Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Public safety

Before Orlando massacre, killer Omar Mateen visited parents one last time

PORT ST. LUCIE — Hours before Omar Mateen attacked an Orlando nightclub on Sunday, leaving 49 dead and 53 wounded, he did something not out of the ordinary for him:

He stopped by his parents' house to visit with his father.

In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Seddique Mateen, 59, said nothing about his son seemed amiss during that Saturday visit.

"It was just a normal day of life for him," the father said Monday. "I didn't notice anything. Not a single thing wrong."

Complete coverage: All of our reporting on the Orlando shootings on one page

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The younger Mateen, a security guard at the nearby PGA Village neighborhood, was dressed in his beige uniform, he said. Seddique Mateen assumed his son was on his way to work.

Witnesses later would describe Omar Mateen as wearing beige clothing when he walked into the crowded Pulse nightclub on S Orange Avenue in Orlando, armed with a semiautomatic rifle and a pistol, and committed the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The 29-year-old died hours later in a gunfight with authorities.

On Monday, other witnesses came forward in Orlando and said that they regularly saw Omar Mateen at the club where he killed 49 people. That same day in Port St. Lucie, federal agents finished searching the home of his father, Seddique Mateen.

The father said he grieved for his son's victims, and for his son. At the same time, he condemned Omar Mateen's actions and said he cannot forgive him for what he did. Seddique Mateen said he wishes that he had noticed some sign, that he could have stopped his son before it was too late.

"I wish there was something I could have done differently," the father said. "I don't know why he did what he did."

Echoing comments he made Sunday, Seddique Mateen said he thought his son was motivated by homophobia, not by faith. "I don't think religion has any role in what he did," said the father, a Pashtun who moved to New York from Afghanistan in the 1980s and has lived in the U.S. ever since.

As evidence, he told reporters about a trip he and Omar Mateen had made to Miami within the past couple of months. The father said he walked into a bathroom with his son and his grandson — Omar Mateen's only child — at the Bayside Marketplace along Biscayne Bay and saw two men touching one another.

The father said Omar Mateen flew into a rage and exchanged words with the men before storming out.

But on Monday, witnesses told the Orlando Sentinel and the Canadian Press that Omar Mateen frequented Pulse. Drag queen performers Chris Callen and Ty Smith, who are married, said they saw Omar Mateen get drunk at Pulse, complain about his father's strict ways and saw him escorted from the club several times.

Omar Mateen appeared to have no issues with gay men, they said, and even went to one or two drag queen shows.

"It's the same guy," Callen said. "He's been going to this bar for at least three years."

However, Tampa Bay Times reporters talked to dozens of witnesses in Orlando who said they had never seen Omar Mateen at Pulse.

Seddique Mateen acknowledged he knew little about his son's connections to Orlando or his association with a Fort Pierce man who, in 2014, became the first American suicide bomber in Syria.

He didn't know that his son had, in the past 10 days, visited a Port St. Lucie gun shop and purchased a rifle and a pistol with a plan to go on a rampage.

Outside the St. Lucie Shooting Center on Monday, shop owner Ed Henson said Omar Mateen bought the weapons one at a time, possibly a week apart. He had to pass a background check for both purchases, said Henson, who referred to the shooter as an "evil person."

"If he hadn't purchased them from us, I'm sure he would've gotten them from another local gun store in the area," Henson said. "I'm just sorry he picked my place. I wish he picked no place."

Armed with the weapons, Omar Mateen walked into the Pulse nightclub, a popular gay hangout near downtown Orlando, about 2 a.m. Sunday.

Orlando police Chief John Mina said that after a gun battle with officers, Omar Mateen was in the bathroom, on the phone with 911, when he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist group. In a separate statement made public on Sunday, the Massachusetts State Police said he also invoked the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings during the attack.

At the Fort Pierce Islamic Center, the small mosque where Omar Mateen prayed three or four times a week, Imam Shafeeq Rahman said he taught his congregants that being gay is a sin, but he didn't single out strictures against same-sex relationships any more than he singled out other teachings from the Koran.

A former coworker of Omar Mateen's described him as a man full of anger who used slurs to describe gay people — but also to denigrate blacks, Jews and women.

Meanwhile, interviews by the Times and court records and police reports made public on Monday offered new details about Omar Mateen's life in the years leading up to the massacre.

Born in Queens, N.Y. in 1986, he moved with his family to Port St. Lucie in 1991. While still in school he held ordinary teenage jobs, working at a Publix grocery store in nearby Palm City, a Chick-fil-A in Jensen Beach and a Walgreens in Port St. Lucie.

Later he worked at Hollister and a GNC supplements store at the Treasure Coast Square mall in Jensen Beach.

In 2005, he was an employee at Gold's Gym in St. Lucie West, where gym regular Stefan Comvalius got to know him. Comvalius, 37, told the Times that Omar Mateen was a fitness buff with a terrible temper.

Comvalius chalked up the anger to steroid use. "You could definitely tell there was something not right with him," Comvalius said.

Omar Mateen graduated from Martin County Adult Vocational School in 2003 and enrolled in Indian River Community College, where records show he earned an associate's degree in 2006.

The same year, records show, he went to court in St. Lucie County to change his name from Omar Mir Seddique to Omar Mir Seddique Mateen — to match his parents' surname.

After college, Omar Mateen got a job as a prison guard at Martin Correctional Institute in neighboring Martin County, but lasted less than six months in the job, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.

He was then hired as a guard for G4S Security Solutions. At the time of the shooting, he held an active state security guard license and a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Omar Mateen married a woman he met online in 2009, but the two were divorced by 2011. A mortgage document filed in St. Lucie County in 2013 listed another woman, Noor Salman, as his wife. It wasn't clear whether Salman was the mother of Omar Mateen's child. She couldn't be reached for comment Monday.

Outside Omar Mateen's condo building on Monday, TV crews and reporters were jammed into the parking lot. Still sitting outside the shooter's unit was his gray Toyota Camry, decorated with Marine Corps bumper stickers and a Florida Marine Corps plate.

Surveying the scene, resident Jason Beers recalled Omar Mateen as a surly neighbor. He said he would often go outside to walk his dog at 6 a.m. and see his neighbor on his cell phone near his vehicle. Beers said he would wave and say hello.

Omar Mateen wouldn't even acknowledge him.

Times staff writer Zachary T. Sampson contributed to this report. Contact Ben Montgomery at 727-893-8650 or [email protected] Contact Michael LaForgia at 727-892-2944 or [email protected] Follow @laforgia.

   
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