US investigators interview member of mosque attended by Orlando gunman
Families of some of the 49 people slain at an Orlando gay nightclub in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history hugged and wept at funerals on Friday, as FBI agents questioned a member of the mosque where the gunman worshipped.
The gunman, Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old U.S. citizen born in New York to Afghan immigrant parents, expressed support for a conflicting list of Islamist militant groups, including Islamic State, in a series of phone calls and internet messages during his three-hour rampage, which ended when police shot him dead.
FBI agents on Friday questioned a member of the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, according to Omar Saleh, a lawyer with the Council of American-Islamic Relations who sat in on the 30-minute questioning session.
“We were meeting with some agents,” said Saleh, who declined to identify the person interviewed. “They were asking questions relative to the incident that happened on Sunday.”
U.S. officials, who have also interviewed Mateen’s wife, have said they do not believe he was assisted from abroad in the attack, which also wounded 53 people.
Meanwhile, funerals and memorials were held around Florida and in Puerto Rico – home to many of the people killed. Mourners hugged at wept after the burial of Kimberly Morris, 37, in Kissimmee, Florida, and family members of Angel Candelario-Padro, 28, embraced after his body returned to his hometown of Guanica, Puerto Rico.
Members of 94 families who had relatives among the dead and wounded at the Pulse nightclub have visited a downtown football stadium where civil agencies are proving relief services, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer told reporters on Friday.
Dyer said he would go to the funerals that families asked him to attend. “I will ask the community to do the same … These are private ceremonies, people are hurting,” he said.
Kenneth Feinberg, the lawyer who helped administer compensation funds for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, is flying in to Orlando to advise the city’s Orlando United relief fund, which has already raised $7 million, Dyer said.
Separately, the National Compassion Fund, a unit of the nonprofit National Center for Victims of Crime, was tapped on Thursday by gay rights group Equality Florida, to distribute the roughly $5 million raised online for the victims. [L1N1971VU]
President Barack Obama, who met survivors of the shooting and families of the dead in Orlando on Thursday, urged Congress to pass measures to make it harder to legally acquire high-powered weapons like the semi-automatic rifle used in the attack.
Mateen carried out the slaughter with the rifle and a handgun that had been legally purchased although he had twice been investigated in the past by the FBI for possible connections with militant Islamist groups.
Congress is under pressure to respond. The Senate is expected to vote on Monday on four proposals for limited gun restrictions, although all four are expected to fail. A group of Republican senators attempted on Friday to craft compromise legislation that might stand a better chance of passing.
(Additional reporting by Carlos Barria in Kissimmee, Florida, Alvin Baez in Guanica, Puerto Rico and Zachary Fagenson in West Palm Beach, Florida; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Frances Kerry)