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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
50 Dead, 53 Injured in Worst Mass Shooting in U.S. History. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired June 12, 2016 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The FBI is on the scene and leading the investigation in partnership with local law enforcement. I have directed that the full resources of the federal government be made available for this investigation.
We are still learning all the facts. This is an open investigation. We have reached no definitive judgment on the precise motivations of the killer. The FBI is appropriately investigating this as an act of terrorism. And I have directed that we must spare no effort to determine what, if any, inspiration or association this killer may have had with terrorist groups.
What is clear is that he was a person filled with hatred. Over the coming days we'll uncover how and why this happens and we will go wherever the facts lead us. This morning I spoke with my good friend, Orlando mayor, Buddy Dyer, and I conveyed to them the deepest condolences of the American people.
This could have been any one of our communities. So I told Mayor Dyer that whatever help he and the people of Orlando need, they are going to get it. As a country, we will be there for the people of Orlando today and for all the days to come.
We also express our profound gratitude to the police and first responders who rushed to harm's way. Their courage and professionalism saved lives and kept the carnage from being even worse. That's the kind of sacrifice that our law enforcement professionals makes every single day for all of us, and we can never thank them enough.
This is an especially heart breaking day for our friends and fellow Americans who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance, and to sing and to live. The place where they were attacked was more than a nightclub. It's a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds and to advocate for their civil rights. So this is a sovereign reminder that attacks on any American, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that defines us as a country. And no act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans. Today marks the most deadly shooting in American history. The shooter
was apparently armed with a handgun and a powerful assault rifle. This massacre is, therefore, a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school or in a house of worship or a movie theater or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that's the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.
In the coming hours and days, we will learn about the victims of this tragedy. Their names, their faces, who they were, the joy that they brought to families and to friends and the difference that they made in this world. Say a prayer for them. Say a prayer for their families. Let God give them the strength to bare the unbearable. That he give us all the strength to be there for them and the strength and courage to change. We need to demonstrate that we are defined more as a country by the way they live their lives than by the hate of a man who took them from us.
As we go together, we will draw inspiration from heroic and selfless acts. Friends to helped friends, took care of each other and saved lives in the face of hate and violence we will love one another. We will not give in to fear or turn against each other. Instead, we will stand united as Americans to protect our people and defend our nation and to take action against those who threaten us.
God bless the Americans we lost this morning. May it comfort their families. May God continue to watch over this country that we love. Thank you.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The president making a five minute short statement. A moving statement, though. And clearly stating that this is an act of terror and an act of hate. The president saying this is clearly an awful day in American history, confirming the worst mass shooting in American history. This was a massacre. This was, indeed, a slaughter. He says we will get more information on this individual whether he was inspired or actually associated with the terror group.
Peter Bergen, you just heard the president of the United States. Once again, he unfortunately has to make these kinds of statements all too often. But this will go down at least until now as the worst shooting, a massacre in American history.
[14:05:30] PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: And the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11.
You know, I think (INAUDIBLE) has written quite eloquently about the president and his approach to these questions. You know, he on the one hand doesn't want to make terrorism sort of -- he doesn't want to terrify the American population by saying, you know, things that would really -- that this is such a terrible event and that we will see a lot more of this. On the other hand, he wants to reassure people that everything is being done to kind of take care of the issue. I think he has tried to maintain a careful balance between recognizing this is a problem but also not saying, hey, the sky is falling. This is an existential threat. In this statement today, you know, he kept it pretty brief. He just
said this is a terrible tragedy. It is an act of terrorism. It is an act of hate. And he didn't take any questions. But, you know, clearly this is going to be - you know, we often talk about an October surprise in politics where something, a big event comes and changes the political atmosphere. Clearly this is going to be something not dissimilar where both campaigns will need to think about how to react and what it means politically.
BLITZER: Today marks the most deadly shooting in American history. Those words from the president of the United States.
Juliette Kayyem, the president was very, very blunt in saying this individual, his words, was a person filled with hatred, referring to the killer, Omar Saddiqui Mateen.
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's exactly right. And factual as we were saying before the president went on, he needs to protect this investigation. I know people want the facts or what they are speculating about to come faster, but we need to protect the investigation. We don't know that it's over. We don't know that others weren't involved. We hope it's over. But we have to be vigilant and just picking up on the president's tone.
This president talks a lot about resiliency. And that is because the nature of the threat has changed over the course of his eight years. It is not this organized Al-Qaeda threat anymore. It is both the lone Wolf and the soft targets and the kinds of incidents that we're starting to see. And I think he mentioned that in this speech. He wants the American public to brace for potential attacks in the future, but also to keep our heads on, because we are in a political environment. This will be used by campaigns not just the national one but in Florida itself there's a major campaign going on. And I think as the president, he wanted to elevate it at least at this stage, to remind us that while this is a horror that we do continue.
