The Latest: Hundreds gather as Obama meets with victims


ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Latest on the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida (all times local):

2:15 p.m.

Hundreds of people are gathering outside the Amway Center in downtown Orlando as President Barack Obama meets with survivors and family members of the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting.

Brittany Woodrough was waiting in the 95 degree heat, hoping to see the president. She called 19-year-old Jason Benjamin Josaphat, one of the victims, a close friend.

She says she prays for his family and can’t believe that she lost a good friend. She says Obama’s visit makes it real.

Forty-nine people died when the gunman attacked the Pulse nightclub early Sunday and 53 were wounded.

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2:05 p.m.

President Barack Obama is meeting with survivors of the Orlando nightclub shooting and the families of the victims in downtown Orlando.

Obama arrived in the afternoon at the Amway Center, where the NBA’s Orlando Magic play. He’s expected to spend several hours meeting in private to offer condolences.

Vice President Joe Biden is joining Obama for the meetings.

Before sitting down with families and survivors, Obama and Biden met with law enforcement officials. The White House says they thanked the officials for their response to the attack Sunday at a gay nightclub.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Florida Rep. Corrine Brown joined Obama on Air Force One for the flight to Orlando, but are not participating in his meetings with those affected by the shooting.

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The owner of the nightclub a gunman attacked is starting a fundraising drive for her employees.

Pulse owner Barbara Poma said Thursday that several fundraising efforts are underway to help the survivors and victims’ families from the massacre, but none are affiliated with the club.

She says many people have called asking how they can help Pulse employees.

Poma says money raised by the Pulse Employee Recovery Fund will go directly to the nightclub’s workers.

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1:15 p.m.

The medical examiner who oversaw the 49 autopsies of the victims of the Pulse shooting says he kept their bodies separated from the gunman’s body.

Dr. Joshua Stephany said in a statement Thursday that the body of gunman Omar Mateen was being held in a building separate from the victims.

He also says the gunman’s autopsy was conducted in a separate building from the victims.

Stephany says he decided to do that not because of any requirement but because he thought it’s the right thing to do.

The medical examiner says his staffers were able to conduct autopsies on the all victims, as well as identify their bodies, within 72 hours after Sunday morning’s shooting.

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(Corrects day statement was made to Thursday, not Wednesday)

12:50 p.m.

President Barack Obama has arrived in Orlando to console those mourning the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Air Force One landed at Orlando International Airport at midday. Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer were meeting him on the tarmac.

The White House released few details about how Obama is spending the afternoon in Orlando. But he was expected to meet in private with families of the victims and survivors of the attack. Obama also planned to thank first responders and to speak about the need to stand with Orlando’s gay and lesbian community.

Twenty-nine-year-old Omar Mateen opened fire inside a gay nightclub early Sunday, leaving 49 people dead.

Vice President Joe Biden is also traveling to Florida on Thursday to spend time with victims’ families.

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12 p.m.

Comcast NBCUniversal is donating $1 million to a fund helping nightclub victims’ families and survivors.

The company lost four employees and had two others injured in the shooting.

Company officials said Thursday they were making the donation to the OneOrlando fund in the wake of the Pulse massacre that left 49 people dead. Among the dead were two employees who worked at the Universal Orlando Resort’s theme parks and two employees who worked at the Telemundo station in Orlando.

Another two victims used to work at the Universal theme parks, and two other Universal employees were hospitalized with injuries.

Since it was started on Tuesday, the OneOrlando fund has raised at least $4.6 million and is growing.

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Messages of hope have been extended to the Orlando police officers who responded to this week’s gay nightclub shooting by Colorado colleagues who know the horrors they faced.

Aurora Police Lt. Stephen Redfearn was among the first on the scene after a gunman opened fire at a movie theater in his Denver suburb in 2012. Redfearn came up with the idea for a video in which he and other members of his department say they stand with Orlando.

Redfearn says messages he received in 2012 from other officers helped, and he wanted to show Orlando the same support.

Orlando police tweeted a link to Redfearn’s video and expressed thanks.

Twelve people died in Aurora in 2012. In Orlando, 49 people died before the gunman was killed.

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10:35 a.m.

Six people wounded in the attack on a gay nightclub are still in critical condition at a hospital.

Orlando Regional Medical Center said Thursday that three people are in guarded condition. That’s an improvement from a couple of days ago when five people were in that condition.

Twenty-three people in all are still at Orlando Regional.

Forty-nine people were killed and more than 50 wounded when Omar Mateen opened fire inside the Pulse nightclub early Sunday.

The motive for his attack is still unclear. He pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 call, his ex-wife said he was mentally ill and his father has suggested he was angry with gays.

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10:20 a.m.

CIA Director John Brennan says the agency has found no connection between the Orlando gunman and any foreign terrorist organization.

