Approximately 20 people are dead and scores wounded after a gunman opened fire and took hostages at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, police said early Sunday.
Officials said a hostage situation developed after the gunman stormed the Pulse Nightclub about 2 a.m. The gunman was shot dead about three hours later when a SWAT team entered the club.
“We are looking at probably in the range of 20 [dead], but we don’t want to give you an exact figure,” Orlando Police Chief John Mina said.
The incident “could definitely be classified as domestic terrorism,” Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said.
Dozens of police vehicles, including a SWAT team, swarmed the area around the club after the gunfire broke out. At least two police pickup trucks were seen taking what appeared to be shooting victims to the Orlando Regional Medical Center, The Associated Press reported.
Revelers described scenes of horror from inside the club. One witness told MSNBC that they had to crawl over bodies to escape.
A post to the club’s Facebook page at around 2 a.m. warned “everyone get out of Pulse and keep running.” Witness video from outside showed dozens of first responders at the scene, and several victims on the ground.
“It was tragic,” club-goer Christopher Hansen told MSNBC. “I wasn’t sure if it was the music, because … it went with the beat almost until you heard just too many shots.
“It was just like — bang, bang, bang, bang, bang bang — and that’s when you just know chaos is just, it was in turmoil,” he added.
Mina Justice was outside the club trying to contact her 30-year-old son Eddie, who texted her when the shooting happened and asked her to call police. He told her he ran into a bathroom with other club patrons to hide. He then texted her: “He’s coming.”
“The next text said: ‘He has us, and he’s in here with us,'” she told the Associated Press. “That was the last conversation.”
Witness Anthony Torres posted to Facebook that he and his friends made it out of the club “just barely as we started to hear fire being shot.”
“They are just pulling people out in stretchers loading them up,” he said, referring to first responders. “Omg please god let everyone make it.
“People are screaming that people are dead,” Torres wrote in another post.
The shooting at the nightclub comes during a series of national celebrations that mark LGBT pride month.
“As soon as we have any information we will update everyone,” the club later posted to Facebook. “Please keep everyone in your prayers as we work through this tragic event. Thank you for your thoughts and love.”
(via: NBC News)