NEWS

President Obama Speaks Out on Shooting at Orlando Gay Nightclub: 'This Was an Act of Terror and an Act of Hate'

by Meredith B. Kile and CBSNews.com 12:53 PM PDT, June 12, 2016
Playing President Obama Speaks Out on Shooting at Orlando Gay Nightclub: 'This Was an Act of Terror and an Act of Hate'

President Barack Obama addressed the nation on Sunday, following the shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida that left 50 dead and more than 50 injured.

“Today as Americans, we grieve the brutal murder, the horrific massacre, of dozens of innocent people,” Obama said in his remarks. “We pray for their families, who are grasping for answers with broken hearts. We stand with the people of Orlando, who have endured a terrible attack on their city.”

“We know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate,” he added. “As Americans, we are united in grief, in outrage, and in resolve to defend our people.”

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The President told reporters that he had spoken with the Mayor of Orlando, Buddy Dyer, and thanked law enforcement officials in the Florida metropolis for their response to Pulse, where shots rang out around 2:30 a.m. He explained that the FBI was on the scene and leading the open investigation into the suspect in the shooting, who has been named as 29-year-old Omar Mateen.

Sources have confirmed to CBS News that authorities are investigating whether the suspect had ties to Islamic terrorism. Mateen, of Port. St. Lucie, Florida, is a U.S. citizen with no apparent criminal history, according to sources, though CBS News reported that he called 911 at the time of the attacks to pledge his allegiance to ISIS and referenced the Boston bombers.

“We’ve reached no definitive judgement on the precise motivations of the killer,” Obama said. “The F.B.I. is appropriately investigating this as an act of terrorism, and I’ve directed that we must spare no effort to determine what, if any, inspirations or associations this killer may have had with terrorist groups.

“What is clear is that he was a person filled with hatred. Over the coming days we will uncover why and how this happened, and we will go where the facts lead us.”

A U.S. intelligence source told CBS News Senior Investigative Producer Pat Milton that Islamic terrorism is being investigated as a possible motive in the shooting due to several indicators including the style of the attack, which had similarities to the attacks in Paris in November 2015 and Brussels this past March. The gunman put up a protracted gun battle with police and was heavily armed, the source said.

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Sources tell Milton that authorities investigating the incident are still looking into whether the attack, now the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, is a hate crime.

“This is an especially heartbreaking day for all of our friends, our fellow Americans, who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live,” Obama added. “The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub -- it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds and to advocate for their civil rights. So this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation, is an attack on all of us, and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country.”

The President also spoke on the importance of gun control, in light of reports from Orlando Police Chief John Mina that the suspect was found with a handgun and an AR-15-style assault rifle.

“This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or in a movie theater, or in a nightclub,” he said, referencing recent mass shootings in the U.S. “We have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. To actively do nothing is a decision as well.”

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Obama concluded his remarks by offering a message of hope, reminding Americans to remember those lost and learn from the accounts of heroic and selfless acts that will emerge in the coming days.

“We will learn about the victims of this tragedy. Their names, their faces, who they were. The joy that they brought to families and to friends and the difference that they made in this world," he said. "Say a prayer for them and say a prayer for their families, that God would give them the strength to bear the unbearable and that he would give us all the strength to be there for them and the strength and courage to change. We need to demonstrate that we are defined more as a country by the way that they lived their lives than by the hate of the man who took them from us.”

“In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another. We will not give into fear or turn against each other. Instead, we will stand united as Americans to protect our people and defend our nation and to take action against those who threaten us,” the President concluded. “God bless the Americans we lost this morning, may he comfort their families. May God continue to watch over this country that we love.”

The White House also issued statements from Vice President Joe Biden and Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

“The Vice President was briefed this morning by his national security advisor on the heinous attack that took place overnight at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida,” the statement read. “Vice President Biden offered his prayers for all those killed and injured in the shooting and sends his condolences to all the families and loved ones of the victims. He is closely monitoring the situation and will continue to receive regular updates as we know more.”

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Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shared her thoughts regarding the tragedy on Twitter.

“Woke up to hear the devastating news from FL,” Clinton tweeted. “As we wait for more information, my thoughts are with those affected by this horrific act. -H.”

Medical officials say there is an urgent need for donations of O Negative blood, O Positive blood and AB Plasma. To find a donation center visit www.oneblood.org or call 1.888.9Donate. Donors should be healthy, age 16 or older and weigh at least 100 pounds.

WATCH: 50 Dead in Orlando Gay Bar Shooting

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