BREAKING: 49 dead, 53 injured after mass shooting at Pulse Orlando Nightclub

Police arrived at the gay club on Orange Ave. after gunshots were fired at 2 a.m. Witnesses say there were about 40 gunshots in rapid succession as people inside Pulse tried to escape. Orlando Police confirmed via their Twitter account that there was a controlled explosion, which police clarified later was a distractionary device.

Orlando police chief John Mina, in a briefing 7 a.m. June 12, confirmed that several people were dead inside the nightclub, as many as 20 dead.  At least 42 victims were taken to the hospital. Mina says an officer who was on duty at Pulse responded to the shooting, exchanged gunfire with the shooter and it did turn into a hostage situation. He says at 5 a.m., they made the decision to rescue hostages and SWAT officers exchanged gunfire with the suspect, who was carrying a handgun and an “assault type” rifle.  Mina says the suspect had “a device” on him and they’re checking the area for other devices.

He says one officer was injured but saved by his Kevlar helmet. Mina says any information they find about the gunman will be turned over to the FBI, but they confirmed he was prepared and well organized, and not from this area.

“Tonight our community experienced a very horrific crime. Many lives were lost,” says Mayor Buddy Dyer. “We’re a strong, resilient community. Tonight, we had a crime that will have a lasting effect on our community. We need to stay strong and stay supportive at our victims and their families.”

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As of 7 a.m., some witnesses told media there was a second shooter but that is unconfirmed.

“Everyone get out of pulse and keep running,” was posted to Pulse’s Facebook page at 3 a.m. It was the club’s Latin night.

2:00am. People on the dance floor and bar got down on the floor and some of us who were near the bar and back exit managed to go out through the outdoor area and just ran. I am safely home and hoping everyone gets home safely as well,” Ricardo J. Negron Almodovar posted to the Pulse Facebook page.

Police say this is a multi-agency investigation, with local, state and federal authorities on the scene.

A representative from the FBI, at the briefing, stated that there’s no reason to expect further danger.

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

UPDATE: 9:40 A.M. EST: Omar Mateen, a US citizen with no criminal history but possible ties to Islamic terroism has been indentified as a suspect in the shooting.

Equality Florida has released a statement on the tragedy:

We are reeling from the tragic news that a gunman opened fire on the 2am capacity crowd at Pulse leaving 20 people dead and 42 injured according to preliminary reports.

We are heartbroken and angry that senseless violence has once again destroyed lives in our state and in our country.

Gay clubs hold a significant place in LGBTQ history. They were often the only safe gathering place and this horrific act strikes directly at our sense of safety. June commemorates our community standing up to anti-LGBTQ violence at the Stonewall Inn, the nightclub that has become the first LGBTQ site recognized as a national monument.

We have received a steady stream of emails and messages from those seeking to help or to make sense of the senseless. We make no assumptions on motive. We will await the details in tears of sadness and anger. We stand in solidarity and keep our thoughts on all whose lives have been lost or altered forever in this tragedy.

Plans are underway for the following. More details to come.

* A vigil tomorrow pending clearance from police.

* A blood drive: OneBlood, the local blood bank, has posted an emergency need for O-, O+, and AB Plasma.

* A fund is being set up to help victims families.

* Grief counseling is being made available at the community center.

UPDATE II: 10:31 A.M. EST: The number of casualities in the Pulse Orlando Nightclub shooting has changed from the initial report of 20 dead, 42 injured. Orlando authorities now confirm that 49 victims are dead and 53 are injured.