The man who committed the worst mass shooting in U.S. history had an online bride from Uzbekistan who said he beat her, co-workers who feared he had terrorist leanings and a father who hosted a cable show in which he claimed to be president of Afghanistan.
Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old security guard from Fort Pierce, had been on the FBI’s radar since at least 2013, when acquaintances — at least one of them a former law enforcement officer — warned authorities that he was prone to violence, made unspecified threats and seemed to have radical Islamic ideas.
Mateen, a would-be cop who never made it through the police academy, had no criminal record but had a history of domestic violence and was investigated by the FBI twice, including two years ago when he was linked to another Fort Pierce man who killed himself in a terrorist bombing in Syria.
The FBI bureau in Tampa, however, closed their probes after concluding that Mateen, whose parents are from Afghanistan, posed no threat, authorities said.
Still, Mateen’s former co-workers described him as anti-social and someone who seemed to become unhinged at the thought of anyone who was black or gay.
“He was always on the edge, always hyper and agitated,” Daniel Gilroy, a former co-worker of Mateen’s, told the Miami Herald. “He would never have more than three or four sentences without using the word n----r or queer or dyke. It was always about violence.”
Federal intelligence investigators are still piecing together what led Mateen, who was born in New York but had lived in Florida for the past decade, to march into a crowded gay nightclub, pull out two firearms, including an assault rifle, and open fire about 2 a.m. Sunday.
Mateen called 911 just prior to the massacre and pledged his allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State, and IS later claimed responsibility for the attack. There was no evidence, however, directly linking him to the radical Islamic group.
The gunman’s father, Seddique Mateen, told NBC news that his son’s rampage was not motivated by religion, but by homophobia. The elder Mateen said his son had recently visited Miami and became upset after seeing two men kissing in public at Bayside Marketplace.
IS is known for its brutal killings of homosexuals, and IS leaders had been calling for attacks on the United States during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting and prayer.
“This has nothing to do with religion,” said his father, who in 2015 hosted a political TV show out of California in which he claimed to be president of Afghanistan.
He theorized that his son became enraged by two men who had been showing affection for each other in front of his son’s wife and 3-year-old son a few months earlier in Miami. “He got very angry. … They were kissing each other and touching each other, and he said, ‘Look at that. In front of my son, they are doing that.’ ”
The elder Mateen’s background has also come under scrutiny by federal authorities. Clips of his show, posted on YouTube, portray him denouncing the Pakistani government and pledging his support for the Taliban. According to Florida records, he also is the principal agent of a nonprofit, Durand Jirga, which supports the Taliban. The non-profit’s mailing address is Mateen’s home on Bayshore Boulevard in Port St. Lucie. The home was searched by the FBI on Sunday.
Records also show that Omar Mateen lived less than a mile from the last registered address of Moner Mohammad Abusalha, a U.S.-born suicide bomber who blew up a restaurant in northern Syria in 2014. Both men also attended Indian River State College, although Mateen received an associate’s degree four years before Abusalha studied there.
Mateen earned a degree in criminal justice technology in 2006, the Indian River State College spokeswoman told TCPalm. Abusalha took preparatory classes for two semesters for a physical therapy assistant program from 2010 to 2011.
Ronald Hopper, an assistant agent in charge of the FBI’s Tampa Division, said Mateen had been investigated for ties to Abusalha, but the agency found that contact between them had been minimal, The New York Times reported.
Property records show that Mateen’s family owns several properties in Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie and that they are members of the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce.
Imam Syed Shafeeq Rahman said Mateen had been a regular attendee since childhood and came in for worship three or four times a week.
“He will come the last minute; he will leave the first minute,” often with his young son, Rahman said. “He will finish his prayer, and he will just leave. …We would not see friends around him.”
The imam said Mateen was into bodybuilding and had been training to be a police officer but didn’t make it through the academy. He believed that Omar’s father sold life insurance.
Mateen worked security for a private company, G4S, at the PGA Village in Port St. Lucie, where he was known for his cursing, diatribes and verbal slurs toward gays and African Americans, said Gilroy, the former co-worker.
Gilroy, a former Fort Pierce police officer, said he worked with him for about one year, finally quitting in March 2015 because the environment had become toxic.
He said he repeatedly complained about Mateen’s behavior to supervisors but they declined to discipline him because of his Muslim faith. Mateen frequently prayed on a mat while at work, he said.
The two did not work the same shift, but Mateen frequently talked to him because Mateen always came in to work early at the south gatehouse.
After Gilroy quit, Mateen began bombarding him with angry text messages, saying he felt betrayed. “I finally confronted him and I told him, ‘We’re not friends,’ ” Gilroy said. “He just had anger issues. I was scared for my family.”
Gilroy also said that Mateen, before his stint at the PGA Village, had been stationed at the security entrance at the Port St. Lucie criminal courthouse, where he also drew many complaints from co-workers.
He said Mateen often talked about his dalliances with women in the neighborhood.
“All he wanted to do was cheat on his wife,” Gilroy said. “He had very little respect for women.”
His ex-wife, Sitora Yusufiy, claimed that Mateen was unstable and frequently beat her. On a blog post, she said she left Uzbekistan for the United States when she was 11. She met her husband online and in 2009 moved to Florida to marry him.
“He would just come home and start beating me up because the laundry wasn’t finished or something,” she told The Washington Post.
Mateen eventually remarried and had a son.
Authorities searched his home in Fort Pierce, as well as his father’s home in Port St. Lucie, on Sunday. Authorities removed several paper bags and three boxes of folders from his father’s one-story home.
The imam said he was heartbroken by what happened. He said he never saw anything to indicate that Mateen harbored radical or homophobic views. Nor did he notice any recent changes in behavior in the private young man, who last worshiped at the mosque on Friday.
“Nobody agrees with the ideology of ISIS. We are struggling to remove the dust from Islam,” he said. “When something like this happens, it pushes us 10 years back. … We want to be at peace."
The mosque has asked the Fort Pierce Police Department to provide extra security but was told it didn’t have resources.
Omar Mateen has been employed with G4S since Sept. 10, 2007, said spokeswoman Monica Lewman-Garcia. The job apparently involved working at various locations.
Jasmine Kalenuik, a Palm City resident, encountered Mateen at PGA Village about eight months ago at the gatehouse.
“He made me so uncomfortable,” said Kalenuik. “He asked me for my ID, and when he gave it back he just holds onto it and he’s clinging to it and breathing weird and smiling at me with this crazed stare.”
The interaction was repeated three or four times per week. He was still working there in June, she said.
She said her friends used to run into him at Gold’s Gym several years ago. “They said he creeped most of the girls out,” she said.
Kalenuik's husband, Jerome, whose parents live in PGA Village, was also unnerved by Mateen.
“There was something different about him. He didn't even give a flicker. He had a blank face, a poker face. He had that look.... It was almost like there was a shell around him.”
But Christian Cave, who attended Martin County High School with Mateen as a freshman 16 years ago, described a different personality.
“He was cool. I used to see him at house parties,” Cave said. “He made people laugh.... He didn’t talk about religion or politics. He must've changed a lot.”
An earlier vesion of this story misstated the location of PGA Village. It is in Port St. Lucie.