BLITZER: We certainly do continue. But this is clearly, clearly an awful day in American history. We're just getting confirmation by the way from Pamela Brown, our justice correspondent. The shooter was born in the United States, born in New York City according to a U.S. official in 1986. His parents originally from Afghanistan according to this official. That information just coming in.
Paul Cruickshank, you listened to the president carefully. When he says came right out and said this is an act of terror and an act of hate, clearly an act of terror against the American people, but specifically an act of hate not only against the American people but against the LGBT, the gay community in the United States.
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Absolutely. This was targeted quite clearly against the LGBT community, a nightclub being targeted in the small hours of the morning. He may have thought that this would play quite well with ISIS' fan base who are viscerally and viciously homophobic so that this would only increase the energy that this attack provides ISIS' support base. He clearly wanted ISIS to take ownership for this attack by making that 9-11 calls to get the message across very clearly that he was pledging allegiance to the leader of ISIS, (INAUDIBLE).
But this comes more at a time of significant concern about the home grown radicalization threat. There are currently 800 investigations across the United States where the FBI is looking into what they believe are ISIS sympathizers. That is taking up a lot of attention of law enforcement. They are looking for all kinds of signs that attacks may get through, examining social media, looking for signs that ISIS is trying to instigate attacks as they have done recently in the United States through social media through online encryption apps we saw in 2015, an attempted attack in Garland, Texas where there are 109 messages exchanged between a British ISIS operative in Syria and one of the gunman. So ISIS is not just generally encouraging the attacks. They are getting in touch with people in the United States and they are grooming them to launch terror attacks, Wolf.
[14:10:45] BLITZER: We're getting the live pictures from the White House now. The president has ordered that the flag over the White House will be flown at half-staff. It will be lowered momentarily. I think it hasn't been lowered yet, but it will be lowered momentarily.
Chris Frates is over at the White House reporting on these late- breaking developments.
Chris, the president was clearly shaken and clearly moved. Obviously, very upset by what has occurred.
CHRIS FRATES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He was shaken and he was moved, Wolf. You are right. But the president sounding a little more resigned than he has in the past. I mean, we have heard a more angry, a more frustrated President Obama before. He sounded almost resigned. As you point out, he has ordered the flags here at the White House and all government buildings to go half-staff. But he, you know, told the American people that this was an act of terror and an act of hate, pointing out he has talked with FBI director James Comey and all of the resources of the federal government are going to be put into this investigation.
And then he talked a little bit about the shooter. He said that this was a person filled with hate. And that while we don't know the motives at this point, he made the connection this was a shooting at a LGBT nightclub. That people had come together to sing, to dance, to have a good time, and that an attack on any American is an attack on all Americans. So, you know, the president taking this personally speaking for the country here from the White House podium. And he also said that this is a further reminder that when people can get their hands on guns so easily, they can use it at houses of worship, at movie theaters, at nightclubs, at schools, and all the places we've seen shootings over the president's administration. In fact, this was the 15th time that his president has come out to address or talk to the nation after a mass shooting sounding more resigned today.
And Wolf, we heard from the president. And we will see what else he learn as this investigation continues. The president saying we will continue to be briefed and we will see whether or not the president heads to Florida. How this impacts his schedule. This coming week, of course, the president scheduled to start the campaign for the general election on Wednesday going to Green Bay, Wisconsin, to start it with Hillary Clinton. We will see if that still happens or if this investigation affect takes over the news cycle, takes over American's consciousness. We will just have to stay tune, Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, Well, 50 people are dead and at least another 50 are injured, many of them very seriously right now. All 50 of these people, they have families, they have loved ones. The grieving will be enormous right now.
Peter Bergen, we are just getting in a statement from the employer of this killer, this mass shooter, Omar Saddiqui Mateen. This is a statement in from G4S secure solutions, the security company for which he worked. Let me read it to you and then we'll assess. And Juliette, I want your reaction as well, and Paul Cruickshank.
We are shocked and saddened by the tragic event that occurred at the Orlando nightclub. We can confirm that Omar Mateen had been employed with the G4S since September 10th, 2007. We are cooperating with all law enforcement authorities including the FBI as they conduct their investigation. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the friends, families and people affected by this unspeakable tragedy.
So what, for nine years this individual was working for a security company that had contracts with the federal government to protect federal building. It's going to cause a lot of outrage out there.
