Orlando shooter Omar Mateen was gay, former classmate says

Published: Monday, June 13, 2016 @ 10:00 PM
Updated: Monday, June 13, 2016 @ 11:45 PM

A former classmate of Omar Mateen’s 2006 police academy class said he believed Mateen was gay, saying Mateen once asked him out.

Officials say Mateen shot and killed 49 people and injured 53 others at an Orlando nightclub early Sunday morning.

» Video, photos, more: See full coverage of the Orlando shooting

The classmate said that he, Mateen and other classmates would hang out, sometimes going to gay nightclubs, after classes at the Indian River Community College police academy. He said Mateen asked him out romantically.

“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 asked that his name not be used.

He believed Mateen was gay, but not open about it. Mateen was awkward, and for a while the classmate and the rest in the group of friends felt sorry for him.

» PHOTOS: Orlando shooting

“He just wanted to fit in and no one liked him,” he said. “He was always socially awkward.”

In Orlando, the Los Angeles Times reported that Mateen attended the Pulse nightclub possibly as many as a dozen times before the rampage. Kevin West said he had messaged Mateen back and forth over a year’s time on the gay dating app Jack’d but never met him until he saw Mateen crossing the street about 1 a.m. Sunday.

“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.”

At least four regular customers of Pulse, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender nightclub where the massacre took place, told the Orlando Sentinel on Monday that they believed they had seen 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,” said Ty Smith, who also uses the name Aries.

He saw Mateen at the club at least a dozen times, he told the Sentinel. “We didn’t really talk to him a lot, but I remember him saying things about his dad at times,” Smith said. “He told us he had a wife and child.”

The Canadian Press reported Monday that Mateen had been seen there over three years.

Chris Callen recalled the eventual killer being escorted drunk from the Pulse bar on multiple occasions, including one incident where he pointed a knife at a friend. Said Callen, who performs under the name Kristina McLaughlin, “He’s been going to this bar for at least three years.”

In a text with Mateen's ex-wife WFTV reporter Christopher Heath asked if she knew he used gay dating websites, to which she replied, ”It seems likely."

Mateen’s father emphatically told The Post Monday that his son was not gay.

“If he was gay, why would he do something like this?” Seddique Mateen asked.

The former classmate said the group, including Mateen, went to four gay clubs in the Treasure Coast and West Palm Beach in 2006: Kashmir Night Club in West Palm Beach, Byrd Cage in Port St. Lucie, Cold Keg in Melbourne and Rebar in Port St. Lucie.

All but Cold Keg have since closed, and the owner there said he hadn’t seen Mateen.

Neither had one of the former owners of Kashmir, who said none of his former employees have reached out to him, either.

Rebar closed in February and became Tattle Tails. The owner of Tattle Tails, Johnscott Willett, said Monday that he did not recognize Mateen. Willett said he worked for nine years at Rebar and didn’t recognize him from his time there, either.

He said St. Lucie County Sheriff’s deputies visited the club on Sunday and asked if he recognized Mateen.

After hearing that Mateen had shot up the nightclub, he said he felt angry, then betrayed.

He said Mateen graduated from the academy.

Mateen never became an officer in Florida.

WFTV contributed to this report.

Senate sends bill to Trump that toughens sanctions on Russia, Iran, North Korea

Published: Thursday, July 27, 2017 @ 7:13 PM

In an overwhelming vote of 98-2, the U.S. Senate on Thursday sent President Donald Trump a bipartisan bill that places new economic sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea, as members of both parties joined to send a message not only to those three regimes, but also the the White House, on the subject of U.S.-Russian relations and the 2016 campaign.

“We will not tolerate attacks on our democracy. That’s what this bill is all about,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) declared on the Senate floor, as Senators in both parties directly linked Russian interference in last year’s elections to this legislative effort.

“This bill will prevent President Trump from relaxing sanctions on Russia without Congressional review,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). “We’re all concerned about that.”

“Today’s legislation will help us more forcefully defend our interests and hold these destabilizing regimes accountable,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA).

“This measure makes clear that Iran, North Korea and Russia will always be held accountable for their malicious actions,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK).

