando was very crowded for Latin night in the middle of the LGBT pride month. And Steve, authorities responded to the scene after initial reports of the shooting. It's a bit mysterious what happened between 2 and 5 a.m.
We do know from accounts of people inside the club who texted their loved ones that some people had taken refuge in a bathroom. And the shooter, Omar Mateen, an American born in New York to Afghan parents, apparently entered the bathroom. And by 5 a.m., a SWAT team comprised of some local police and sheriff's deputies had burst into the club, exchanged gunfire with the shooter and killed him.
INSKEEP: So we know that in those three hours, 50 people were killed. We know that some people escaped the nightclub. Others took refuge and were taken hostage, we believe. And in the middle of all of this, Omar Mateen makes a phone call. What did he do?
JOHNSON: At some point in the middle of this shooting, Mateen called 911 and two federal sources tell me he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Steve, this is still a little bit murky. Federal investigators are looking for any and all ties to overseas terror groups. They've found none so far, indicating this may be an incident where someone was inspired by propaganda online, rather than directed by terrorists overseas.
GREENE: Carrie Johnson, I mean, everyone here in Orlando is - and around the country, of course - but in this city that is so shocked. I mean, here's something like Islamic State and they get very frightened, feeling like an outside terror group might have come, not just to U.S. soil, but here to Florida and into their community. I mean, what should people think about that when they hear that this man pledged allegiance to ISIS? What does that mean?
JOHNSON: David, first of all, the FBI has been consistent since last night in saying they do not believe there is some second shooter roaming around Florida or anywhere else, no imminent or credible threat to Florida or elsewhere here in the U.S. That said, they're going through the shooter's social media accounts, through material they picked up from his residence in Florida last night, looking at his social media accounts, trying to find out with whom he had contact in the weeks and months before this incident and whether he had any communication with any other known radicals inside the U.S. or not.
INSKEEP: He was born in the United States, right?
JOHNSON: He was born here in the U.S., born in New York, moved to Florida. In fact, Steve, he had licenses from the state of Florida to own firearms and to serve as a security guard. He'd been employed by a security company since 2007.
INSKEEP: And we're just gathering data points here. We don't know what it means. But we're asking - what is his family background?
JOHNSON: His parents are of Afghan descent. We do know as well he married, in 2008 or 2009, who's since come out - since this incident - and said he was violent and abusive. She escaped the house with the help of her parents and yesterday told folks that she thinks he had psychological problems, too.
INSKEEP: And just very briefly, when was he questioned by the FBI in the past?
JOHNSON: He'd been questioned twice by the FBI in 2013 and 2014. The FBI interviewed him, filed no charges.
INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much. That's NPR's Carrie Johnson this morning.
GREENE: And, Steve, I'm in Orlando at member station WMFE, and I'm sitting here in the studio with reporter Renata Sago, one of the many people here at the station who have been spending hours covering this tragedy. Good morning, Renata.
RENATA SAGO, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So you've been looking at how hard this has hit the city's LGBT community.
SAGO: Yeah. It's almost as if every time the name of another victim is released, the pain just deepens. This is a close-knit community, David.
GREENE: I mean, it sounds like a close-knit community that's getting even tighter, going through something so awful.
SAGO: Yeah, there's been an outpouring of support - not just from people in the LGBT community, but also from the city at large. The marquee outside Orlando's Parliament House reads, we are Pulse - unbreakable.
GREENE: This is, like, a - this, like, a gay resort nightclub they went to?
SAGO: Right, it's a gay resort. It's also a community landmark, you know, for the whole city. People recognize it. Actually, I'm going to take you to a scene here. Just sort of imagine a thick crowd of folks there. Some are dressed in drag. Some have cups in their hand. They're holding drinks. They're holding roses. Some have white ribbons pinned to their shirt. And they're really memorializing what's happened, but it's also almost in a sense of a celebration - a lot of lights. It's almost a re-creation of a club environment, where there's inclusion and it's upbeat, but then there's also a bit of a somber tone.