BERGEN: I think so, but unfortunately, we have seen this kind of movie before. I mean, (INAUDIBLE) was well known to officials at the FBI because he was in touch with who did the fort hood attack. He sent 18 emails to (INAUDIBLE), a notorious cleric in Yemen associated with Al-Qaeda. And yet that wasn't enough to get in, basically dismissed from the U.S. military. So you know, it's much worse to have a mole essentially, al Al-Qaeda mole as it were, inside U.S. military. It's hard to imagine anything worse. So, I mean, the FBI has dropped the ball on occasion. And in this case, you know, that it's quite unusual for these kinds of perpetrators not to be known in some shape or form to law enforcement already.
BLITZER: Yes. It is pretty shocking.
Very quickly, give me a thought because we have to take a quick break, Juliette.
KAYYEM: Just what we don't know yet is which federal agency had employed this company and where and whether he was employed in federal sites in Florida. Because there's just a lot of people involved with the security apparatus. So they are going to be hunting that down to see if he had access to federal buildings. It is the nature of the security apparatus. That there is a lot of subcontracting going on. And then obviously investigators will be looking at colleagues over this close to decade that he worked with to determine if he had any contacts or had been saying anything in recent weeks to help explain sort of inexplicable situations.
[14:15:07] BLITZER: The flag, the American flag now at half-staff over the White House. The president has ordered the flag at half- staff in memory of those who were killed in Orlando overnight.
We are standing by for a news conference from local police. Other authorities, our special coverage continues right after a quick break.
[14:19:04] BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
You are looking at live pictures from the White House. You see the American flag flying over the White House now at half-staff by order of the president of the United States. He just released this proclamation as a mark of respect for the victims of the act of hatred and terror perpetrated on Sunday, June 12th, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. By the authority vested in me by the president of the United States, by the constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby order that the flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff at the White House and upon all public buildings and grounds, at all military post and naval stations and at all naval vessels at the federal government in the district of Columbia and throughout the United States in its territories and possessions until sunset, June 16th, 2016.
I also direct that the flag shall be flown at half-staff for the same length of time at all United States embassies, legations, counsellor offices and other facilities abroad including all military facilities and naval vessels in stations. In witness whereof, I have here on to set my hand at this 12th day of June in the year of our Lord, 2016 and of the independence of the United States of America, the 240th, signed Barack Obama, president of the United States.
As of now the death toll stands at 50 dead, at least 53 others injured. The shooting took place at the Pulse nightclub around 2:00 a.m. The - police. Police are investigating to tact as an act of terror. A source says the gunman called 9-1-1. 9-1-1 and pledged his allegiance to ISIS.
Let's go to CNN's Victor Blackwell. He is in Orlando. He has got more.
Victor, you are there on the scene for us. Update our viewers.
[14:20:55] VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is an attack not just on the city of Orlando but on a community. This section of Orlando tightly woven, but also the LGBT community. I have with me the city commissioner, Orlando city commissioner Patty Sheehan who represents this district, also the first openly gay city commissioner here in Orlando.
Let's talk broadly. When you heard the number, 50 killed, 53 injured, what went through your mind?
PATTY SHEEHAN, ORLANDO CITY COMMISSIONER: I was horrified. At first we heard it was around 20, and I thought, you know, that was really high. Are we among the highest in the nation, and now unfortunately we've broken that record. And this is a horrible, horrible tragedy for Orlando and for the LGBT community. You know, my community is a resilient community. We have been through
aids, we have through -- victims of violence and things like that but never anything to this degree, and it was Latin night. So there's all kinds of diversity. We are very welcoming community. And the fact that this happened here in Orlando, I have to tell you, I don't want to concentrate on the terrorist that spread their hate, and I don't think the answer is more guns. I think the answer is to get to the heart of terrorists and really extreme people and find out why they hate so much. Because more violence is not going to stop violence. We have got to understand and try to help these people who espouse this kind of violence because we can't target harden. I have to tell you, this club was very secure. This was an off duty officer with a gun at the front door. What else can we do?
I think that as a society, though, we have to double down and say, you know what, in a war guns aren't the answer. Let's try to find ways to bring these disenfranchise people back into some level of feeling they're part of a community so they don't commit mass murder and violence. Because that's not the answer to everything. And I'm much more impressed with the 1500 people in line at our blood bank that want to give.
There has been a lot of people in my community that want to have vigils and different things like that. I know, there is something at the church. But we are trying to discourage it because right now these officers will be on duty 24 hours, some of them because they were dealing with other shooting we had this weekend.
BLACKWELL: That's right with "the Voice" contestant.
SHEEHAN: Yes. So I mean, right now we are really, really stretched thin. And the last thing I want is have a lot of people at a gathering that I can't protect.
