BREAKING NEWS – A gunman who federal authorities say had possible ties to terrorism opened fire early Sunday morning at a packed Florida nightclub, killing approximately 50 people and wounding scores more in a bloody scene that ended hours later when police stormed the building and killed the suspect.
The shooting in Orlando at Pulse, which bills itself as “the hottest gay bar” in the city and was packed with more than 300 people, was reported minutes after 2 a.m. Sunday. In addition to those killed inside the club, at least 53 people were taken to area hospitals. Dozens of party-goers remained hostages in the club for several hours after the initial shooting, prompting SWAT teams to pour inside. Shortly after 6 a.m. local time, Orlando police tweeted that the gunman had been killed.
The gunman, whose identity was not immediately released, “may have leanings” toward radical Islam, FBI Special Agent in Charge Ron Harper said when asked by Fox News whether the suspect had ties to Jihadist terror groups. Harper said the investigation is looking into possible threats made previously by the suspect in connection to radical Islam groups. He said the agency is still investigating and has yet to confirm any role a terror group may have played in the mass shooting.
“There are allegations the individual made threats in the past to having ties to terrorist organizations,” Harper told Fox News.
“At this time we’re looking at all angles right now,” Harper said. “We do have suggestions that that individual may have leanings toward [radical Islam], that particular ideology. But right now we can’t say definitively so we’re still running everything around.”
The incident “is being investigated as an act of terrorism,” said Danny Banks, special agent in charge at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, who added that “around 20” people are believed dead inside the nightclub.
Banks said the suspected shooter – who was armed with an “assault-type rifle” and a handgun — also was dead inside the club, where he was shot and killed at around 5 a.m. in a shootout with SWAT team officers who were called in “to rescue hostages,” Chief John Mina of the Orlando Police Department said.
Mina said officers were engaged in a gun battle outside the club before the suspect went back into the building, where more shots were fired. He said the gunman then took several hostages.
“It 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.”
At least 9 officers were involved in raiding the nightclub, and one officer was injured, according to Banks. The injured officer was hit by a bullet and his Kevlar helmet saved his life, Banks said.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer credited law enforcement with saving more lives by their heroic efforts.
“Many were saved by the heroic efforts of the Orlando Police Department and Orange County Sheriff’s Office,” he said.
Officials said the next update will take place at 9 a.m. Police said local, state and federal agencies were investigating.
Witnesses in the club reported mass chaos after hearing several shots ring out inside the nightclub.
Pulse Orlando posted on its own Facebook page around 2 a.m.: “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.” Just before 6 a.m., the club posted an update: “As soon as we have any information we will update everyone. Please keep everyone in your prayers as we work through this tragic event. Thank you for your thoughts and love.”
Mina Justice was outside the club early Sunday 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 said. “That was the last conversation.”
Jon Alamo said he was at the back of one of the club’s rooms when a man holding a weapon came into the front of the room.
“I heard 20, 40, 50 shots,” Alamo said. “The music stopped.”
Club-goer Rob Rick said it happened around, 2 a.m., just before closing time.
“Everybody was drinking their last sip,” he said.
He estimated more than 100 people were still inside when he heard shots, got on the ground and crawled toward a DJ booth. A bouncer knocked down a partition between the club area and an area in the back where only workers are allowed. People inside were able to then escape through the back of the club.
Christopher Hansen said he was in the VIP lounge when he started hearing gunshots. He continued to hear shooting even after he emerged, where police were telling people to back away from the club. He saw injured people being tended to across the street.
“I was thinking, are you kidding me? So I just dropped down. I just said please, please, please, I want to make it out,” he said. “And when I did, I saw people shot. I saw blood. You hope and pray you don’t get shot.”
Ricardo Negron Almodovar, who posted a message on the club’s Facebook page describing his harrowing escape after shots broke out, described a chaotic scene.
“People on the dance floor and bar got down on the floor and some of us who were near the bar and back exit managed to go out through the outdoor area and just ran,” he posted on the club’s Facebook page.
“I am safely home and hoping everyone gets home safely as well.”
The incident follows the fatal shooting late Friday of 22-year-old singer Christina Grimmie, who was killed after her concert in Orlando by a 27-year-old Florida man who later killed himself. Grimmie was a YouTube sensation and former contestant on “The Voice.”
Police said there was no more threat to the area.
The Associated Press contributed to this report with foxnews.com