Orlando mass shooter visited gay clubs, used gay dating apps

REUTERS/Jim Young – RTX2G0YB

One day after Omar Mateen opened fire in a gay-friendly Orlando nightclub, killing 49 people and injuring 53 more, reports are surfacing that suggest Mateen may have been attracted to and obsessed with gay men.

Investigators are looking at reports that Mateen visited gay clubs and used gay dating apps, a law enforcement official told the Los Angeles Times.

“Watch that space,” the official said.

As Mother Jones editor-in-chief Clara Jeffrey tweeted tonight, “Jihadi or self-hating gay or homophobe or... dude was likely mentally ill, rageoholic, grandiose, obsessive, just like they all are.”

We may never know exactly what made Omar Mateen pull the trigger on his semiautomatic rifle. But we do know the one thing each of the shooters behind America's many recent mass shootings had in common: access to efficient killing machines like the AR-15 Sig Sauer MCX Mateen used to carry out the worst mass shooting in American history.

Investigators work the scene following a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando Florida,  June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Investigators work the scene following a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando Florida, June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

On MSNBC's Chris Hayes show tonight: “Cord Cedeno, who frequents Pulse nightclub and lost friends there, recognized the gunman from his photos as someone who had messaged him on a gay dating app.”

The Orlando Sentinel reports that “At least four regular customers” at Pulse, the Orlando gay nightclub where the massacre took place, said today that they had seen Omar Mateen there before.

"Sometimes he would go over in the corner and sit and drink by himself, and other times he would get so drunk he was loud and belligerent," Ty Smith said.

Smith told the Orlando Sentinel that he saw Mateen inside at least a dozen times.

"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."

At least four regular customers of Pulse told the Orlando Sentinel on Monday they believed they had seen Mateen there before.

The Canadian Press reported today that a self-described “drag-dancing married couple” say they saw Mateen “as many as a dozen times” at Pulse.

Ty Smith and Chris Callen recalled the eventual killer being escorted drunk from the Pulse bar on multiple occasions, including one incident where he pointed a knife at a friend.

Both professed shock at seeing his face on TV: "It's the same guy," said Callen, who performs under the name Kristina McLaughlin. "He's been going to this bar for at least three years."

They expressed incredulity at the story being told by Mateen's father in the wake of the shooting, that the gunman had once been scandalized during a visit to Miami by the sight of men kissing each other.

They say Mateen saw plenty of men kiss — and far closer to home than Miami.

"That's bullcrap, right there. No offence. That's straight-up crap. He's been around us," Smith said Monday in an interview at the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida.

"Some of those people did a little more than (kiss) outside the bar.... He was partying with the people who supposedly drove him to do this?"

Smith said the sometimes-visitor would show up with a buddy and let loose in a way he couldn't when he was closer to the family home in Port St. Lucie: "(He'd get) really, really drunk... He couldn't drink when he was at home — around his wife, or family. His father was really strict... He used to bitch about it."

The Daily Beast reported today that Mateen often ate lunch at a diner where the waiter was a high-school classmate of Mateen's, an openly gay man who did drag. That classmate, Samuel King, said Mateen never said anything about not liking gay men. On the contrary, Mateen “may have even gone to see a drag show or two.”

“That’s the thing that’s pinning me to the wall the most, that it was a gay nightclub,” King said. “Because he would come into the [the restaurant] and laugh with us. “He might’ve even sat down at the bar and had a drink and laughed with the bartenders, knowing that they were lesbians,” King added.

Callen and Smith separately described an incident with Mateen that made them uncomfortable. Each told reporters they decided to stay away from Mateen after he became rageful when one of their friends told a joke, which may have been about religion.

"He ended up pulling a knife," Callen said.

"He said if he ever messed with him again, you know how it'll turn out."

The Palm Beach Post interviewd a former classmate from Mateen’s 2006 police academy class who said he believed Mateen was gay, and that Mateen once asked him out.

The classmate said that he, Mateen and other classmates would hang out, sometimes going to gay nightclubs, after classes at the Indian River Community College police academy. He said Mateen asked him out romantically.

“We went to a few gay bars with him, and I was not out at the time, so I declined his offer,” the former classmate said. He asked that his name not be used.

He believed Mateen was gay, but not open about it. Mateen was awkward, and for a while the classmate and the rest in the group of friends felt sorry for him.

“He just wanted to fit in and no one liked him,” he said. “He was always socially awkward.”

The Los Angeles Times reports that one Pulse regular said he had messaged Mateen back and forth over the course of a year or so on the gay dating app Jack’d, but never met him until he saw Mateen crossing the street about 1 AM Sunday.

Kevin West, a regular at Pulse nightclub, said Omar Mateen messaged him on and off for a year before the shooting using the gay chat and dating app Jack’d.

But they never met – until early Sunday morning.

West was dropping off a friend at the club when he noticed Mateen – whom he knew by sight but not by name – crossing the street wearing a dark cap and carrying a black cellphone about 1 a.m., an hour before the shooting.

“He walked directly past me. I said, ‘Hey,’ and he turned and said, ‘Hey,’” and nodded his head, West said. “I could tell by the eyes.”

West told reporters that when he saw Mateen's photo released after the mass shooting, he recognized him from Jack'd. West drove to his local police station. Officers there reached out to the FBI, who showed him a photo of Mateen on a computer screen.

“I said, ‘That’s him,’” West said, and turned over his phone and Jack’d log-in information to the FBI, which still had the phone late Monday, he said.