Omar Mateen, 29, killed 50 people and wounded 53 at the Pulse nightclub before being shot dead by police
By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
ORLANDO, FL (ANS – June 12, 2016) — Pope Francis has reacted in “horror” after the massacre of a 50 people earlier today (Sunday, June 12, 2016) at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
According to police, gunman, Omar Mateen, 29, killed 50 people and wounded 53 at the Pulse nightclub before being shot dead by police.
The so-called Islamic State terror group, also known as ISIS, has claimed it was behind the attack, but the extent of its involvement is not clear.
The Holy See Press Office based in the Vatican said in a statement, “The terrible massacre that has taken place in Orlando, with its dreadfully high number of innocent victims, has caused in Pope Francis, and in all of us, the deepest feelings of horror and condemnation, of pain and turmoil before this new manifestation of homicidal folly and senseless hatred.”
The Vatican statement also said that Pope Francis joins the victims’ families in prayer.
“We all hope that ways may be found, as soon as possible, to effectively identify and contrast the causes of such terrible and absurd violence which so deeply upsets the desire for peace of the American people and of the whole of humanity,” the statement added.
US President Barack Obama has described Sunday morning’s gay nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, as “an act of terror and an act of hate.”
Americans were united in “grief, outrage and resolve to defend our people,” he said.
This latest attack is the worst mass shooting in recent US history.
Media reports say that Mateen, a US citizen of Afghan descent who was born in New York and lived in Florida, was not on a terrorism watch list.
However, officials revealed that the FBI had twice interviewed him in 2013-14 after he made “inflammatory remarks” to a colleague, before closing their investigation.
Questions are being asked about how someone who identified with ISIS could procure military-grade weapons.
“It emerged that he had legally purchased several guns in the past few days,” said one report. “Mateen worked for a security company and had a firearms license that was due to expire in 2017.”
The death toll means that the Orlando attack surpasses the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, which left 32 people dead.
Reports say that Mateen called 911 during the attack to pledge allegiance to ISIS and mentioned the Boston Marathon bombers, according to a U.S. official. He carried assault rifle and a pistol into the packed Pulse club about 2 a.m. today (Sunday) and started shooting, killing 50 people and wounding at least 53, police said.
After a standoff of about three hours, while people trapped inside the club desperately called and messaged friends and relatives, police crashed into the building with an armored vehicle and stun grenades and killed Mateen.
“It appears he was organized and well-prepared,” Orlando Police Chief John Mina said early on Sunday. Authorities said they haven’t found any accomplices.
Mateen’s father told NBC News that his son, who worked as a private security guard, was angered when he saw two men kissing in Miami a couple of months ago.
“We were in downtown Miami, Bayside, people were playing music. And he saw two men kissing each other in front of his wife and kid and he got very angry,” Mir Seddique said. “They were kissing each other and touching each other and he said, ‘Look at that. In front of my son they are doing that.’ And then we were in the men’s bathroom and men were kissing each other.
“We are apologizing for the whole incident,” he added.
Media reports are saying that several religious leaders have responded to the attack. One stated that the Rev. Glenn Dames of St. James AME Church in Titusville, Florida, said he spoke to his congregation Sunday morning about the terror attacks.
“We are all God’s children,” he said. “We’re all hurting. We’re deeply saddened by the events.”
According to the Catholic News Agency, Catholic leaders from around the U.S. are offering prayers for the victims and their families.
“Waking up to the unspeakable violence in Orlando reminds us of how precious human life is,” said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Catholic bishops conference, in a statement.
In his statement, Archbishop Kurtz wrote that the “merciful love of Christ calls us to solidarity with the suffering and to ever greater resolve in protecting the life and dignity of every person.”
Roman Catholic Bishop John Noonan of Orlando tweeted today (June 12), “We pray for victims of the mass shooting in Orlando this morning, their families & our first responders. May the Lord’s Mercy be upon us.”
Bishop Noonan was joined in mourning and prayer by Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, who tweeted: “Please join me in praying for the victims of violence, and their families and loved ones, in Orlando.”
Bishop William Lori of Baltimore also voiced his grief over the shooting in a tweet sent from his archdiocese, asking as well for prayers for the victims.
Florida Today, wrote that despite their differences, area spiritual leaders spoke out on Sunday against a mass shooting at the Orlando gay nightclub, saying that the tragedy was mentioned in sermons at churches in Brevard county, and elsewhere as prayers were said for the victims and their families.
“The tragedy of the Orlando shooting is horrific,” said Cliff Woodrum, minister of First Christian Church of Cocoa Beach. “Any innocent killing is senseless and should be condemned.”
Woodrum, who preached Sunday morning about changing one’s heart to accept God’s grace, said it goes much deeper problem than differing ideologies.
“We are dealing a major societal heart disease,” he said. “Society will never change until we change our hearts. This change is brought about only when we allow God’s grace to permeate our lives.”