But because of the provisions that limit the President’s authority on sanctions against Russia, the White House has been reluctant to endorse the effort, as hours before the vote, officials were still refusing to say whether President Trump would veto this bill.

“We continue to support strong sanctions against those three countries. And we are going to wait and see what that final of legislation and make a decision at that point,” said spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

But the Senate vote of 98-2, and the House vote of 419-3, showed a Congress that was almost united in support of the plan, suggesting there would be more than enough votes to override a veto by Mr. Trump.

“President Trump should sign this bill as soon as it hits his desk,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA). “Otherwise, he risks encouraging Russia’s interference in future elections.”

From the outset, Mr. Trump has advocated a less confrontational approach with Russia, one that has been repeatedly rejected by members of both parties – and this bill was one more piece of evidence on that front.

“This bipartisan bill is about keeping America safe, and I urge the president to sign it into law,” said Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Doctors want to set the record straight on ‘dry drowning'

Published: Thursday, July 27, 2017 @ 7:10 PM

Dry Drowning and Secondary Drowning Explained

You’ve probably seen articles about “dry drowning” in your Facebook feeds, but the local medical community wants to set the record straight.

>> Read more trending news

You can find hundreds of articles online about “dry drowning,” especially after an incident last month where doctors say a 4-year-old in Texas died.

WSB-TV met Dr. Andrea Keyes, an emergency physician with Northside Hospital Cherokee, who said there’s a misconception about "dry drowning."

“The appropriate term is drowning,” Keyes said.

Keyes told Lucie concerns about children showing no symptoms at first and dying days after swimming have little to do with drowning.

“More commonly, it is going to be something more common -- a viral illness, or some sort of bronchitis, something along those lines,” she explained. 

According to doctors, “dry drowning” is not even an accepted medical term. 

Doctors say always remember the important things when you’re at the pool:

  • Never take your eye off your child.
  • For the young ones, always stay close to them and if your child does have some sort of episode after going under, parents will know if they need to go to the ER. 

“If they’re having significant difficulty with breathing, confusion, color changes or obvious signs of distress,” Keyes said. 

But the thousands of stories on Facebook and Google about “dry drowning” have spread misinformation and confusion in the community. 

“Have you ever heard of dry drowning? I have. Do you know what it is? It is when a child has gone swimming and gets too much water in the lungs,” insists Kenia Bernard, a mother Lucie spoke with at the Garden Hills. 

Like many parents, the “dry drowning” articles have made her concerned, but Keyes says the symptoms she’s described are just known as drowning. 

“When water enters the airway, there is difficulty with breathing, the airway then swells, and this causes a lack of oxygen to the rest of the body, which then can cause increased fluid in the lungs and around the heart, cause seizures, and then cause death,” she explained. 

WSB-TV asked Keyes to clarify a secondary cause. 

“More commonly, it is going to be something more common -- a viral illness, or some sort of bronchitis, something along those lines,” she said. 

File photo of a swimming pool.
The bottom line is always keep an eye on your kids around bodies of water and make sure they’re wearing appropriate lifesaving devices.

Fire Ball rides closed in California after deadly Ohio State Fair accident

Published: Thursday, July 27, 2017 @ 10:42 AM

Authorities stand near the Fire Ball amusement ride after the ride malfunctioned injuring several at the Ohio State Fair, Wednesday, July 26, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio. Some of the victims were thrown from the ride when it malfunctioned Wednesday night, said Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Steve Martin. (Jim Woods/The Columbus Dispatch via AP)
Jim Woods/AP
Authorities stand near the Fire Ball amusement ride after the ride malfunctioned injuring several at the Ohio State Fair, Wednesday, July 26, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio. Some of the victims were thrown from the ride when it malfunctioned Wednesday night, said Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Steve Martin. (Jim Woods/The Columbus Dispatch via AP)(Jim Woods/AP)

Officials in California shut down Fire Ball rides at a trio of state fairs and attractions after a similar ride in Ohio malfunctioned Wednesday, killing one man and injuring several others.

