According to witnesses and regulars, Orlando mass shooter Omar Mateen was a regular at at gay nightclub Pulse, the site of Sunday’s worst mass shooting in United States history. He also reportedly exchanged messages with at least one man on a dating app, and both his ex-wife and a former classmate say they believe Mateen was gay.
Ty Smith, who goes by the name Aries, spoke to both the Orlando Sentinel and the Canadian Press about seeing Mateen at the club on multiple occasions, including times where he was so drunk he had to be escorted out.
“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,” Smith told the Orlando Sentinel. “We didn’t really talk to him a lot, but I remember him saying things about his dad at times… He told us he had a wife and child.”
Another Pulse regular, Chris Callen – who performs under the name Kristina McLaughlin – told the Canadian Press, “It’s the same guy. He’s been going to this bar for at least three years.”
According to both outlets, multiple other people who regularly went to Pulse to dance and drink also remember seeing Mateen at the club over the last few years.
Meanwhile, a classmate of Mateen’s from Indian River Community College police academy, told the Palm Beach Post that Mateen once asked him out romantically. According to the paper, this classmate, who asked to be anonymous, believes 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,” he said.
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.”
Another person who allegedly believes Mateen may have been a closeted gay man? His ex-wife, Sitora Yusufiy, who also has claimed that Mateen was abusive to her during their short marriage. In an interview with Brazilian TV, Yusufiy’s current boyfriend spoke on her behalf in Portuguese, and said that she believes Mateen had “gay tendencies,” and that Mateen’s father had called him gay in front of her on multiple occasions. Yusifiy allegedly told the FBI after Sunday’s shooting that Mateen was unstable and that she didn’t believe he was part of a terrorist group, and according to her boyfriend, “The FBI asked her not to tell this to the American media.”
A man named Kevin West told the Los Angeles Times that he chatted with Mateen on the gay dating app Jack’d for over a year, and while they never met in person, he believes he saw Mateen outside Pulse the night of the shooting. Via the LA Times:
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.”
These recent reports further complicate an already confusing overlap of possible motivations and causes for Sunday’s shooting. According to police, Mateen pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a call to 911 just before the rampage, and according to the FBI, he had been the subject of two probes, but nothing illegal was uncovered. In the aftermath of Sunday’s tragedy, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, but there is no evidence that Mateen was taking direction from any terrorist organization. A few friends and family members have said that while Mateen was not know for being particularly religious, he had become more so in recent months.
All of these factors have led some to speculate that Mateen was a closeted, self-loathing gay man, and that he might have either turned to more extreme religious beliefs to squelch those urges and/or pledged allegiance to them at the last minute to hide more personal motivations.
Whatever the case may be, the FBI’s investigation is far from over – but given how secretive Mateen was about his activities, we may never get the answers we are so desperately are seeking to explain the loss of 49 precious, innocent lives.
Photo: MySpace/Orange County Police