The Federal Bureau of Investigation asked the public Wednesday for help in its investigation of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Officials said their investigation is in progress and condemned threats against Muslim-Americans during a news conference that featured members of the FBI, the Orlando Police Department and local politicians.
“The FBI’s evidence response team remains at the Pulse, and we continue to process the crime scene,” FBI Special Agent Ron Hopper said Wednesday. He described the investigation as “methodical” and said the agency was “committed to staying here as long as it takes.”
Though the shooter, Omar Mateen, was killed Sunday, Hopper said the agency is continuing to follow all leads it receives about Mateen’s activities leading up to the shooting as well as anyone he might have come into contact with. The shooting, which left 49 people dead and 53 injured, was one of the worst mass shootings in American history.
Hopper encouraged the public to reach out to the FBI with any information they have and said people could find ways to help the victims’ families on fbi.gov/orlandovictims. While there is still more information to collect, Hopper added that “efforts are underway to reduce our footprint” to let Orlando “return to some sense of normalcy.”
In the days since the shooting, the gunman’s wife has come under scrutiny, after it was reported that she had driven with him to scope out Pulse — a gay nightclub — as a potential target for an attack. However, U.S. Attorney Lee Bentley said it was premature to speculate about any charges that might be brought in the case, or even if charges would be brought against anyone as the investigation continues.
He also spoke out against reports of anti-Muslim attacks in Florida, which seem to have been sparked by the fact that Mateen was Muslim. The shooter claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group, but officials are still trying to find out more information about his motives.
“Making these threats is not only wrong, in most cases, making these threats is illegal. Stop it,” Bentley said of threats against Muslim Americans. “Any threats like this detract from what we are doing as law enforcement. We want to spend 100 percent of our time investigating what happened at Pulse Nightclub … I say to anyone out there who has made such a threat, grieve with us.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott emphasized that Florida would remain united in the face of the attack, saying the shooting was an attack on Florida and the nation.
As families of the victims are grieving, police officers in Orlando are also dealing with the tragedy. Orlando Police Chief John Mina said 300 to 400 police officers attended a stress debriefing exercise Tuesday and the department’s SWAT team attended a similar event Wednesday morning.
“Nothing can prepare for what those officers encountered that night,” Mina said. “They stood face to face, toe to toe with a mass murderer and performed extremely courageously, and I’m extremely proud of that.”
He said the department would continue offering free counseling to its officers and reminded reporters that police officers are barred by department policy and by law from talking about the ongoing investigation. All officials at the news conference Wednesday said they wanted the public to express compassion and expected Floridians to come together as law enforcement pushes forward with the investigation.
“This was an act of violence borne out of hate," Hopper, the FBI agent, said. “So I would call it a hate crime; I would call it terrorism. It’s both.”