BLACKWELL: We'll talk about a vigil that is coming up at 6:00 about a mile and a half away from here. We will talk about that in just a moment.
SHEEHAN: We're asking people to go to their own church.
BLACKWELL: To their own church. And I come here because you don't want them clogging up the streets.
SHEEHAN: I don't. Yes.
BLACKWELL: Let me ask you. You have been checking your phone all day because you know some of the people who are associated with the club.
SHEEHAN: I do. I know the owner of the club. I just found out that she was OK. I was very relieved to hear that. I'm sure that I have friends that were in there. I mean, I have to tell you. For me as a city commissioner it's one thing. But I'm also a human being. I was walking along the sidewalk with my officer and I was talking to a local anchor that I know. I looked on the sidewalk and I saw the blood and I just started to cry, because these are people. You know? I mean, I can be a commissioner, I can be -- and a talking -- I can talk all day long, but I have to look down and see the blood from someone who might have died. I heard that these people were running out of the club and that some of them died behind some of the businesses. And it's just a horrendous thing to think about and to know there are families that don't know yet.
BLACKWELL: Who have been waiting for hours.
SHEEHAN: Who have been waiting to hear something. And unfortunately, if they haven't heard anything yet, it's probably bad news.
BLACKWELL: We also saw the citizen response in the moment after the shooting carrying each other out into their own cars and to pickup trucks trying to get them to hospitals. Give me your reaction of what you saw from the people of your district and what that made you feel?
SHEEHAN: Thank you. Because people get very angry at law enforcement. This was law enforcement at their best. That officer that was at the -- called for backup immediately and exchanged fire with the suspect. Then we immediately had officers responding, and the officers, you know, they are trained for this. They actually have an armored vehicle that they broke into the wall to get to the suspect.
This is very highly trained law enforcement. I'm very proud of them. And they are very heroic for their efforts. There are almost 300 people in this club. There could have been a lot more casualties if not for the heroic officers of the Orlando police department. So I'm very grateful for them. People can fuss about those few bad apples that we hear about, but this is an example of law enforcement going above and beyond the call and saving hundreds of people.
[14:25:09] BLACKWELL: Undoubtedly. This leaves a big footprint in this community and the ripple effect will be here for some time. But does it fundamentally change this city of this district?
SHEEHAN: I don't think a loving, decent big hearted community like Orlando will ever be change by this kind of gun violence. I think that we will go out together. There's already people raising money for the victims. We are going to come together in a very positive way. There's people giving blood. Those are the people whose message matters. Not the message of hate but the message of love here from the community of Orlando.
BLACKWELL: And what are you asking from people right now? We know and we just talked about a moment ago those 1500 people in line at a blood donation center on Michigan. We understand other locations are opening. There is obviously a big heart in this community. I lived in Florida for seven years before I moved to Atlanta to work for CNN. So I know the solidarity that is in this community. What are you asking for from people there?
SHEEHAN: We are an amazing loving community, and the gay community is very tight here. But like I say, please just back off the vigil and really public displays right now because we have to let these officers do their work. And then we can have something later on after things calm down a little bit. But this is a very active crime scene. This is the largest crime scene we've ever processed in the city of Orlando. We have officers like I say who will probably be on duty for over 48 hours.
BLACKWELL: And you understand this will be here for some time.
SHEEHAN: This will be here for some time. If we're lucky, we might get Orange Avenue be open by tomorrow, but we really can't count on it. And this crime scene is going to be secure for a long time. So again, we are asking people. Go to your own churches. Let's not plan anything really large right now. Because I don't want there to be any more victims. I don't want there to be, you know -- there should not be this widespread fear, but we also need to give law enforcement the time that they need to do their job.
BLACKWELL: All right. Orlando city commissioner Patty Sheehan, thank you so much for taking some time to speak with us. And I hope you get some good news about the people you're still waiting to hear from as you check your phone throughout the day.
SHEEHAN: Thank you.
BLACKWELL: All right.
Wolf, I'm going to send it back to you. Again, those 1500 people in line at a blood donation center not far from here. They are opening other places. This is the citizen response we saw starting in the moments after the shooting. People who were inside the club and outside the club carrying people to their cars, to pickup trucks, driving them to hospitals, getting them some triage help, some medical attention, and it continues now with the people in this community lined up to donate blood.
There is a vigil that's planned at Joy Metropolitan which is about a mile and a half away from here. That's at 6:00 tonight. Again, as you heard from the commissioner, they do not want people crowding around this area, because the law enforcement vehicles need to get in and out. So go to your own church we're hearing from local officials. But again, not just the law enforcement response, but the citizen response is growing here in Orlando after this tragic shooting.
Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: That line is truly remarkable, Victor. It's a clear sign of solidarity for the victims of this horrendous, horrendous disaster. The worst mass shooting, a massacre in American history.
You just heard the president of the United States say today marks the most deadly shooting in American history. Look at that line. It's worth seeing.
The attorney general of the United States and the secretary of homeland security have both decided they need to be in Washington right now and will not be attending an international U.S. China cyber ministerial meeting in Beijing in China. The statement from Loretta Lynch, the attorney general of the United States saying the depart of justice including the FBI, the ATF, the national security division, U.S. attorney's office for the middle district of Florida fully supporting this ongoing investigation.
You heard the president of the United States say the FBI is now in charge of this investigation. They are working in close coordination with local authorities, local police, local state police authorities as well. The attorney general saying I will no longer participate in the U.S./China cyber ministerial meeting in Beijing. I will travel back to Washington immediately to continue monitoring the developments.
Similarly, the secretary of homeland security Jeh Johnson expressing his thoughts and prayers for the victims but then adding these words. In light of today's tragedy, this morning I cancelled my plan, official travel to Beijing to resume my ministerial level discussions there. The president making it clear that this is an act of terror and an act of hate. He has ordered flags, all U.S. flags over federal buildings flown at half-staff. You see the flag flying over the White House right there being flown at half-staff in honor, in memory of the victims of this and act of hate.
[14:30:04] We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back. You heard the president of the United States say his words today marks the most deadly shooting in American history.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We want to welcome or viewers in the United States and around the world as we continue to cover the deadliest mass shooting in American history.
President Obama has ordered flags at half staff to honor the victims of the nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida. As of now, these numbers will change, the death toll stands at 50. At least 50 people have died. At least 53 others are injured.
The shooting happened at the Pulse nightclub at around 2:00 a.m. Eastern. The gunman died in a shootout with police. Police are investigating the attack as an act of terrorism. The source says the gunman has called 911 and pledged his allegiance to ISIS.
[14:35:02] He also mentioned the Boston marathon bombings. He's been identified as Omar Saddiqui Mateen, 29 years old, born in New York.
We also know that prior to the shooting the gunman was, in fact, on the FBI's radar. Mateen was an ISIS sympathizer, but officials say they say they had no indication he was actually plotting to carry out a terror attack.
We're also getting a clearer sense of just what happened when those gunshots rang out at the Pulse nightclub early in the morning.
CNN's Boris Sanchez is in Florida for us. He is taking a closer look at the time line for us.
Boris, update our viewers. BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf.
Yes. This was supposed to be just a fun night at a club. It was Latin night at the Pulse nightclub here in Orlando. And people had packed the house. More than 350 people were inside dancing, singing, having fun. At 2:00 a.m., everything changed.
And now, we're getting a greater scope of this terrible, terrible day.
CHRIS HANSEN, WITNESS: It was just one after another after another after another. After everybody was out, people, the shootings were still going and the cops were yelling, go, go, clear the area!
SANCHEZ: All out panic early Sunday morning after a gunman opens fire inside a gay nightclub in Orlando.
MAYOR BUDDY DYER, ORLANDO: It is with great sadness that I share we have not 20 but 50 casualties. In addition to the shooter, there are another 53 that are hospitalized.
SANCHEZ: Police identified the gunman as Omar Mateen, a U.S. citizen of Afghan descent from Fort Pierce, Florida. They say he was organized, well-prepared and equipped with an assault rifle and handgun.
DANNY BANKS, SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE, FLA. DEPT OF LAW ENFORCEMENT: Do we consider this an act of terrorism? Absolutely, we are investigating this from all party's perspective as an act of terrorism.
SANCHEZ: Authorities say the shooting begun around 2:00 a.m. Once on scene, police engaged in a shootout with the gunman outside the club. He made his way inside and then it turned into a hostage situation. Terrified club goers trying to find a place, reaching out to loved ones for help. One mother reading text messages from her son that say, quote, "Trapped in the bathroom, call police. I'm going to die."
Another emotional parent still waiting to hear from her child after arriving on the scene.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My son hasn't been heard from, so I don't know if he was left in the club, if he got shot, or if he's being worked on here. I don't know.
SANCHEZ: Police say the gunman was later shot and killed by SWAT team officers after a door was broken down to help people get out as possible.
SANCHEZ: Cleanup crews are now inside the Pulse nightclub. Not only are ATF agents scanning for explosive devices but they've begun the difficult process of processing the remains that are inside, and hopefully identifying them for loved ones to get the information they've been desperate for since news of this broke out at 2:00 a.m., Wolf.
