June 12, 2016 at 2:48 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Obama on Orlando shooting: ‘This was an act of terror’

National Prayer Breakfast, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama issued a statement on shootings at a gay bar in Orlando, Fla. (Image courtesy of YouTube)

President Obama on Sunday called the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., leaving at least 53 people dead “act of terror and an act of hate.”

Obama made the remarks in the afternoon in the White House briefing room as the nation and the LGBT community mourned the victims of attack, which is considered the deadliest shooting in the U.S. history.

“Today, as Americans, we grieve the brutal murder — a horrific massacre — of dozens of innocent people,” Obama said. “We pray for their families, who are grasping for answers with broken hearts. We stand with the people of Orlando, who have endured a terrible attack on their city. Although it’s still early in the investigation, we know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate. And as Americans, we are united in grief, in outrage, and in resolve to defend our people.”

The suspect identified as responsible for the shooting, Omar Mateen, killed patrons at Pulse Nightclub early Sunday armed with a handgun and an assault weapon. Mateen was shot dead by police in a standoff between him and law enforcement officials at the Pulse Nightclub. According to CNN, Mateen placed a phone call to 911 prior to the shooting in which he pledged loyalty to Islamic State of Syria & Iraq, which is the known for execution of men perceived as gay.

The remarks mark the 15th time President Obama has address the nation in the aftermath of a shooting, according to NBC News.

Obama said he had just completed a meeting with FBI Director Comey and his homeland security and national security advisors. The FBI is on the scene in Orlando and leading the investigation in partnership with local law enforcement, Obama said.

The president said all the facts aren’t yet known about the incident, including the precise motivations of the killer. Nonetheless, Obama said the FBI is investigating the attacks as an act of terrorism.

“What is clear is that he was a person filled with hatred,” Obama said. “Over the coming days, we’ll uncover why and how this happened, and we will go wherever the facts lead us.”

Obama said he spoke with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and conveyed to him condolences on behalf of the American people. Additionally, Obama expressed gratitude to first responders on the scene, whom he said “kept the carnage from being even worse.”

The president recognized the location of the attacks at a gay nightclub makes them especially horrendous for LGBT people because it was a place were they came not only for recreation, but visibility.

“This is an especially heartbreaking day for all our friends — our fellow Americans — who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,” Obama said. “The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live. The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub — it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.”

An advocate of increased gun safety measures, Obama observed the attacks are the deadliest in the nation’s history and said they’re “a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon.”

“And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be,” Obama said. “And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.”

In a proclamation after his remarks in briefing room, Obama ordered staffs throughout the nation to be flown at half-mast upon all public buildings and grounds.

Obama concluded his by recognizing more information about the victims will become known in coming days as well as “the joy that they brought to families and to friends.”

“Say a prayer for them and say a prayer for their families — that God give them the strength to bear the unbearable,” Obama said. “And that He give us all the strength to be there for them, and the strength and courage to change. We need to demonstrate that we are defined more — as a country — by the way they lived their lives than by the hate of the man who took them from us.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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