Approximately 20 killed and 42 injured after a gunman opened fire and took hostages at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, police said early Sunday.  Officials said a hostage situation developed after the gunman stormed the Pulse Nightclub about 2 a.m. “We are looking at probably in the range of 20 [dead], but we don’t want to give you an exact figure,” Orlando Police Chief John Mina said.

The gunman was shot dead about three hours later when a SWAT team entered the club NBC reports. “It’s appears he was organized and well-prepared,” the chief said, adding that the shooter had an assault-type weapon, a handgun and “some type of (other) device on him.”

The preliminary assessment: the incident “could definitely be classified as domestic terrorism,” Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said. Police have shot and killed the gunman, Mina told reporters.

Orlando police warned residents to stay away from the area, and urged people not to call their offices. They declined to provide the number of casualties, saying details will be available later. Bomb sniffing dogs are on the scene.

 

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer added that “many lives were lost.”

According to Reuters, officers said in a Twitter message that there were “multiple injuries” at the Pulse nightclub and local media reported that between seven and 20 people had been shot. The dance club urged patrons to “get out” and “keep running” in a post on its Facebook page. Police have not confirmed if there were any other people killed or the specific number of injuries.

Orlando police warned residents to stay away from the area, and urged people not to call their offices. They declined to provide the number of casualties, saying details will be available later. Bomb sniffing dogs are on the scene.

It was the second deadly shooting at an Orlando night spot in as many nights. Late Friday a man thought to be a deranged fan fatally shot Christina Grimmie, a rising singing star and a former contestant on “The Voice”, while she was signing autographs after a concert in the Florida city.

Video posted online showed a large number of police and emergency vehicles outside the nightclub. Bomb sniffing dogs were also on the scene, CNN reported.  Dozens of police vehicles, including a SWAT team, swarmed the area around the club after the gunfire broke out. At least two police pickup trucks were seen taking what appeared to be shooting victims to the Orlando Regional Medical Center, The Associated Press reported.

In a flashback to the November 13 attacks in Paris, revelers described scenes of horror from inside the club. One witness told MSNBC that they had to crawl over bodies to escape. A post to the club’s Facebook page at around 2 a.m. warned “everyone get out of Pulse and keep running.” Witness video from outside showed dozens of first responders at the scene, and several victims on the ground.

“It was tragic,” club-goer Christopher Hansen told MSNBC. “I wasn’t sure if it was the music, because … it went with the beat almost until you heard just too many shots.

“It was just like — bang, bang, bang, bang, bang bang — and that’s when you just know chaos is just, it was in turmoil,” he added.

Several patrons had posted on social media that a gunman was holed up inside and holding hostages. One man who said he was inside the club posted that the shooting broke out around 2 a.m. and that he heard about 40 shots being fired. Javer Antonetti, 53, told the Orlando Sentinel newspaper that he was near the back of the dance club when he heard the gunfire. “There were so many (shots), at least 40,” he said. “I saw two guys and it was constant, like ‘pow, pow, pow,’.

“Police said they had carried out a “controlled explosion” at the club hours after the shooting broke out, but did not say why that was done. They described the scene as a “fluid situation”.

Mina Justice was outside the club trying to contact her 30-year-old son Eddie, who texted her when the shooting happened and asked her to call police. He told her he ran into a bathroom with other club patrons to hide. He then texted her: “He’s coming.” “The next text said: ‘He has us, and he’s in here with us,'” she told the Associated Press. “That was the last conversation.”

Witness Anthony Torres posted to Facebook that he and his friends made it out of the club “just barely as we started to hear fire being shot.” “They are just pulling people out in stretchers loading them up,” he said, referring to first responders. “Omg please god let everyone make it.

“People are screaming that people are dead,” Torres wrote in another post. The shooting at the nightclub comes during a series of national celebrations that mark LGBT pride month.

“As soon as we have any information we will update everyone,” the club later posted to Facebook. “Please keep everyone in your prayers as we work through this tragic event. Thank you for your thoughts and love.”

* * *

Authorities urged caution as police officers hovered nearby with weapons and dogs. A few miles away, the Orlando Regional Medical Center was placed on lockdown, the hospital said in a statement. Only essential workers are being allowed access into the building. Arnold Palmer Hospital and Winnie Palmer Hospital were also placed on lockdown out of an abundance of caution, officials said.

* * *

The motive, or the identity of the shooter , are so far unknown. “At this time we’re looking at all angles right now,” an FBI official said. He was asked if the shooter might have possible connections with extremists.

“We do have suggestions that that individual may have leanings towards that particular ideology [extremism]. But right now we can’t say definitively so we’re still running everything around,” he added.

And moments ago Trump just tweeted about the shooting:


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