An Orlando mass shooting at the LGBT nightclub Pulse has left at least 20 dead and 42 injured, Orlando Police Chief John Mina said at a Sunday morning news conference. According to CNN, the unidentified gunman was carrying an assault rifle, a handgun and a “device.” Police reported just before 6 a.m. that the shooter inside the club at 1912 S. Orange Ave. was dead. An investigation is currently underway, which includes a search of the area by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office hazardous device team with assistance from the FBI. Agents confirm they cannot rule out that the shooting was an act of domestic terrorism. According to reports, the shooter was not from Orlando and may have leanings toward extreme Islamic ideologies.
Witnesses told The Orlando Sentinel they heard at least 40 shots fired inside the popular gay club and estimated that at least 20 people had been shot. Mina said that his officers exchanged gunfire with the suspect in two shootings. One officer sustained an injury to the head in the exchange and was saved by his helmet. The incident began at about 2 a.m., when the shooter took hundreds of club patrons hostage and the Orlando Fire Department called for its bomb squad and hazardous material team to the scene after 3 a.m.
Following the incident, emergency workers were seen taking victims away from the scene in large trucks; in one case, as reported by The Sentinel, an emergency worker was doing chest compressions on one of the victims. Kenneth Melendez and his friends were at the club when the shooting happened. Four of his friends were shot and were at ORMC, he told The Sentinel.
“It’s just something that you see in the movies but never think would happen to you. At first, when I heard the shots I thought it was part of the music, but then we realized it was really happening. I started running and saw someone bleeding from the arm and I was like wow this is really happening and I kept running.”
Just after the shooting, Pulse Orlando posted the following note to its web page.
“Everyone get out of Pulse and keep running.”
Javer Antonetti, 53, went out to the club with his brother. He said he was near the back of the room when he heard shots ring out.
“There were so many, at least 40. I saw two guys and it was constant, like ‘pow, pow, pow.'”
Antonetti said he fled from the club, but his brother who was on crutches, became stuck inside. Fortunately, authorities were able to rescue Antonetti’s brother unharmed.
Christopher Hansen, who was inside Pulse when the shooting began, told USA Today the scene inside the nightclub was utter chaos.
“Bang! Bang! Screaming. And loud noises. The guy next to me was shot… when I turned around to look everyone was falling and dropping and screaming.”
The Orlando Pulse nightclub mass shooting comes a day after singer Christina Grimmie was fatally shot as she signed autographs after performing at the Plaza Live theater in Orlando. Grimmie had gained fame as a YouTube performer and a contestant on The Voice.
[Image via The Associated Press]