Testifying before the Senate intelligence committee on Thursday, Brennan said the Islamic State will continue to try to inspire lone wolf attacks.

Brennan says he has seen in Orlando, San Bernardino and elsewhere that the group is attempting to inspire attacks by sympathizers who have no direct links to them.

He said, however, that while the CIA is sharing intelligence with the FBI to help identify potential lone-wolf attackers, the agency’s responsibility is to gather information about operations overseas.

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9 a.m.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she is concerned about hatred against gays and lesbians.

Referring to the nightclub shooting in Orlando, the chancellor told reporters on Thursday that while not all details of the attack had been fully investigated, “we know one thing: the attacker was fully aware that he would meet lesbian and gay people in the nightclub — and the massacre was exactly targeted at these people.”

Merkel also expressed concern about increasing homophobic sentiments in Germany. She said that life in open and free societies “must be shaped by respect for the other — no matter what he believes, no matter what he looks like and no matter whom he loves.”

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8:30 a.m.

A visitation has been held for one of the victims of the massacre at a gay Orlando nightclub, beginning the long procession of rainbow-hued sendoffs.

On Wednesday night, the casket for Javier Jorge-Reyes was taken inside the funeral home. Outside, a crowd of drag queens, motorcyclists and others came to pay their respects.

Ezekiel Davis — or, as he’s known to some, Sister Anesthesia Beaverhausen — was dressed in a nun’s habit. He said: “We’re just here to spread love and joy and try to put an end to all the hate.”

Cora Bath said she was there to support the grieving family in her city. She added: “We’re going to stand united.”

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7:40 a.m.

President Barack Obama wants to offer solace and healing to a distraught community during a visit to Orlando, even as the political world turns the shooting into a fresh excuse to fight about terrorism and gun control.

Obama faces a tragedy whose causes are still murky. Even as the families of 49 victims prepare to bury their dead, it’s unclear exactly what led a 29-year-old Muslim born in New York to open fire in a gay nightclub where some have said he might have been a regular patron.

In Orlando, Obama plans to meet with families of the victims, as well as with the doctors, paramedics and other first responders who came to their aid. He is also expected to speak publicly during his visit.

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7:30 a.m.

Sunday’s mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub that left at least 49 people dead had Oprah Winfrey asking questions instead of answering them Wednesday night.

Tapping the chest of an Associated Press reporter to emphasize her point, Winfrey inquired: “What will be the number? What number is high enough to get our attention, so that we will say, ‘Enough’?”

Winfrey was on the arrivals line Wednesday night in Los Angeles at the premiere of “Greenleaf.” She produces and acts in the TV drama. It will be broadcast on her OWN network.

She seemed eager to speak about the Orlando massacre.

She says: “One side says ‘Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.’ … But are we a country that really believes that assault weapons should be made available to anybody? Are assault weapons necessary? I just say, ‘Enough.’

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7:30 a.m.

The coordinator for Chicago’s upcoming gay pride parade says organizers will hire dozens more off-duty police officers than they did last year after city officials asked them to beef up security in the wake of the massacre at a gay nightclub in Florida.

Richard Pfeiffer says 160 off-duty officers and other security professionals will work the parade. Last year there were 70.

Security has been increased in gay communities in Chicago and around the country since a gunman killed 49 people at an Orlando club. Chicago police say they’ll provide additional parade security. Police say there’s been no threat made against the city’s gay community.

FBI spokesman Garrett Croon says in a statement Wednesday that the agency is working with Chicago police in establishing security measures for the pride parade.

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7:30 a.m.

New York City’s police commissioner says there have been a number of threats made against gay bars and nightclubs in the city, but none appear to be credible.

Commissioner William Bratton says Wednesday that the threats were made by “cowards” who came out of the woodwork after Sunday’s shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida that killed 49 people.

Bratton says there are no known, credible threats against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in New York.

He says police will thoroughly investigate each of the threats and police treat all of them seriously.

Bratton says there will also be an increased police presence at the city’s gay pride parade on June 26. He predicts this year’s parade will be the largest in the city’s history.

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3 a.m.

In the final hours of his life, Orlando gunman Omar Mateen apparently made a series of Facebook posts in which he raged against the “filthy ways of the west.”

That’s according to a Senate committee.

As the grief-stricken city of Orlando prepares to bury the first of the 49 who perished at the Pulse dance club, a Senate Committee has asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg for help uncovering the trail of hate Mateen left behind in cyberspace.

The call comes as President Barack Obama prepares to visit Orlando on Thursday. On Wednesday, drag queens and motorcyclists paid their respects at a visitation for Javier Jorge-Reyes, beginning the long procession of rainbow-hued sendoffs for Mateen’s victims.