When Omar Mateen — a 29-year-old security guard — opened fire at Pulse nightclub in Orlando on Sunday, killing 49 people and wounding 53, it wasn’t his first time at the club. In fact, according to at least four regular patrons, Mateen had visited the club several times before, and one — Chris Callen, a drag queen who performs at Pulse under the name Kristina McLaughlin — said Mateen had been going there “for at least three years.”
Additional reports suggest Mateen had created profiles on multiple gay-dating apps: Grindr, Jack’d, and Adam for Adam, to name a few. And a former police-academy classmate of Mateen’s said he believed Mateen was gay and had asked him out on a date. “We went to a few gay bars with him, and I was not out at the time, so I declined his offer,” the classmate told the Palm Beach Post. He went on, “He just wanted to fit in and no one liked him. He was always socially awkward.”
Cord Cedeno, another Pulse patron, said he recognized Mateen from Grindr but “instantly blocked him because he was very creepy in his messages.”
Ty Smith, another regular, told the Orlando Sentinel that Mateen would “go over in the corner and sit and drink by himself,” and at times would “get so drunk he was loud and belligerent.” “We didn’t really talk to him a lot, but I remember him saying things about his dad at times,” Smith said. “He told us he had a wife and child.”
Yet another Pulse regular, Kevin West, told the Los Angeles Times that Mateen messaged him on the gay-dating app Jack’d for at least a year before the shooting, but they’d never met in person. Then, on Sunday, West was dropping a friend off at Pulse when he noticed Mateen crossing the street at about 1 a.m. — just an hour before the shooting. “He walked directly past me,” West said. “I said, ‘Hey,’ and he turned and said, ‘Hey.’ I could tell by the eyes.”
Taken together, these accounts seem to suggest that Mateen had a life outside the one he lived with his ex-wife, Sitora Yusufiy (the pair divorced in 2011). And in an interview with CNN, Yusufiy left the question open:
“When we had gotten married, he confessed to me about his past — that was recent at that time — and that he very much enjoyed going to clubs and the nightlife,” said Yusufiy, who divorced Omar Mateen in 2011 and said he was abusive and unstable. “So, I feel like it’s a side of him or a part of him that he lived but probably didn’t want everybody to know about.”
“Do you think he was gay?” Burnett asked .
Yusufiy was silent for three seconds. She glanced to the side, shook her head a little, and said, “I don’t know.”
“He never personally or physically made any indication while we were together, of that,” Yusufiy continued. “But he did feel very strongly about homosexuality.”
But Mateen’s father, Seddique Mateen — who notably posted anti-gay sentiments on Facebook — vehemently denied the possibility. “If he was gay, why would he do something like this?” he asked.
Seddique Mateen previously said his son became enraged when he saw two men kissing in Miami a few months ago, but Smith questioned that characterization. “That’s bullcrap, right there,” Smith told the Canadian Press. “No offense — that’s straight-up crap. He’s been around us. Some of those people did a little more than [kiss] outside the bar.”
Since the shooting, police have been attempting to piece together what motivated Mateen to carry out the attack. He reportedly declared his allegiance to ISIS in a 911 call just before the shooting, and police say he referred to the Tsarnaev brothers, who were responsible for the Boston bombings, as his “homeboys.” But officials stressed that Mateen’s links to terrorist groups remained unconfirmed, despite the fact that he’d been investigated three times by the FBI for such connections.
It’s still impossible to say what motivated Mateen, but it now appears the answer is much more complicated than Islamic extremism.