FBI agents have recovered security footage from a number of cameras inside and outside Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., that recorded the violent shooting rampage that left 49 people dead, a U.S law enforcement official said Friday.
Agents are meticulously documenting the videos to get a better minute-by-minute sense of how the shooting unfolded. The videos are graphic and highlight the cold-blooded nature of the massacre, the official said.
Investigators also have learned that the gunman, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, exchanged text messages with his wife, Noor Zahi Salman, before and during the attack.
In these messages, Mateen mentioned the shooting and asked whether it was being covered by the news, a law enforcement official said.
His wife, in turn, expressed her love for him, the official said.
Earlier, authorities confirmed that Mateen had posted on Facebook and called a local news station and 911 during the shooting at the crowded gay nightclub before he was killed by a police SWAT team.
The probe was starting to bear fruit Friday as friends and families of the victims began gathering for funerals.
“This was an act of a hate-filled murderer,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said during a Friday briefing at an assistance center for victims’ families. “People have different definitions of acts of terror, but it was certainly an act of hate.”
Dyer said the city is trying to help as many victims’ families as it can. So far, 94 have visited the center for help, and 200 have received free airline tickets to reunite with relatives.
All 49 victims’ families have sought assistance with funeral expenses, he said. They also have been offered space in a section of the city’s Greenwood Cemetery that will be set aside as a memorial, and the mayor said he will attend as many funerals as he’s invited to.
“One of the victims has already been buried there, and I believe there will be more this weekend,” Dyer said.
The city is raising money at OneOrlando.org, $7 million so far, and is consulting on how to manage the funds with experts, including attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who decided compensation after the 9/11 attacks, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the Boston Marathon bombing.
Many of the victims were Puerto Rican and had relatives living on the island, a U.S. commonwealth.
Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens at birth, but Rodriguez said U.S. immigration officials have been granting other victims’ families humanitarian parole, temporary permission to enter the country, from Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador.
“Some families decided to have their loved one buried here,” he said, but “most are going back.”
Orlando Fire Chief Roderick Williams said President Obama’s visit to the city on Thursday was comforting to the officers and emergency crews who spent hours at the club as the chaos unfolded. Obama met with first responders and their families, Williams said, thanking them for their efforts.
It was reassuring, Williams said, to know that “you have support; you’re not alone.”
The mayor said investigators still were trying to determine Mateen’s movement before the shooting, noting he did not travel directly from home to the club that night.
“The FBI has done a tremendous job,” Dyer said. “There really isn’t that much to investigate at the site of the shooting. It’s more what led up to it and what did his wife know.”
Meanwhile, the owner of a gun shop in Jensen Beach, Fla., south of Mateen’s home in Fort Pierce and about 130 miles south of Orlando, told reporters Mateen came in roughly five weeks before the nightclub shootings asking to buy body armor and about 1,000 rounds of ammunition.
But he left empty-handed after an employee told him the store didn’t have either. The worker then called the FBI to report a suspicious person, although he didn’t know Mateen’s name, according to Robert Abell, co-owner of Lotus Gunworks, who spoke to the Associated Press and others gathered on his doorstep.
Abell was being interviewed by FBI investigators at the shop Friday and could not be reached for comment, staff said.
A law enforcement official who asked not to be identified confirmed that shop staff had contacted the FBI, but provided no name or license plate for the individual spotted at the store.
Susanne LaForest remembered Mateen from a four-month training class they took with fellow correctional officers at Indian River Community College in Fort Pierce in 2007, when Mateen was working to the south at Martin Correctional Institution.
She said Mateen didn’t talk about being Muslim until an incident during a class barbecue following a trip to a local shooting range.
“I never thought of him as Muslim. I thought he was Mexican, myself, until the barbecue thing,” LaForest said.
Mateen became upset during the barbecue when his hamburger touched a piece of pork on the grill, she said.
“He said he didn’t believe in eating it, it was against his religion and it was a sin and it wasn’t funny and he would kill us all for making fun of him,” LaForest said. “He was irate about it.”
When others told him to calm down, she said, he replied, “It’s my laws, it was against his laws.”
At the time, LaForest just thought Mateen was being hotheaded.
Earlier, they had done target practice with handguns and 12-gauge shotguns at a shooting range in nearby Okeechobee, she said. Mateen, she recalled, was an “excellent shot.”
A few months into their training, a mass shooting occurred at Virginia Tech, and when classmates discussed it, Mateen became upset, LaForest said.
Before the training ended, Mateen stopped coming to class and the instructor announced that he had been fired from his job at the prison, “because of his outburst.” That’s when he went to work as a security guard at the courthouse in Fort Pierce, she said – a job from which he was also fired.
“If this would have been documented somewhere, he might have not been able to get a gun, or the FBI would have been alerted,” she said of the firings.
In another development, a woman from Fort Pierce said Mateen stalked her nearly a decade ago when he started coming into the bar where she worked.
Heather LaSalla told the Associated Press that Mateen sent her so many uncomfortable messages on Facebook that she blocked him.
She ran into him again at a park in November while she was with her young son and Mateen was with his, she said. He talked about his son’s soccer league, she said.
MORE ON ORLANDO SHOOTING
7:57 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Susanne LaForest.
2:09 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information from law enforcement.
9:06 a.m.: This article has been updated with additional information from a law enforcement source, and a new report from the Associated Press.
This article was originally published at 8:26 a.m.