Gun Seller Says Staff Tried to Warn of Shooter

     JENSEN BEACH, Fla. (CN) – A Florida gun store owner said investigators never “connected the dots” after an employee reported Omar Mateen to the FBI for his suspicious attempts to buy tactical gear in the time leading up to his deadly rampage at an Orlando nightclub.
     Robert Abell, co-owner of Lotus Gunworks in Jensen Beach, told reporters that his gun shop did everything it could to alert law enforcement about the mass murderer’s “very odd” behavior.
     “Unfortunately, nobody connected the dots, and he slipped under the cracks,” Abell said.
     Mateen had purportedly visited Lotus Gunworks roughly five to six weeks before he traveled to Orlando and opened fire at a gay nightclub, killing 49 people in the name of the Islamic State.
     A military veteran who was working at the gun store had become concerned when Mateen expressed a desire to acquire high-grade body armor, the kind only law enforcement would be interested in buying, Abell said.
     Mateen was asking questions a “normal civilian” would not typically ask, Abell said, speaking to the media outside his gun shop Thursday afternoon.
     “Our salesman got very concerned about it, and just informed him we do not have this body armor. At this time, [Mateen] pulled away and got onto the cellphone. When he was on the cellphone, he had a conversation in a foreign language that was more concerning. Then he came back, and he was requesting ammo,” Abell said. “He wanted bulk ammo only.”
     Mateen left after the store declined to sell him the ammunition, Abell later explained.
     The gun store owner stated that although his employees contacted the FBI to report the behavior, they did not have Mateen’s personal information at the time since he did not make a purchase.
     Abell said the FBI and federal authorities have had a “superior” response in prior situations involving reports of suspicious activity at the store, but the lack of a name or address for Mateen made it difficult for anyone to pursue the lead, he professed.
     “Our intuition was correct. It’s very sad that we had him that close: it was that close that law enforcement could’ve got their hands on him,” Abell said.
     “I do not feel guilty. I feel very proud that our [employees] did what they did. What I didn’t want was me standing in front of the media and acting like we did something special. We didn’t. We’re doing what every gun shop in the United States should do,” Abell said.
     Mateen went on to purchase a tactical rifle and a handgun in early June from another firearms dealer nearby, St. Lucie Shooting Center. Those weapons were believed to have been the guns used in the massacre.
     The head of St. Lucie Shooting Center, former police officer Ed Henson, stated in a press conference earlier this week that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives inspected the facility following the shooting and did not find any significant deficiencies in Henson’s protocols.
     Henson claimed Mateen raised no red flags: he passed the standard background check, had no felonies in his past and possessed an armed security guard license.
     “An evil person came in here and … legally purchased two firearms from us. And if he hadn’t purchased them from us, I’m sure he would’ve gotten them from another local gun store,” Henson said.
     Though Mateen apparently did not have any felonies on his record, he had been repeatedly investigated by the FBI for suspected ties to Islamic extremism.
     He came to the attention of FBI investigators in 2013 after allegedly making disturbing statements while he was working for private security company G4S, as a guard at the St. Lucie County courthouse. Mateen had purportedly professed that he had family connections to Al-Qaeda, and that he was hoping police would raid his home so he could become a martyr.
     The alleged comments prompted the courthouse supervisor to contact federal authorities and request that G4S management permanently transfer Mateen out of the court rotation, the St. Lucie Sheriff’s Office told Courthouse News.
     The FBI said it dropped the inquiry, however, after Mateen “explained that he [made the comments] in anger because he thought his co-workers were discriminating against him and teasing him because he was Muslim.”
     The FBI later investigated Mateen’s relationship with an Islamic fundamentalist who lived near Mateen and attended the same mosque as Mateen before traveling to Syria to blow himself up on the Al Nusra front.
     The bureau interviewed Mateen but declined to pursue any charges against him, finding that he did not have “significant contact” with the suicide bomber.
     Mateen’s background check record consequently remained clean.
     Back at Lotus Gunworks, Abell said he had the “sickest feeling you could ever have” when he saw coverage of the shooting and realized Mateen was the man who had come into his store.
     “We couldn’t do more. And here’s a prime example of trying to do the right thing,” Abell said. “We got so close to it.”
     He noted that gun sales have been ramping up in the days following the shooting.
     “Sales have spiked, as they always do everytime there is an event,” Abell said. “Yes, sales are up.”

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