BLITZER: And, Boris, you're also getting access to some of the moving text messages that emerged from the scene. What can you tell us about that?
SANCHEZ: It's heart breaking, Wolf. We mentioned that mom that got the text messages from her son reading, "I'm in a bathroom. I'm going to die."
It's heart wrenching to hear someone received text messages like that. Fortunately, a lot of people are getting answers now.
Initially earlier today at the Orlando Regional Medical Center, there was chaos. There were gurneys outside, doctors trying to tend to people who were hurt and family members trying to get answers. Fortunately a lot of that has been taken care of. There are people who have gotten answers about their loved ones, but I believe we have some sound bites from someone who received some text messages. Let's play those now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some text messages that a mother was getting from her son, trapped in the bathroom.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pulse downtown. Call police. I'm going to die. I'm calling you now. Call them, mommy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Answer your damn phone. It's an unnerving situation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. There. Again, one of the mothers desperately trying to text with her son. This is the son that was in the bathroom.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At 2:46 he was still in the bathroom.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has us. They need to come get us. The police is in there. Hurry. He's in the bathroom with us. Women's bathroom.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: Just heart-wrenching to read those messages, especially now in retrospect when you find out that so many people hid inside different parts of the club. And they were in there for three hours with this gunman.
So, you can imagine, some terrifying moments. Hopefully as the hours passed, these families will get answers and hopefully good news.
[14:40:02] But on a day when there's 50 casualties inside the club, it's hard to come by any good news, Wolf.
BLITZER: So, heart breaking.
All right. Boris, we'll get back to you. I want to bring back Victor Blackwell. He's also in Orlando for us.
Victor, you have an eyewitness?
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, I do. We've heard the stories and Boris just reported them of what was going on inside the club. I have with me a man who was just across the street outside the club, Nicholas Hornstein.
You are from Atlanta visiting, you were at an apartment just across from Pulse Orlando. Start from the beginning.
You were asleep and what happened?
NIC HORNSTEIN, WITNESS: I was asleep and 2:00 rolled around. The shots started going off. I woke up and looked out the window and there's mass hysteria, people running from the club, trying to help people get away from the club, help the injured move away from the club, you know, people with injuries to appendages trying to get away and help others.
BLACKWELL: What did you hear?
HORNSTEIN: I heard about a dozen shots after I woke up, and, you know, after that people screaming for help, yelling, running around, call 9-1-1.
BLACKWELL: How many people would you estimate?
HORNSTEIN: Forty or fifty.
BLACKWELL: I understand you heard something on a loud speaker. What did you hear? Could you decipher what they were saying?
HORNSTEIN: It was difficult to make out. It sounded like law enforcement was talking to the shooter inside trying to get him to release hostages and shortly after that, there were people led from the direction of the club out of that way.
BLACKWELL: So, that would have been about 5:00 when they went in with the explosives to pull the people out of the club. Now that you know what happened, now that you have some context, what goes through your mind?
HORNSTEIN: It's just -- my mind is blown, you know? When it was happening, there was no information out. It was hard to gauge the gravity of the situation. Now that the numbers have come out, I can't believe everything that was going down 300, 400 feet away.
BLACKWELL: You were in the apartment. You got back at midnight. In happens throughout the morning. How long were you kept inside that apartment? Did you communicate with police?
HORNSTEIN: I just left about an hour or so ago. I was able to leave the apartment. They told us, you know, stay inside, stay put, don't leave the apartment and we follow. BLACKWELL: Did you tell you anything that was going on, anything
HORNSTEIN: They did not. They said there was an active situation and we can't have you going anywhere.
BLACKWELL: OK. Nicholas, thank you so much for being with us as we try to put together what was happening inside and outside the club.
As you heard Nicholas say, there was the rush of people coming out. It was about 2:00 from Anthony Torez (ph), who was a person inside the club. There was account from him saying they had just given the last call. So, people were starting to leave the club, preparing to leave the club, and then the shots fired. They initially didn't know if it was part of a song, but he says one man says he knew this was serious when people started hitting the floor.
Right now, we're starting to get a picture of what happened inside the club and unfortunately, some of those victims, many of them, are still inside the club as well as the shooter, and families have been waiting since 2:00 a.m., going beyond now, 12 hours, without word, some families, of if their loved ones are dead or alive.
We have to keep those people in our thoughts as we continue our coverage here from Pulse Orlando, where this tragedy.
Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: All right. Victor, back to you.
So shocking indeed that one individual, one terrorist can open up and slaughter 50 people and then injure another at least 50 people in the course of that incident at the Pulse nightclub.
