On a horrible Sunday morning in Florida, world-famous Orlando suddenly became known for more than being the home of Disney World: It’s now the site of America’s deadliest mass shooting.
The distinction is heartbreaking; the heartache is unimaginable: The toll is 49 dead, a number so hard to comprehend.
With this rampage, we Floridians have been slapped in the face with the knowledge that we, too, are the physical and psychological victims of this awful plague of violence, this time inspired by an allegiance to ISIS, something we’ve seen before on our soil. We are not immune, not shocked viewers from afar, not able to say that such horrors happen "somewhere else."
Omar Mateen stormed into a popular gay nightclub in Orlando called Pulse, held its patrons hostage to his hate and then killed and killed and killed.
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He managed to do something other mass shooters have not: His despicable act represented the deadly convergence of Islamic extremism and anti-gay fervor, unleashed on a crowd of gay millennials.
They only wanted to enjoy a Saturday night out. But Mateen wanted recognition. At some point early Sunday during the attack, Mateen allegedly called 911 to pledge his allegiance to ISIS. He died in a gun battle with the brave members of Orlando’s law-enforcement community who walked into the path of this killing machine.
It’s no accident that Mateen, 29, of Fort Pierce, and a self-radicalized security guard, picked the LGBT community to target.
The motive, his father told NBC News was this: His son fumed when he recently saw two men kissing at Miami’s Bayside Marketplace. An act as simple and as loving as a kiss led to another act, hate-filled and despicable, leaving 49 people shot to death.
"This is an act of terrorism," Gov. Rick Scott said. "It should make every American angry." Well said, governor.
Once again a shooter cultivated his hatred not in some foreign country, but here on shared American soil. Mateen was born in New York, the son of Afghan parents, and settled in Central Florida in 2007.
Mateen was no stranger to law enforcement, which will likely become an issue in the coming days. The FBI first interviewed him in 2013 for boasting of having terrorist ties, then again a year later for communicating with a known terrorist. Nothing could be proved, and Mateen was not labeled a credible threat. Several days ago, he managed to buy the guns he used Sunday morning.
In this well-planned attack at a gay nightclub on Latin Night, the killer not only wounded the LGBT community but also the national community of Muslim Americans, as horrified as any other Americans at the carnage done in the name of Islam. And at a time when Muslims, among others in this country, have been singled out for hateful political rhetoric. It would compound this national tragedy to allow it to fan the flames of anti-Muslim or anti-gay sentiments.
On Sunday, those who survived told of the minutes before the shooting. Smiling faces in the club were suddenly startled by the recognizable pop, pop, pop of gunfire; the music died and a fight for life began for hundreds of people.
Sunday, President Obama addressed the nation for the 15th time during his administration following a domestic mass shooting. He called the latest attack "an act of terror and an act of hate." Indeed. We have seen it too many times before. Going forward, we should never get used to it.