(CN) – Twenty-four hours after the worst shooting rampage in U.S. history, law enforcement officials said they still have more questions than answers about why Omar Mateen slaughtered 49 before losing his own life in a hail of bullets Sunday morning.
FBI Director James Comey told reporters attending a briefing in Washington Monday afternoon that Mateen had “strong indications of radicalization,” and “potential inspiration by foreign terrorist organizations,” but that there is still hard evidence his actions were directed by others.
Comey also said while Mateen expressed allegiance with the Islamic State during multiple 911 calls placed from inside the Pulse nightclub Sunday morning, he also aligned himself with Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, a suicide bomber who had lived in Fort Pierce, Fla., but was devoted to fighting against ISIL.
But he went on to remind reporters that the investigation is only in its early stages and that there’s still a long way to go.
“We will continue to look forward and backward in this investigation. We will leave no stone unturned. We are looking for needles in a nationwide haystack,” he said.
Comey’s remarks were reiterated by President Barack Obama, who said at this stage of the investigation there is no indication that Mateen was part of a larger plot.
“In that sense, it appears to be similar to what we saw in San Bernardino, but we don’t yet know. And this is part of what is going to be important in terms of the investigation,” the president said.
“As far as we can tell right now, this is certainly an example of the kind of homegrown extremism that all of us have been so concerned about for a very long time. It also appears that he was able to obtain these weapons legally because he did not have a criminal record that, in some ways, would prohibit him from purchasing these weapons,” he continued.
The president acknowledged that Mateen had been a subject of FBI scrutiny, but he stood by the agency’s decision not to investigate him further, saying agents “followed the procedures that they were supposed to and did a proper job.”
U.S. Attorney Lee Bentley on Monday said investigators are continuing to collect electronic and physical evidence at two residences tied to the gunman.
“We don’t know if anyone else will be charged,” he said at an early morning news conference.
But he emphasized authorities believe there is no imminent danger to general public.
Also at Monday’s briefing, Orlando police Chief John Mina offered more details about the mass shooting, which began shortly after 2 a.m. Sunday morning.
Mina said a uniform officer was working at the Pulse nightclub in full uniform when Mateen showed up at the door with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, and the two engaged in a brief gun battle.
Additional officers arrived at the club, and a second gun battle ensued, at which time Mateen retreated to a bathroom.
“At that time we were able to save and rescue dozens and dozens of people and get them out of the club,” Mina said.
With that, a three-hour siege began with law enforcement negotiators speaking with Mateen by phone.
Chief Mina said the gunman’s demeanor was “cool and calm” during exchanges in which Mateen talked of explosives and his allegiance to the Islamic State.
Mina said the mention of explosives is what caused authorities to mount a rescue operation.
During a lull in the exchanges, Mateen called 911 from the club and again claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group.
At this point, a SWAT team was called in and an explosive was set to blow a hole in a wall, but the charge did not penetrate the wall completely, so an armored vehicle was used to punch a large hole in the wall through which dozens of additional club owners escaped.
Mina said Mateen attempted to escape through the same hole, and engaged in final gun battle with officers before being shot to death.
Authorities also clarified the number of dead, saying Mateen killed 49 people before being killed himself, becoming the 50th fatality.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said the last of the bodies were removed from the nightclub late Sunday night and have been turned over to the medical examiner.
By Monday morning, families of 24 of the victims had been notified, Dyer said.
The identified victims are Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34, Stanley Almodovar III, 23, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20, Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36, Peter Gonzalez-Cruz, 22, Luis Vielma, 22, Kimberly Morris, 37, Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30, Darryl Roman Burt II, 29,Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32, Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21, Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35, Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50, Amanda Alvear, 25, Martin Benitez Torres, 33, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37, Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35, Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25, Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31, Oscar Aracena-Montero, 26, Enrique Rios, Jr., 25, Miguel Angel Honorato, 30, and Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40.
At least 53 people were hospitalized, most in critical condition, and a surgeon at Orlando Regional Medical Center told reporters the death toll was likely to climb.
Asked how a city known to most Americans as home to vast, family-friendly theme parks will overcome the tragedy, Dyer was direct.
“We will not be defined by the act of a cowardly hater,” he said.
The biggest question for authorities is just what motivated Mateen to kill.
FBI officials said they had investigated him in 2013 and 2014 on suspicion of terrorist sympathies but could not make a case against him.
Authorities on Monday reiterated that they still don’t know whether Mateen was directed by the Islamic State or simply acted in sympathy with the extremist group.
Al-Bayan Radio, a media outlet for the extremist group, on Monday hailed the attack and called Mateen “one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America.”
But Mateen’s father, Seddique Mir Mateen, an emigre from Afghanistan who hosted a pro-Taliban video program called “Durand Jirga” on a YouTube channel called Payam-e-Afghan, has suggested another motive for the attack anti-gay hatred.
He said his son had recently visited Miami and became enraged when he saw two men kissing on the street.
The father said his son was particularly upset because his three-year-old son saw what the men were doing.
On Monday, the elder Mateen posted a video on Facebook in which he said his son was well-educated and respectful to his parents, and that he was saddened by his son’s actions during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“We are saying we are apologizing for the whole incident,” the gunman’s father said. “We are in shock like the whole country.”
He then added, “God will punish those involved in homosexuality,” saying it’s, “not an issue that humans should deal with.”
Mateen’s ex-wife, Sitora Yusufiy, said Sunday that she saw no sign of anti-gay hatred in her husband, but that he was often violent with her and was “mentally ill.”
Yusufiy said he beat her when she tried to call her family during their marriage, and that she often felt as if he was holding her hostage.
The previous deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. was the 2007 attack at Virginia Tech, where a student killed 32 people before killing himself.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Photo caption 1:
Medical personnel examine a body at the Orlando Medical Examiner’s Office , Sunday, June 12, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. A gunman opened fire inside a crowded gay nightclub early Sunday, before dying in a gunfight with SWAT officers, police said. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Photo caption 2:
This undated image shows Omar Mateen, who authorities say killed dozens of people inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday, June 12, 2016. (MySpace via AP)
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