As many as 20 people were killed and 42 injured Sunday morning when a gunman opened fire inside an Orlando, Florida, nightclub, police say.
The FBI classified the shooting spree as an act of domestic terrorism.
An on-duty officer was at the club and responded at about 2 a.m., returning fire and backing the gunman into a bathroom at Pulse Nightclub, 1912 S. Orange Ave.
At that point, the incident became a hostage situation, Orlando Police Chief John Mina said.
Investigators were in contact with some of the hostages inside the club and at about 5 a.m., "the decision was made to rescue the hostages that were in there," he said.
OPD SWAT stormed the building, using an armored vehicle to break down a wall and explosive devises as distractions, he said.
Officers engaged the gunman, who was shot and killed, and were able to rescue 30 hostages, Mina said.
One officer was injured when he was hit in the head by one of the gunman’s bullets, but sustained only an injury to the eye, thanks to his Kevlar helmet, Mina said.
The helmet “saved his life,” he said.
While the shooting was considered an act of terrorism, FBI spokesman Ron Harper said there was no credible information that would indicate there was a further threat to Orlando or the rest of Florida.
Investigators were not immediately able to determine the shooter’s motivation, but said there is a possibility that radical Islamic views could have contributed, Harper said.
“We do have suggestions that individual may have leanings toward that particular ideology, but right now we can’t say definitively,” he said.
As the shootings happened, witnesses and family members were alerted early via text and social media that there was something wrong at Pulse Nightclub.
“At about 2:07 a.m., I got a text message from my daughter and my two nieces,” a woman at the scene who did not want to be identified said. “(They said) ‘Please come and get us. Please come and get us now. They’re shooting. They’re shooting.’”
A few minutes later, the woman said she received another text that her daughter had been shot.
The 18-year-old’s condition was unknown.
Christopher Hanson was inside the club when the shooting started and said at first the gunshots sounded like they were part of the music.
“’Bang, bang,’ it sounded like it was a song,” he said. “All I know is that when I turned around, everyone was screaming and jumping.”
Hanson found himself on the ground, groping his way through the crowd as he tried to escape.
“I crawled my way out, and once I was able to see, I got up and crossed the street immediately,” he said. “I just didn’t know what else to do.”
Even safely across the street, Hanson said he could hear the horror that continued inside the club.
“You could still hear (gun)fire going, and the banging,” he said. “It sounded like there was more than one (shooter), there’s no way it was just one person.”
But it appears there was only one shooter: A well-armed, prepared and organized one, Mina said.
When they approached the dead gunman, officers found an assault rifle and handgun, and a “suspicious device” on the man, Mina said.
Other such devices were seen around the club and possibly in the shooter’s car, so specialists were brought in to clear the building.
In the meantime, the 20 victims killed in the shooting could not be removed from the building, Mina said.
Harper said his office, along with all the other agencies participating, will find out why the shooting happened and keep one from happening in the future.
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