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Acquaintances: Orlando shooter visited gay venues, used dating app for years

By Andrew V. Pestano
1/5
People who knew Omar Mateen said they either visited gay clubs with him or observed him frequenting Pulse, the Orlando nightclub at which he's accused of fatally shooting 49 people. At least one person said they were contacted by the gunman on a gay dating app. File photo courtesy of Myspace
People who knew Omar Mateen said they either visited gay clubs with him or observed him frequenting Pulse, the Orlando nightclub at which he's accused of fatally shooting 49 people. At least one person said they were contacted by the gunman on a gay dating app. File photo courtesy of Myspace

ORLANDO, Fla., June 14 (UPI) -- Omar Seddique Mateen, the accused gunman in the Orlando, Fla., nightclub massacre, was a regular at gay venues in Florida for years and used gay dating apps, witnesses and acquaintances said.

Reports Monday indicated Mateen may have visited the gay the Pulse gay nightclub prior to Sunday's shooting in which 49 people were killed, but his interest in clubs and dating apps catering to the LGBT community may go further back.

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Kevin West told an ABC News affiliate in Houston was contacted by Mateen through a dating app.

"When he was first contacting me he was saying, asking like what club, in his words, like what clubs are 'popping,' and things of that sort, and what good places are to go," West said.

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Mateen's visits to gay venues could go as far back as 10 years. The Palm Beach Post reported a former classmate, who chose to remain anonymous, said he believed Mateen was gay.

The source, a former classmate of Mateen's 2006 class at the Indian River Community College police academy, said Mateen romantically asked him to go out once.

"We went to a few gay bars with him, and I was not out at the time, so I declined his offer," the former classmate said. "He just wanted to fit in and no one liked him ... He was always socially awkward."

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James Van Horn, a 71-year-old regular at Pulse, said Mateen visit the Orlando nightclub on a regular basis before the shooting.

"Sometimes he would be there for a few weeks at a time and maybe on the weekends and then you wouldn't see him for a little while, then you'd see him again and that's the way it kind of went."

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Meanwhile, the FBI also is working to determine if Mateen had other potential targets including Orlando's Walt Disney World. Authorities believe he visited Walt Disney World, though they do not yet know if he was evaluating the locations as potential terror targets.

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Disney did not confirm or deny Mateen visited the park to the Orlando Sentinel, instead describing increased security measures such as additional police and canine units. A Disney manager speaking under the condition of anonymity told the newspaper Mateen visited the theme park in April.

Mateen's wife, now cooperating with the FBI, told investigators her husband may have scouted multiple locations for his planned attack, including multiple Disney properties near Orlando, a senior counter-terrorism official told ABC News.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office, which provides police services to Disney, said it had no public record of Mateen, while FBI Director James Comey said his agency was working to determine whether Mateen visited the park.

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On Monday, police gave a timeline of events after Mateen began shooting at the Pulse nightclub:

The assault began with a gunfight between Mateen and an off-duty police officer working security for Pulse at about 2 a.m. -- last call at the bar.

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Once additional officers arrived and exchanged gunfire with Mateen, the shooter retreated within the venue -- eventually protecting himself within a bathroom where dozens of people were hiding. A hostage situation was born.

The most deadly mass shooting in U.S. history lasted for three hours.

Authorities said Mateen used a ".223 caliber AR-type rifle and a 9mm semiautomatic pistol." A third weapon found in Mateen's vehicle is being traced.

Before and during the shooting, Mateen communicated three times with Orlando's 911 emergency dispatch. In the first call, he said nothing and hung up. He then called back and spoke briefly before hanging up. The dispatcher called him back and they spoke briefly once again.

During those calls, the gunman said he carried out the attack for Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and pledged allegiance to the militant Islamist organization. He also said he pledged solidarity to the Tsarnaev brothers who carried out the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and to an American who carried out a bombing in Syria for the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaida affiliate -- who the FBI said the gunman knew as they attended the same mosque.

Orlando Police Chief John Mina made the decision to carry out a rescue operation after hearing that the gunman made statements about "explosives, about possible bomb vests," which were later determined to be fake.

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"We believed loss of life was imminent," Mina said during a press conference on Monday. "I made the decision to commence the rescue operation."

A SWAT team was called in and authorities planned to execute an explosive breach through a bathroom wall to rescue the hostages. The explosion did not work successfully, so police used a BearCat armored vehicle to smash into the wall -- creating a hope 2- to 3-feet wide. About 30 people ran through the hole.

The gunman also came out of the hole and engaged police in a final firefight. At 5 a.m., Mateen was killed.

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