Omar Mateen was a loner who went from job to job, had few friends, a failed marriage, a demanding father and a history of bragging about ties to radical Islamic militant groups.
As a teenager in high school, he cheered the 9/11 terrorists and claimed that his uncle was Osama bin Laden, according to classmates. He told friends bin Laden had taught him how to shoot an AK-47 and that, on the day of the attacks, he pretended he was an airplane striking a wall, as if mimicking the World Trade Center strikes.
But as a young adult, Mateen finally seemed headed in a positive direction, earning a college degree in criminal justice technology. He was hired by the Florida Department of Corrections, where he hoped he would receive training to become a certified police officer.
As federal investigators began to piece together the 29-year-old’s descent into terrorism — and uncover a motive for his killing spree in Orlando — friends, co-workers, schoolmates and neighbors who knew him and his family gave differing and sometimes conflicting accounts of his behavior.
It’s remained unclear what role, if any, his father, Seddique Mateen, played in shaping his beliefs. The elder Mateen, a licensed insurance broker who lives in Port St. Lucie, is a native of Afghanistan who espouses support for the Taliban and, in the past, publicly denounced U.S. support for Pakistan.
On Monday, the 59-year-old father invited reporters into his home in groups and reiterated that his son never showed signs that he was troubled, nor any indication that he was influenced by radical Islamic terrorist groups.
He expressed anger and disappointment that his son seemed unable to live up to his expectations.
“I don’t forgive him as a father. Instead of doing this, he should have gone and gotten a better education,” Seddique Mateen said, sitting on a couch in his living room in Port St. Lucie, a photograph of his son as a young boy on the couch beside him.
His father condemned the massacre but continued to insist that it was motivated by his son’s hatred of gays, not by his Muslim faith or the Islamic State, which claimed Mateen was one of their “soldiers,” though there is no evidence IS knew about the slaughter beforehand.
Asked about his own political leanings, the elder Mateen brushed off questions about his support for the Taliban. For several years, he hosted a satellite TV show out of California in which he declared himself the president of his homeland. He also formed a nonprofit charity that supports the Taliban, records show.
It’s not known whether his son — or his two daughters — shared his political activism, but federal authorities searched the father’s Port St. Lucie home on Sunday and seized his computer and other items.
They also raided Omar Mateen’s condo in Fort Pierce, where he lived with his wife and 3-year-old son. His wife, Noor Zahi Salman, was interviewed by the FBI on Monday but — unlike Mateen’s first wife, who claimed that Mateen beat her — Salman has not spoken publicly.
Neighbors of the couple said Omar Mateen rarely spoke, even when he was spoken to.
“If you tried to speak to him, he would just look at you like you were crazy,” said neighbor Jason Beers.
Court records released Monday show that Mateen held a series of jobs in high school and college, never working more than a year at any one place.
High school friends recalled that on the day of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Mateen’s behavior was particularly alarming — and frightening.
“Omar stood up in class … and he started jumping up and down cheering on the terrorists,” a former classmate wrote on Facebook.
Another former classmate who spoke to the Miami Herald confirmed that Mateen “started acting crazy” the day of the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks. At one point, he stood up in class and announced that his uncle was Osama bin Laden and how bin Laden had taught him how to shoot an assault rifle, said the former classmate, who wanted only his first name, Michael, used.
Michael said Mateen was pulled out of class and his father was called. When the elder Mateen arrived, he slapped his son across the face in front of other students, Michael said.
Robert Zirkle, 29, who rode the school bus with Mateen, said that on the bus later that week Mateen extended his arms to mimic an airplane and “he would just act like he hit a wall, kind of lean forward and back and make an explosion sound or screaming sounds.”
Zirkle said Mateen was expelled shortly afterward.
Marty Bielicki, a former dean of students at Martin County High School, wrote on social media that Mateen had been in and out of trouble. “Clearly, if his employer had access to his juvenile record, he would be the last person to own a weapon,” Bielicki wrote.
While in college, the younger Mateen legally changed his name from Omar Mir Seddique to Omar Mir Seddique Mateen. In the application papers, he said he was born in New Hyde Park, N.Y., and lived in Flushing and Westbury, N.Y., before moving with his family to Port St. Lucie in 1991.
Vinnie Krestalude lived next door to Omar Mateen’s family in Port St. Lucie between 1998 and 2000, when Mateen was a teenager. He said Mateen’s father was involved in numerous neighborhood feuds, including arguments with Krestalude’s father.
Krestalude said the police came to the house several times to settle the disputes, which were mainly neighborhood nuisance-type calls. The Mateens moved before the 9/11 attacks, but the Krestaludes called police afterward, reporting that in hindsight they feared the family’s activities were suspicious. Police said they investigated and didn’t find anything nefarious.
“We always felt that there was something more to it just because of the hatred and the hostility in the man’s eyes,” Krestalude recalled, referring to the elder Mateen.
But Mike Mazzone, who lived across the street from the Mateens in Port St. Lucie for several years, remembered the family as neighborly and kind, although he said he didn’t know them well.
He said the elder Mateen once replaced tiles that had come loose from his roof after a storm. And Omar, who was looking for work after college, helped him jump-start his Toyota RAV4 when the battery died. Omar’s mother, Shahla, invited him to the back patio for a homemade dish of rice and vegetables.
“They were lovely people,” he said. “Sometimes you can live with someone and not know who they are.”
But after college, Omar Mateen’s dreams of becoming a police officer were thwarted when he failed to pass his probationary employment period at Martin County Correctional Institution, a state prison in Indiantown where he worked as a trainee officer for six months until he was let go in 2007. It’s not clear why he was dismissed. The Florida Department of Corrections did not release his employment record on Monday.
Mateen was then hired by G4S, the largest security company in the world, and he passed a background check and clearance to become an armed security guard. He was assigned to the St. Lucie courthouse in 2013, when he first came to the attention of the FBI after he allegedly told co-workers he had connections to the terrorist group al-Qaeda.
The case was closed by the FBI following a 10-month investigation.
Caitlin Kelly, who worked with Mateen at G4S in 2004 and 2005, said she reconnected with him last October on the dating website PlentyOfFish.
After talking on the phone for several months, Mateen came over to Kelly’s home one night a few months ago, she said. He claimed he was having “baby mama drama” problems with the mother of his son and never told Kelly he was married.
He pressured her to have an intimate relationship, but she said she had a bad feeling about him.
“You knew it was a loose screw, but you didn’t know which screw it was,” she said.
Omar Mateen’s employment history
2002, Publix Supermarket, Palm City
2003, Circuit City, Jensen Beach
2004, Chick-fil-A, Jensen Beach
2004, Walgreens, Port St. Lucie
2005, Nutrition World, Ft. Pierce
2005, Gold’s Gym, St. Lucie West
2006, Hollister, Treasure Coast Mall, Jensen Beach
2006-2007, Martin Correctional Institution, Indiantown
2007-2016 G4S security (at various locations in Florida, including the St. Lucie County. Courthouse)
Source: Port St. Lucie County Clerk record, Florida Department of Corrections