As photos of Orlando gunman Omar Mateen spread across the news Monday, at least five people with ties to the LGBT community said they recognized him — either from previous nights at the Pulse nightclub or gay dating apps.
Four people who regularly visited the gay nightclub told the Orlando Sentinel that they had seen Mateen there before. One person said he remembered Mateen at the club as long as three years ago.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, the 29-year-old went on a shooting rampage in the club where about 300 people had gathered for the weekly Latin night. Forty-nine people were killed, and 53 others were injured.
"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 told the Sentinel.
The Associated Press on Tuesday reported that the FBI was investigating the reports.
Jim Van Horn, 71, told the AP that Mateen was seen regularly at Pulse. "He was trying to pick up people — men," Van Horn said. "He's a homosexual and he was trying to pick up men."
"He would walk up to them and then he would maybe put his arm around them or something or maybe try to get them to dance or something and go over and buy a drink or something," Van Horn said. "That's what people do at gay bars. That's what we do."
"I met him one time at the bar," he said. "He was talking to me about his ex-wife."
LGBT advocacy group GLAAD said Tuesday the massacre was an attack on the LGBT community and American values of equality and freedom.
"Whether the gunman’s homophobia spurred from hatred of others or hatred of himself, this is homophobia all the same," the group said in a statement. "And it’s sadly just the latest example of homophobia turning to horrific violence, just as it has for decades.”
Smith added that Mateen had talked about his father, wife, and child.
Kevin West, another regular at the club, told the Los Angeles Times that he had exchanged messages on and off with Mateen for the last year on dating app Jack'd. They never met in person, until West saw him outside the club about an hour before the shooting.
“He walked directly past me. I said, ‘Hey,’ and he turned and said, ‘Hey,’” and nodded his head, West told the Times. “I could tell by the eyes.”
A former security guard at the club told ABC News that she was sure she had thrown Mateen out before. Another regular at the club told the Canadian Press that Mateen had once pulled out a knife after taking offense at a joke, possibly about religion.
Mateen appeared to regularly interacted with men over gay dating apps, one man told MSNBC. Cord Cedeno said he recognized Mateen's photo from Grindr.
"He was very creepy in his messages," Cedeno told MSNBC. "I blocked him immediately."
Cedeno added several of his friends had also seen Mateen on apps including Adam4Adam and Jack'd. Two of them had been in touch with the FBI about their interactions.
The owner of another gay club in Orlando told the New York Times that Mateen had tried to friend him on Facebook.
Following the reports about Mateen's presence on gay apps, CNN spoke with his ex-wife. Sitora Yusufiy had said in previous interviews that he was abusive during their short marriage and also made anti-gay comments.
"I don't know if he was gay," Yusufiy told CNN's Erin Burnett. "He did feel very strongly about homosexuality."
His father had also said that Mateen became angry a few months ago after seeing two men kissing. The statement prompted people to share photos of #TwoMenKissing across social media in protest.
A former classmate told the Palm Beach Post that Mateen had asked him out on a date while they were in high school. The classmate, who did not provide his name, said he believed Mateen was gay.
"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 Post.
Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Claudia Koerner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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