Further complicating the process of grieving and coping in the wake of Omar Mateen’s deadly attack on a gay Orlando, Florida, nightclub is the emerging picture that Mateen himself may have been a part of the LGBTQ community that he vocally expressed hatred for. Interviews with survivors and the gay community in the city appear to show that Mateen was, in fact, a fixture at Pulse, where some regulars say they’ve seen him on more than a dozen occasions, as far back as three years ago.
At least four regular customers at the Orlando gay nightclub where a gunman killed 49 people said Monday that they had seen Omar Mateen there before. “Sometimes he would go over in the corner and sit and drink by himself, and other times he would get so drunk he was loud and belligerent,” Ty Smith said. Smith told the Orlando Sentinel that he saw Mateen inside at least a dozen times.
There is, of course, the possibility that Mateen was scouting out the club as a target, but a dozen visits seems excessive for that purpose and the conspicuous nature of his nights at Pulse before the shooting also doesn’t seem to indicate someone casing the joint. Others in the city’s gay community said they’ve seen or interacted with Mateen on gay dating apps.
From the Los Angeles Times:
Kevin West, a regular at Pulse nightclub, said Omar Mateen messaged him on and off for a year before the shooting using the gay chat and dating app Jack’d. But they never met—until early Sunday morning. West was dropping off a friend at the club when he noticed Mateen—whom he knew by sight but not by name—crossing the street wearing a dark cap and carrying a black cellphone about 1 a.m., an hour before the shooting. “He walked directly past me. I said, ‘Hey,’ and he turned and said, ‘Hey,’ ” and nodded his head, West said. “I could tell by the eyes.”
Pulse regular Cord Cedeno told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes he recognized Mateen from gay dating apps Grindr, Jack’d, and Adam4Adam.
In an interview with CNN Monday, Mateen’s ex-wife, Sitora Yusufiy, was asked whether her former husband, who she was married to for several months in 2009, was gay and she responded: “I don’t know.”
“When we had gotten married, he confessed to me about his past—that was recent at that time—and that he very much enjoyed going to clubs and the nightlife,” said Yusufiy, who divorced Omar Mateen in 2011 and said he was abusive and unstable. “So, I feel like it’s a side of him or a part of him that he lived but probably didn’t want everybody to know about.” “He never personally or physically made any indication while we were together, of that,” Yusufiy continued. “But he did feel very strongly about homosexuality.”
A former police academy classmate of Mateen’s said in 2006 Mateen asked him out. Via the New York Daily News:
“We went to a few gay bars with him, and I was not out at the time, so I declined his offer,” the former classmate said. “He just wanted to fit in and no one liked him,” he said. “He was always socially awkward,” the classmate told WFTV9.
Whether or not Mateen thought of himself as gay or straight or somewhere in between, his clear presence in the gay community of the city adds yet another layer of nuance to an act that’s already hard to get one’s head around. Mateen’s family, particularly his father, Seddique Mateen, has stated publicly that his son was not gay. “If he was gay, why would he do something like this?” Seddique Mateen asked. It’s a question that may not have a satisfying answer.