>> Read more trending news

The swinging, spinning Fire Ball amusement park ride malfunctioned at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus on Wednesday, the opening day of the fair. Dramatic video captured by a bystander shows the ride swinging back and forth like a pendulum and spinning in the air when it crashes into something and part of the ride flies off, throwing riders to the ground.

The cause of the malfunction is under investigation.

The accident prompted officials to close similar rides at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, the California State Fair in Sacramento and the Orange County Fair in Costa Mesa, KSBW reported.

A spokesperson for the popular Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk told KRON that its Fire Ball ride was closed Wednesday in light of the accident. It was expected to reopen Thursday, after officials are able to thoroughly inspect the ride, KSBW reported.

“We inspect the rides daily,” Boardwalk community affairs director Kris Reyes told KSBW. “The Fire Ball was inspected Wednesday morning and passed.”

Barry Schailble, an inspector with the company hired by the California State Fair, told KCRA that officials “shut down the ride immediately, unloaded it and it’s closed right now.”

On its website, Amusements of America said that since its debut in 2002, the Fire Ball, which was manufactured by KMG, had become "one of the most popular thrill rides on the AOA Midway." The company's description of the ride said it swings riders 40 feet above the midway, while spinning them at 13 revolutions per minute.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ohio State Fair Ride Accident Kills One, Injures Six

Beheading of 88-year-old man, killing of wife remain unsolved, haunts Georgia sheriff  

Published: Thursday, July 27, 2017 @ 6:35 PM

The home where Russell and Shirley Dermond lived in the Great Waters subdivision in Eatonton, Ga., on Lake Oconee about 80 miles southeast of Atlanta. Russell Dermond was found beheaded in the garage in May of 2014. His head has never been found. Shirley Dermond’s body was found in the lake  10 days later. The case remains unsolved.
Christian Boone/Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The home where Russell and Shirley Dermond lived in the Great Waters subdivision in Eatonton, Ga., on Lake Oconee about 80 miles southeast of Atlanta. Russell Dermond was found beheaded in the garage in May of 2014. His head has never been found. Shirley Dermond’s body was found in the lake  10 days later. The case remains unsolved.(Christian Boone/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Even the internet is baffled.

On Reddit, where there are typically 10 conspiracy theories floated for every fact, only questions surface in a discussion group devoted to the grisly murders of Russell and Shirley Dermond, the elderly Eatonton couple found dead more than three years ago.

>> Read more trending news

For every theory, there’s a contradiction that debunks it. The lead investigator in the case, longtime Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, admits the trail for the killers — he’s confident at least two people were involved — has run cold.

“We’ve eliminated many, many, many things,” said Sills, a gruff, plain-talking lawman entering his third decade as Putnam sheriff. “But as far as a suspect, we’re probably as far away as we were 3 1/2 years ago.”

Recently, Sills agreed to open up the case file to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, sharing autopsy photos, pieces of evidence and his personal reflections on why this has been “the absolute most confounding thing I’ve ever dealt with in my entire career.”

‘They had no enemies’

The call came in on Tuesday, May 6, 2014, from inside Reynolds Plantation, a gated community located on Lake Oconee, about 80 miles southeast of Atlanta.

>> Related: Eatonton couple ‘the unlikeliest of victims’ 

Neighbors of Russell and Shirley Dermond had gone to their home inside the Great Waters subdivision out of concern for their well-being. The couple, married for 62 years, hadn’t shown up at a Kentucky Derby party three days earlier. Phone calls went unanswered.

As their friends entered through the screened porch where Russell Dermond, 88, would watch the Braves on TV nothing seemed amiss. Shirley Dermond, 87, kept a meticulous home. Nothing was out of place. There was no sign of a struggle, let alone a homicide.

Then, inside the garage of the 3,200-square-foot home, one of the neighbors found Russell Dermond’s body, slumped behind one of the couple’s cars. Upon closer inspection, they discovered something beyond macabre — a detail that would escalate this case into the national spotlight.

>> Related: Evidence elusive in murder investigation

Dermond’s head was missing, and so was his wife.

Beheadings are rare. Rarer still was the fact the head was nowhere to be found.

Read more here.