Americans will continue to love in the face of hate and violence, the president of the United States said in a speech Sunday after the worst mass shooting in modern United States history.
Tangible evidence of people’s desire to help could be seen in lines of hundreds of Floridians wrapping around parking lots to give blood, as well as those who carried the injured out of the Orlando nightclub Pulse and rushed them to hospitals in the early hours of Sunday morning.
No mass shooting “will ever change who we are or the values we share that make us Americans,” President Obama said, calling for solidarity in a televised speech.
“In the face of hate and violence we will love one another, we will not give in to fear or turn against each other,” he said. “Instead we will stand united as Americans to protect our people, defend our nation, and take action against those who threaten us.”
Flags were ordered lowered to half-staff and moments of silence were observed at gay pride parades in Boston and Los Angeles Sunday. "Our hearts are heavy for the unimaginable tragedy," the Tony Awards said in a statement, saying that the Sunday evening show has been dedicated to those affected by the Orlando nightclub shooting.
“This could have been any one of our communities,” Mr. Obama said. “This is a sobering reminder that an attack on any American, regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation, is an attack on all of us and the fundamental values that define us as a country.”
More than 350 people were inside the Pulse nightclub when the shooting started, and Obama called the tragedy “an especially heartbreaking day for our friends and fellow Americans who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.”
The nightclub, he added, “is more than a nightclub. It’s a place of solidarity and empowerment where people come together to speak, raise awareness, and advocate for their civil rights.
One of Pulse’s co-owners founded the nightclub in 2004 in remembrance of her brother, who died of AIDS, Reuters reported, and to stand in solidarity with the LGBT community.
The shooter has been identified as Omar Mateen, of Fort Pierce, Fla., and authorities are investigating the shooting, in which 50 people died and dozens more were injured, as an act of terrorism. He was killed in a shootout with members of a SWAT team Sunday morning.
The shooter reportedly claimed allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 call during the shooting. While saying in his address this afternoon that many details remain unclear, Obama described him as “a person filled with hatred.”
“This was an act of terror and an act of hate,” the president said, pledging the federal government’s support to the people of Orlando and authorities investigating into the shooting.
The FBI interviewed Mateen in 2013 and 2014, but "the interviews turned out to be inconclusive, so there was nothing to keep the investigation going," FBI Assistant Special Agent Ronald Hopper told reporters. Mateen was not under investigation or surveillance at the time of the shooting, according to Mr. Hopper.
This afternoon was also the 16th time Obama has made a public address following a mass shooting in America. He noted that the shooter was armed with a handgun and an automatic weapon, but stopped short of explicitly calling for stronger gun control measures. Instead, he referenced previous shootings in saying that today’s massacre served as “a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon and shoot people in a church, a school, a movie theater, and a nightclub.
“We have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be,” he added, “and to actively choose to do nothing is a decision as well.”
In the wake of the shooting, world leaders from Pope Francis to Russian President Vladimir Putin also expressed their sorrow and condemnation of the "barbaric" attack.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi says the pontiff denounces the "homicidal folly and senseless hatred," the Associated Press reported. He added that the pope joins the families of victims and the injured in "prayer and compassion."
The American flag on the White House roof was lowered to half-staff shortly after the address, and Obama ordered flags to fly at half-staff on all public buildings and military bases, in the US and around the world, until sunset June 16.
Material from wire services was used in this report.