U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch visited Orlando on Tuesday and met with prosecutors and families of the victims of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
The trip came as the Justice Department continues investigating the June 12 massacre at the Pulse nightclub, in which 49 people died and dozens were wounded. Federal investigators who have conducted hundreds of interviews haven’t ruled out charges against others in connection with the shooting and say they’re still trying to determine why Omar Mateen, who died in a gunbattle with police, targeted a popular gay nightclub.
Lynch spoke with victims’ relatives, which she called a “very difficult meeting” but said “this is the core of what we do.”
She was briefed at the FBI office by U.S. Attorney Lee Bentley and other law enforcement officials, including prosecutors assigned to the investigation.
“I think there’s a real benefit to having her here to see everything firsthand,” Bentley said as the two stood with their arms around each other.
Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott, meanwhile, complained that Washington had turned down his request for $5 million to help pay for the state’s response to the massacre. Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Rafael Lemaitre said its disaster fund is not an “appropriate source” to pay for law enforcement response, medical care and counseling for victims resulting from a shooting.
The agency did approve a state request to reallocate $253,000 in unspent money from a homeland security grant to help pay for overtime costs in the wake of the shooting, Lemaitre said.
More clues emerged Monday when the FBI released a partial transcript of phone calls Mateen had with a 911 operator and police crisis negotiators once the shooting got underway. He identified himself as an Islamic soldier, demanded to a crisis negotiator that the U.S. “stop bombing” Syria and Iraq, warned of future violence in the coming days and at one point pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group, the FBI said.
Despite his declarations, the FBI says it’s found no evidence the attack was directed by a foreign terrorist organization. Mateen instead appears to have radicalized on his own through jihadist propaganda on the internet, part of a population of Americans that law enforcement officials have repeatedly expressed concern about.
The statements to police, which one FBI official said were made in a “chilling, calm and deliberate manner” were similar to postings he apparently made to Facebook around the time of the shooting.
“I let you know, I’m in Orlando and I did the shootings,” Mateen said in one call that came more than a half-hour after shots rang out, the FBI said.
Shortly after the call with a 911 operator, Mateen had three conversations with crisis negotiators in which he identified himself as an Islamic soldier and told a negotiator to tell America to stop bombing Syria and Iraq. He said that was why he was “out here right now,” according to the excerpt.
The shooting has fostered discussion about U.S. government efforts to identify and thwart individuals bent on violence — Mateen had been interviewed by the FBI three times since 2013 as part of two separate investigations and placed on a terror watch list — but also about whether stiffer gun control laws are needed. The Senate on Monday rejected proposals from both parties to keep extremists from acquiring guns, including one that was publicly supported by the Justice Department.
Lynch, has said federal investigators are still unresolved as to what drove Mateen to violence and to what extent he may also have been motivated by anti-gay hatred.
Investigators have done hundreds of interviews, including with family members, and are working in particular to determine how much knowledge his wife had of the plot.
Lynch’s meeting with first responders comes as Orlando police face continued questions about the response to the rampage.
On Monday, police Chief John Mina said that if any fire from responding officers hit victims at the club, gunman Mateen bears the responsibility. He wouldn’t give further details but said: “Here’s what I will tell you. Those killings are on the suspect, on the suspect alone in my mind.”
Story by the Associated Press