The Rev. Glenn Dames of St. James AME Church in Titusville, said he spoke to his congregation Sunday morning about the terror attacks.
“We are all God’s children,” he said. “We’re all hurting. We’re deeply saddened by the events.”
Dames said each of the victims is the family of someone who will miss them regardless of their lifestyle.
“I reject if anyone suggests that this is the result of something these persons have done,” he said. “I totally reject that. That doesn’t live up with the word of God.”
Dames said he believes the tragedy will bring the community together in strength and in rejection of hate.
“God’s love will prevail in spite of all this hate,” he said. “This is going to make us stronger.”
Ken Delgado, pastor of The House of Palm Bay, told a reporter that he did not speak to his congregation about the incident because he had not heard about it until after church services, but had since prayed about the situation and for the victims.
“What a horrible incident,” he said. “Our hearts go out to the families of the lost loved ones.”
Delgado said that based on reports that the shooter in the gay nightclub is connected to ISIL, the terror attack “magnifies the difference between Islam and Christianity.”
“Our hearts and prayers goes out to everyone,” he said. “Though we do not agree with a lifestyle, we can still love everyone. We prayed for a quick recovery for those still in the hospital.”
Area Muslims said they, too, condemn any attack, especially those done in the name of Islam.
“We are very saddened,” said Imam Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida. “We condemn the person who did this, whatever ideology he had. No lives should be lost because of anger and hate.”
Musri, who is also president of American Islam, a national advocacy organization for moderate American Muslims, said he does not know what could be done to prevent mass shootings.
“I condemn all acts of terrorism, especially those done in the name of my faith,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking to see this in my beloved city of Orlando. We’re in mourning.”
Pastor Kelvin Cobaris, an African American religious leader, in a media report described how he had been able to comfort families of those club goers who were still unaccounted for. Many of the 100 or so family members he counseled, he said, left this evening still not knowing what had happened to their loved ones.
“Others received the news that they did not want to hear. When they were told that their loved one was gone, some screamed out. Others were angry, they wanted answers. All we could do was try to offer comfort, and our prayers,” he said.
Orlando Police Chief John Mina has sent an email to his entire police department, whose social media account has just published it online.
“On the darkest day of my 25 years at the Orlando Police Department, I wanted to take a moment to tell all of you how proud I am of the work you have done today and will do over the next days and weeks,” Mina told the department.
“We have trained again and again for this type of situation. It’s unfortunate that we had to put those skills to use today. But because of that training and your professionalism, we saved dozens of lives this morning. Even before the first patrol units arrived on the scene, an OPD officer working extra duty at the club engaged the gunman as he opened fire. Our first responders and SWAT team faced a hail of gunfire as they rescued the hostages, and we are blessed beyond words that none of them were gravely injured or killed.”
He concluded, “Please hug your families tonight. And be safe out there.”
The imam of the Florida mosque that Mateen attended for nearly 10 years described him as a soft-spoken man who would visit regularly but rarely interact with the congregation “He hardly had any friends,” Syed Shafeeq Rahman, who heads the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, told Reuters. “He would come with his little son at night to pray and after he would leave.”
Rahman said Mateen never approached him regarding any concerns about homosexuals. Rahman said he himself had been increasingly speaking out against violence, noting that even inflicting a scratch on someone was against the tenets of Islam.
Reverend Dr. Neil G Cazares-Thomas, Senior Pastor at Dallas’ Cathedral of Hope issued a statement regarding the tragic mass shooting at the gay club in Orlando, Florida on Saturday night.
“This morning we will pause to remember the lives of so many lost in senseless violence and hate. We will come together to mourn and we will speak out against the rhetoric of hate that has arisen in our country in recent months.”
I’ll leave the last words on this terrible day to my eldest son, Andrew Wooding, who lives in Sheffield, England and works for Church Army, a part of the Anglican Church. He posted on Facebook, “I am desperate for a world where there is no more hatred of people for their sexuality, religion, lack of religion, political views, gender, age or skin color. Will keep praying for this even though the news seems to get worse each day. Solidarity for the innocent victims in Orlando. These pathetic words of mine aren’t enough. Just awful.”
Photo captions: 1) The mass shooter, Omar Mateen. 2) Pastor offers hugs to grief-stricken couple in Orlando. 3) Sharing grief after shootings. 4) Couple in Orlando with their signs. 5) The Wooding family in Sheffield. (Left to right: Andrew, Dan, Norma and Peter).
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 75, is an award-winning winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, Alfred and Anne Wooding. He is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for nearly 53 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren, who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of the ASSIST News Service (ANS), and the author or co-author of some 45 books, the latest is Mary My Story from Bethlehem to Calvary (http://marythebook.com). Dan has a weekly radio show and two TV programs all based in Southern California. Before moving to the US, Dan was a senior reporter with two of the UK’s largest circulation newspapers and was also an interviewer for BBC Radio One in London.
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