The gunman who attacked a Florida gay nightclub had attended the club before the attack and had used a gay dating and chat app, witnesses said.
Kevin West, a regular at Pulse nightclub, said Omar Mateen messaged him on and off for a year before the shooting using the gay chat and dating app Jack’d.
But they never met – until early Sunday morning.
West was dropping off a friend at the club when he noticed Mateen – whom he knew by sight but not by name – crossing the street wearing a dark cap and carrying a black cellphone about 1 a.m., an hour before the shooting.
“He walked directly past me. I said, ‘Hey,’ and he turned and said, ‘Hey,’” and nodded his head, West said. “I could tell by the eyes.”
At least four regular customers of Pulse, the nightclub where the massacre took place, told the Orlando Sentinel on Monday that they believed they had seen Mateen there before.
“Sometimes he would go over in the corner and sit and drink by himself, and other times he would get so drunk he was loud and belligerent,” said Ty Smith, who also uses the name Aries.
He saw Mateen at the club at least a dozen times, he said.
“We didn’t really talk to him a lot, but I remember him saying things about his dad at times,” Smith said. “He told us he had a wife and child.”
As soon as West saw photos released of Mateen after the shooting, he said, he drove to his local police station, where officers summoned FBI officials, who showed him a photo of Mateen on a computer screen.
“I said, ‘That’s him,’” West said, and turned over his phone and Jack’d log-in information to the FBI, which still had the phone late Monday, he said.
Also Monday, officials said Mateen appeared to have been radicalized by Islamic extremists on the Internet but expressed sympathies with radical groups that violently oppose each other.
On Sunday morning, Mateen told a 911 dispatcher that he was attacking Pulse on behalf of the leader of Islamic State, FBI Director James B. Comey said at a news conference Monday. Mateen, 29, of Fort Pierce, Fla., was killed by a SWAT team and was among the 50 found dead at the site. Fifty-three more were wounded.
But Mateen, who was born in New York, had also expressed solidarity with the 2013 Boston bombers and an American suicide bomber who belonged to an Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria opposed to Islamic State, Comey said.