Orlando shooting: Republican Congressman 'denies attacked nightclub was a gay bar'

Pulse described itself as 'Orlando's premiere gay nightclub'

Lizzie Dearden
Wednesday 15 June 2016 15:08 BST
A memorial near the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando
A memorial near the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando (Reuters)

A Republican Congressman has sparked outrage by reportedly claiming that the nightclub targeted in a massacre that killed 49 people was not a gay club.

Pete Sessions described Pulse, which branded itself as “Orlando’s premiere gay nightclub”, as a place for young people on Tuesday.

Daniel Newhauser, a reporter for the National Journal, quoted the Texas representative: “It was a young person’s nightclub, I’m told. And there were some [LGBT people] there, but it was mostly Latinos.”

More than 300 people were attending Saturday night’s Latin music event at the club when Omar Mateen opened fire with an assault rifle and handgun, killing 49 people and wounding 53 more.

Orlando survivor writes poem

Mr Sessions’ representatives later reportedly said that he was “confused” over the fact that straight people and those of Latin American descent had also been at Pulse.

His alleged comments sparked outrage as reports spread on social media, causing an avalanche of comments on the Republican’s official Facebook page.

“You are a disgusting piece of work,” one commenter wrote.

Bobbie Halegewelle added: “’Latino’, ‘gay’, and ‘young people’ are not mutually exclusive terms. LGBTQ folks come from ‘all walks of life.”

Mr Sessions’ office has not yet responded to The Independent’s request for a comment.

Before the attack, Pulse’s website described the club as the “hottest gay bar in Orlando”.

The page is now black with a statement from owner Barbara Poma mourning the horrific assault on “a place of love and acceptance for the LGBT community”.

The club is holding a fundraiser on Wednesday night at Southern Nights, an LGBT-friendly club in Orlando, where all proceeds will be given to staff members unable to work since the attack.

Pulse has remained closed as investigations continue and has not announced if, or when, it will reopen.

During the attack, a rushed message was posted on its Facebook page. “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running,” it said.

On Wednesday, there was a message of defiance: “We will not be defeated.”

Mateen reportedly laughed as he shot randomly into dancers in the crowd before taking hostages in the early hours of Sunday morning.

People hold a vigil for the Orlando shooting victims.
People hold a vigil for the Orlando shooting victims. (Mandel Ngan/Getty)

The 29-year-old was shot dead in a gun battle with police who stormed the premises following a three-hour stand-off.

His attack was the worst mass shooting in US history and the deadliest terror attack on American soil since 9/11.

The shooting has sparked an outpouring of grief and solidarity with the LGBT community around the world, seeing thousands gather for vigils in London and other cities.

Mateen’s wife, Noor Salman, could soon be charged in connection with the plot amid reports she knew of Mateen’s plans.

Isis claimed responsibility for the shooting, calling the gunman “a soldier of the Caliphate”, but there was no indication that the terrorist group had contact with the gunman or directed the atrocity.

“It does appear that at the last minute he announced allegiance to Isil (Isis) but there is no evidence so far that he was in fact directed by Isil or that it was part of a larger plot,” Barack Obama said.

The President called the massacre "act of terror and an act of hate" against the LGBT community.

As well as pledging allegiance to the leader of Isis, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Mateen expressed admiration for the Boston bombers and the first American suicide bomber in Syria.

There have been conflicting reports of possible motivations for his attack, with his former wife saying he was mentally ill and his father telling media he had been angered by seeing two men kiss, while acquaintances claim Mateen was himself gay but felt unable to be open about his sexuality.

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