Investigators Probe Why More Wasn't Done About Shooter's Red Flags

Jun 15, 2016
Originally published on June 15, 2016 9:50 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We are now moving into day four since that vicious attack on a nightclub here in this city. I'm with Jeff Brady, one of my many colleagues who are here covering this tragedy from all angles. And, Jeff, I guess I just wonder, as you've been out and about, what - what is - what was your sense of the city yesterday?

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: You know, there are a lot of people who just haven't stopped moving since this shooting. And I was at the local LGBT center talking with folks who were still busy, you know, putting together care packages, responding to interview requests from reporters. And a few people, they're kind of starting to slow down a little bit. And I think the full effect of what's happened here and how this city has been changed - it's really starting to settle in in a big way.

GREENE: Yeah, well, stay with me because I know I want to talk to you much more in a moment about the killer, Omar Mateen. But it's so interesting what you said there because our colleague, Kirk Siegler, has been sort of hearing a - a similar thing about a community that might be sort of struggling to find peace over these few days, possibly because of all of this attention from the media and also national politicians.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: At a citywide prayer service last night, hundreds of people wearing purple ribbons were standing and swaying to gospel music. Later, the names of each of the 49 victims were read aloud as they're projected on a large screen. Pastor Larry Mills of the Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church got one of the biggest standing ovations when he called for unity and support of this city's terrorized lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

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LARRY MILLS: And we are here to lift up and magnify and allow them to know that regardless of people's opinion, regardless of where we are, love triumphs over evil.

(APPLAUSE)

SIEGLER: Orlando's mayor, Buddy Dyer, said, despite all the pain and suffering, he's reassured that the community is coming together.

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BUDDY DYER: We will not be defined by the act of the hate-filled killer. We will be defined by our love and our compassion and our unity.

SIEGLER: For a lot of people in this auditorium and across Orlando, hearing all this was a welcome reprieve. No one mentioned the shooter by name. No one said anything about gun control or immigration or the presidential campaigns. As Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump tussle back and forth over what happened, people here are still crying openly on the streets. There are distraught families trying to make funeral arrangements.

LINDA MAYFIELD: I think that to use their agenda and their political agenda at a time like this - I think it's pretty sickening.

SIEGLER: This Linda Mayfield (ph) has lived in Orlando her whole life.

MAYFIELD: I really try not to listen to any of that. And right now, it's all about just loving and bringing everybody together.

SIEGLER: Mayfield says she's proud of the way her community is coming together. So is Marybeth Benci (ph), who says too many people are jumping on the political bandwagon.

MARYBETH BENCI: For both sides - because one side says one thing, and the other side reacts in the same - opposite direction. And so I think that that distracts from the people, and it's the people that matter here. It's the people whose lives were lost and their families who are hurting.

SIEGLER: It's clear people's patience is starting to run a little thin. It's hard to escape the almost-constant media attention. A TV reporter is doing a live report in front of a growing memorial in a square in downtown Orlando, while mourners drop off flowers and light candles. Few people seem up to talking to reporters. Siri Gith (ph) drove over from a neighboring town to pay her respects.

SIRI GITH: This is how it is. This is how life is. We have people that love, and we have people that hate. We really can't do anything about it right now.

SIEGLER: Gith says she's inundated by the news of the tragedy that's everywhere on TV, social media, the radio. But at the same time, she says, how can the country not start talking about how to prevent something like this?

GREENE: That was NPR's Kirk Siegler there. And I'm back here in Orlando with NPR's Jeff Brady, who's been doing some reporting on the man who carried out that attack, Omar Mateen. And, Jeff, so Mateen worked as a security guard. And three years ago, he was barred from working at a courthouse in a county not far from here. Explain all this to us.

BRADY: Yeah, Omar Mateen, he worked for a company that had a contract to supply security guards at the St. Lucie County Courthouse. That's about two hours south of Orlando. And St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara says, in 2013, Mateen was posted at the courthouse and made some inflammatory comments. We don't have a lot of detail about exactly what was said, but the FBI said earlier that there was something about having ties with terrorists. And whatever it was, we know that it was serious enough that the county asked the contractor, G4S Secure Solutions, to transfer Mateen out of the courthouse due - out of the courthouse. And that was granted immediately.

GREENE: I mean, he's making comments about ties to terrorists that worry people so much he's transferred out of a courthouse. I mean, wasn't this raising red flags somewhere?

BRADY: It was. The sheriff's office contacted the FBI. And this is something we've already reported - the FBI interviewed Mateen in 2013 because of these comments to his coworkers. Then, Mateen was interviewed again in 2014 because he had ties to a suicide bomber. But both times, the FBI concluded there wasn't enough evidence to consider Mateen a threat.

GREENE: OK, so Mateen transferred from this courthouse. Did this contractor actually fire him because of all of these types of comments?

BRADY: No. Mateen was still employed with G4S Secure Solutions last, when he started, you know, shooting at the nightclub. He was off-duty at the time. But the company says Mateen was recruited in 2007. He was re-screened in 2013, and he was found suitable for employment. Now, the company says it's - it's cooperating with law enforcement as the investigation continues.

GREENE: OK, we'll be hearing much more of your reporting as time goes on. Again, learning more about the details of Omar Mateen, who was the shooter who carried out that attack here in Orlando early Sunday morning. I'm here in Orlando with NPR's Jeff Brady. Jeff, thanks very much.

BRADY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.