GREENE: And this was last night?
SAGO: Last night, exactly. And this is one of the few vigils that took place despite warnings from Orlando city officials. They were really concerned about safety and law enforcement being short-staffed, overworked in the wake of the shooting.
GREENE: OK, let's listen to what you saw and heard last night.
NICOLE DOUCETTE: We look at these clubs or these bars as a place where we can come together because it is the only place where a lot of gay people feel safe.
SAGO: Nicole Doucette is processing the overwhelming tragedy in this space. She and her friends were planning to go to Pulse that night, but decided against it last minute.
DOUCETTE: I really didn't know what to think when I woke up. I was just devastated. The one place that people do come together to feel like they're accepted and not, you know, discriminated against is the one place where so many people lost their lives.
SAGO: Doucette is one of many in this crowd anxiously waiting to hear about friends who may have been victims in the mass shooting. But unlike her, Travis Curry (ph) already knows what happened to his childhood friend, Edward Sotomayor, Jr.
TRAVIS CURRY: I found out through Facebook - confirmed that, you know, his name's the first name that comes up on the list of people who didn't make it. And then to find out that he sent out a text message that night saying that he was hiding, trying to find safety.
SAGO: Curry is not alone in his pain.
CURRY: Parents lost their kids. People lost their friends. Brothers and sisters got killed, you know? People are still waiting to find out if people that they knew were part of this tragedy.
SAGO: Many victims are still in surgery at Orlando Regional Medical Center. The rush prompted officials of the city's blood bank to send out an urgent call for plasma, drawing hundreds of central Floridians to donation centers, where they stood in lines for up to six hours. For Morgan Acevedo (ph), that show of support is calming. She says gunman Omar Mateen should not overshadow the families and friends who are banding together.
MORGAN ACEVEDO: It's not about who he was, what he did, what he stood for, but to acknowledge how many people are here right now.
SAGO: Acevedo and others expect more displays of support in the coming days, as residents plan more vigils and officials continue to release names of victims.
GREENE: All right, that's reporter Renata Sago from member station WMFE in Orlando, where we're reporting from and broadcasting from this morning. And, Renata, let me ask you one other thing about a scene I heard about yesterday. I mean, this city coming together at a moment of tragedy - there was a need and a call for blood to be donated for those many victims who are fighting for their lives in hospitals. Someone mentioned that the line to donate blood was, like, a mile long at one point. I mean, what were you seeing here?
SAGO: David, it was extraordinary. The line wrapped around the whole blood bank plaza. It was packed in the parking lot. And you saw folks of all ethnicities, all ages. People who might not generally interact in the Orlando landscape were coming together for a common cause. And the wait time was about six hours. You had people arrive at 10 a.m., and I was there with them at 2 p.m., and they were still waiting.
GREENE: In the Florida heat. I mean, it was a very hot day.
SAGO: In the Florida heat. You had volunteers that came out and started coordinating, handing out granola bars, water, umbrellas to protect people from the sun - just a lot of organization behind something that was so unexpected. And, you know, you talk about the overwhelming support, that's where it really manifested yesterday.
GREENE: Let me just played one voice here, if I can. It's the voice of a woman named Jackie Norman (ph), who I met as soon as I arrived in Orlando last night. And we were chatting near the Orlando Eye, that Ferris wheel I mentioned earlier that was lit up in rainbow colors. And it just spoke to me about how everyone was so touched by this. We just started talking about this tragedy, and she said she felt personally affected.
What was today like?
JACKIE NORMAN: Very sad, depressing - cried a lot. Every time we read something new about one of the victims and they're, you know, releasing their face, it hits home because it's in our hometown.
GREENE: That is the voice of Jackie Norman there, from Orlando, Fla., also speaking to reporter Renata Sago of member station WMFE, as we're in this community as it comes to grips with the worst mass shooting in the history of the United States.
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