Let's take another quick break. We're standing by to hear from local police. We'll get an update. New numbers presumably coming in as well. Much more of our special coverage right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: It's a family. In the LGBT community, we're a family. We accept each other for who we are. And then when something happens like this, it affects all of us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Florida Senator Bill Nelson speaking in Florida right now.
[14:45:01] Let's listen.
SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: It's not been confirmed. It's coming over the wires right now. We will find out more and more as the FBI gives you their analysis. There are several FBI agents in St. Lucie County now. They have asked, as I said earlier and appeal to people to, anybody in the community that knows the shooter, for them to please --
BLITZER: Unfortunately, we've just lost our connection with the senator. Maybe we've regained it. Let's listen.
NELSON: It's difficult to stop a lone wolf because it's hard to get the information ahead of them. But in this case, if we're getting those kind of statements from the news agency of the Islamic state, we'll have to see what those connections are once we get the details. So I wanted to bring you up to date. I told you I would keep you informed since I spoke this morning. Momentarily the FBI will be here to give you an update.
REPORTER: Senator, have you heard if the situation in California is connected?
BLITZER: All right, Bill Nelson, the Democratic senator from Florida briefing reporters on information. Apparently some sort of statement emerging from ISIS itself. We're trying fog learn as much as we can about the shooter Omar Saddiqui Mateen.
Brian Todd is with us. Brian, what are you finding out from U.S. officials?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, my colleagues and I compiling everything we can about the suspect right now. Here's what we can tell you at the moment. U.S. and law officials are short time ago, they told our producers that the shooting suspect Omar Mateen called 911 more than 20 minutes into the attack to pledge allegiance to ISIS, and he mentioned also the Boston bombers during that call.
Now, officials are telling CNN the FBI investigated Mateen for possibly having ties or at least being a sympathizer to Islamic extremism. Law enforcement saying there were two cases opened on Mateen in the past, but the investigations didn't bring about enough evidence to charge him with anything. Two law enforcement officials tell us Mateen was known to the FBI as one of hundreds of people on the agency's radar suspected of being ISIS sympathizers.
But there was no indication he was plotting to carry out any kind of attack. Right now, we're see nothing claim of responsibility but we're seeing ISIS sympathizers online praising the Orlando attack also. That's one threat, is possible ties to Islamic extremism.
Another thread is the hatred against gays that we can tell you about here. A U.S. official telling CNN investigators have talked to Mateen's family who indicated he expressed anti-gay feelings in the past.
We know that, you know, other personal information about this man. He's around 30, born in 1986 in New York. His parents are from Afghanistan, according to a U.S. official. He worked as a security guard for a private firm called G4S Secure Solutions.
That firm just a few moments ago putting out this statement, Wolf. Quote, "We are shocked and saddened by the tragic event that occurred at the Orlando nightclub. We can confirm that Omar Mateen had been employed with G4S since September 10th, 2011, nine years."
The statement goes on to read, "We are cooperating fully with all law enforcement authorities including the FBI as they conduct their investigation. Our thoughts and prayers are with all the friends and families of people affective by this unspeakable tragedy."
Wolf, that's the quote from G4s Security Solutions there.
BLITZER: Yes, he started working in 2007, as you pointed out, nine years ago for this security firm who apparently has security contracts with the federal government to protect federal buildings, is that right?
TODD: That's what we know right now, Wolf, but we're trying to compile more information about the buildings he had access to and again, this is, of course, a work in process. We hope --
BLITZER: Hold on, Brian.
BLITZER: Marco Rubio, the other senator from Florida is now speaking.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: We're still learning all the facts. In a few moments, the FBI will be in to fill us in on details.
Both Senator Nelson and I are very involved in the intelligence community. So, we'll get a sense of what we know at this point. But suffice it to say that we know that there's hate in the world. We know that some of it is inspired by a warped ideology. We know that we've been in conflict with it for a very long time.
We know they seek to intimidate us. They seek to terrorize us.
And I hope they see today they won't terrorize America. They won't terrorize Floridians. That we stand for and with all Americans, irrespective of their sexual orientation, irrespective of their party ideology, irrespective of where they live.
We are all Americans. You're seeing the response today, and this will continue. This will make us stronger. They will not win.
Islamic terrorists need to know that they will not win.
[14:50:01] That America will stand strong and together, and despite whatever differences we might have and we debate in open society, or whatever issue, we are all Americans. And we stand here together united, confronting this threat that has been a scourge to the world.
BLITZER: You see both senators from Florida speaking out. Once again, we have not independently confirmed that this was an ISIS attack directed attack. Those are -- there are reports out there. We're working to check it out. I want to be precise on that.
Brian Todd, you're still with us. Brian, tell us about the weapons that we know were used by this terrorist. TODD: Right, Wolf. Law enforcement had at least a handgun and an AR-
15 type assault rifle on him during the attack. A law enforcement official says he legally purchased a Glock pistol in the past two weeks from a St. Lucie County area gun store. Officials say his work with a security firm would have allowed him a firearms license, which meant that minimal background checks would have been necessary when he purchased any firearms.
Wolf, that's what we can tell you right now about the weapons he had on him. And the weapon -- at least one weapon that he purchased in the last couple of weeks.
BLITZER: All right. Brian, when you get more information, let us know. Brian Todd, thanks very much.
I want to bring back our security analyst Juliette Kayyem, our national security analyst, Peter Bergen, and our CNN law enforcement analyst, Art Roderick.
Art, we haven't heard from you in a while. But give us your thoughts on what we know right now. Apparently, this terrorist made a 911 call pledging his allegiance to ISIS, recalling the Boston marathon bombing. The president of the United States clearly saying this is an act of terror and an act of hate.
ART RODERICK, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It's obvious he wanted to let everybody know what he was doing. Instead of posting it on the website or his social media, he just called 911 and let them know he was pledging his allegiance to ISIS, which to me, we've never heard of this before to me.
But I also find it interesting, Wolf, that he worked for this large security company which is actually U.K.-based, and I have seen them in some of the airports around the U.S. They're a large multinational company with security contracts all around the world. I have basically seen them in a couple airports around the United States.
So, if he's working for this security company, he might not have just been at federal buildings. He also could have possibly been detailed to work the airport at one time or another.
BLITZER: Which is pretty shocking when you think about it, but not necessarily all that extraordinary when you think about the case of Major Nidal Hasan of Fort Hood, Texas.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: In terms of him being on the radar of the FBI? Yeah.
BLITZER: Yes, and somebody who has security, Major Nidal Hasan, he has security clearances, too.
BERGEN: Yes. And, unfortunately, the FBI field office in Washington, D.C. said, look, when this issue was raised by the FBI field office in San Diego about the major, they said, look, he's an army psychiatrist. The fact that he's in touch with a militant cleric in Yemen is kind of consistent with his job and they basically dropped the investigation. And, of course, we live a liberal democracy in which we don't want the
FBI just investigating people willy-nilly and have cases open for a long time. But in case after case, where we've seen a lethal terrorist attack, the FBI has often had, as was the case in the Boston marathon attack, some pretty good tip that somebody might be a militant and in the end they didn't open an investigation, they let the case close.
BLITZER: If, in fact, Juliet, ISIS does formally go out and claim responsibility, claim credit as they say for this terror attack, what will that mean as far as the U.S. federal investigation?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, we wouldn't take it that seriously in the sense. Of course, they're going to take credit for someone who says they're inspired by ISIS. This gives them tremendous respect in their community. It's used as a recruitment tool.
So, the question for law enforcement now is, was -- if he was inspired by ISIS, was it direct or passive inspiration? That -- there's a difference. In other words, was he just sitting in his room collecting this stuff, getting radicalized on his own, or did he have contact to someone from ISIS who took him to one of these -- sort of back channel, this encrypted area that you and I know a lot about to begin to discuss what a plan may look like.
Also, the other question right now is if there are two separate investigations or queries about him by the FBI, I have a couple questions. One is was he ever interviewed. Was his employer ever notified that in two separate instances, he was targeted by counterterrorism? And then third, simply for information sake, what access did he have to federal buildings.
I don't know if we know these answers yet, but this is where the investigation is going to unfold in the next couple days.
[14:55:02] BLITZER: And, Art, a U.S. official tells CNN that federal officials have already spoken with his family, and they say he did express a very anti-gay attitude. This was a gay nightclub.
RODERICK: I mean, this could have been a combination of both things. A hate crime against the gay community, but also some allegiance to ISIS. So, this will all be sorted out in the next 24 to 48 hours, but it would not surprise me if once they start looking into his background that it comes out there was probably a combination of both issues going on.
BLITZER: All right. Everyone, stand by. We're going to take a quick break, resume our special coverage. We're waiting for the police. They're going to have a news conference in Orlando to update us on what they have learned in this information.
Our special coverage continues at the top of the hour.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer. We're continuing to follow the breaking news. The coverage of what the president of the United States just called an act of terror and an act of hate -- the worst mass shooting in American history.
I want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Any moment now, we're going to be getting a news conference coming in from officials in Orlando, Florida. As of now, 50 people confirmed dead, at least 53 are injured.