By Frances Robles and Julie Turkewitz
June 25, 2016
Although federal officials have said that the Orlando gunman, Omar Mateen, was radicalized at least to some extent online, at least half a dozen men have come forward to report that they had seen Mr. Mateen at gay clubs, encountered him online, or had romantic encounters with him. Credit MySpace, via Associated Press
After news media reports suggested that the man who carried out the massacre at a gay nightclub here may have himself been gay, the company that bills itself as “the world’s largest gay hook-up site” put out what amounted to a distress call, asking members who may have been in contact with the gunman, Omar Mateen, to come forward.
In an attempt to find an account connected to the killer, the site, Adam4Adam combed through the profile photos of every one of its 300,000 Florida members and researched 20 email addresses used by Mr. Mateen over the years that the company said had been provided by the F.B.I.
Adam4Adam came up with nothing.
“I think it was a hoax,” David Lesage, a spokesman for the Montreal-based company, said about the reports that Mr. Mateen had used Adam4Adam and other dating sites and apps for gay men.
Two weeks after Mr. Mateen barged into the Pulse nightclub on June 12 and opened fire on the crowd, leaving 49 people dead and another 53 wounded, investigators are still trying to determine the underlying motive for the slaughter. Although federal officials have said Mr. Mateen had become radicalized to some extent online, at least half a dozen men have come forward with claims that hint at another potential motive, reporting that they had seen Mr. Mateen at gay clubs, encountered him online or had romantic encounters with him.
The claims have prompted investigators to look into whether Mr. Mateen, who had called 911 pledging allegiance to the Islamic State, was also a closeted gay man consumed by feelings of self-loathing and revenge.
F.B.I. investigators, who have conducted more than 500 interviews in the case, are continuing to contact men who claim to have had sexual relations with Mr. Mateen or think they saw him at gay bars. But so far, they have not found any independent corroboration — through his web searches, emails or other electronic data — to establish that he was, in fact, gay, officials said.
The question of sexual orientation is a part of a broader effort by the F.B.I. to establish Mr. Mateen’s criminal profile. Beyond being a critical piece of information that could help the agency reconstruct the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, it could aid in creating a broader analysis of criminal and terrorist behaviour.
“People often act out of more than one motivation,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch told reporters during a visit here on Tuesday. “This was clearly an act of terror and an act of hate.”
One of the first people to bring up the idea that Mr. Mateen could have been gay was his ex-wife, Sitora Yusufiy, who, a day after the massacre, told The New York Times that her former husband often made angry comments about homosexuality.
“If you know anything about psychology, you know that people that have a really, really strong resentment or above-average hate toward something, it’s because deep inside that’s what they truly are,” she said in an interview at her home in Boulder, Colo. “In Islam, it’s true that there is very low tolerance for homosexuality. He may not have been able to be himself.”
But she added that she was speculating, and that there was nothing in their intimate life on which she had based that hunch.
Several men later came forward to tell other news media outlets that Mr. Mateen was a regular at Pulse. (Two of them, female impersonators who perform at the club, declined to comment for this article, though, saying the focus ought to be on the victims.)
Another Orlando man, a Navy veteran named Kevin West, told The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post that he had communicated with Mr. Mateen for about a year on Jack’d, a gay chat and dating app.
Hector Camacho, the chief executive of Jack’d, said the company was cooperating with the F.B.I.
A company spokesman, Jeff Dorta, said several television networks that sought to authenticate the report forwarded screen shots of what was purported to be Mr. Mateen’s Jack’d profile page, which they said they had received from a source making the allegation. Mr. Dorta said that a technical analysis determined that the profile page was probably not created by Mr. Mateen.
“While we are not at liberty to comment on any specifics, I can tell you that as of now, utilizing the information Jack’d has been provided, we have not been able to substantiate that Omar Mateen was a Jack’d user,” Mr. Dorta said.
In an interview, Mr. West refused to share any of the messages or pictures or explain which app he had used to communicate with Mr. Mateen. He became combative when pressed. “I don’t need to prove anything to anyone,” Mr. West said. “If I said it, it’s true.”
On Tuesday, the Spanish-language television network Univision aired an interview with a man identified only as Miguel — his face was disguised and his voice distorted — who claimed to have had a two-month relationship with Mr. Mateen after meeting him on the app Grindr.
The man said Mr. Mateen had profiles on at least three gay dating apps. He said they first met at another gay club in Orlando, the Parliament House, and had more than a dozen rendezvous at an area hotel.
Miguel told the network that Mr. Mateen felt rejected by Hispanic gays and was angry at Puerto Ricans in particular, because he once had a sexual liaison with a man who later confessed to being H.I.V. positive.
“I believe this crazy horrible thing he did was revenge,” he said in the English-language version of the interview.
Federal authorities looked into his account and do not consider it credible, said a law enforcement official who spoke on background because the information was part of an ongoing investigation.
Christopher Hansen, 32, a witness to the Pulse massacre, said that if it turned out that Mr. Mateen had been gay, it might open a conversation about homophobia in Muslim and other religious households where homosexuality is sometimes not accepted.
“Maybe this would help open up eyes in all religions,” he said.
Pedro Julio Serrano, a gay activist in Puerto Rico, said he was worried that Univision’s interview sought to dismiss the killings as a “personal quarrel.”
“We haven’t seen any texts, phone calls, voice mail messages, emails or Facebook messages,” Mr. Serrano said. “We have to be very careful here. There are 49 families who are hurting because they lost their loved ones, and 53 going through the process of healing. We cannot fuel or ignite anything that will add to that pain and that suffering and that will inflame the sentiment and the emotions we are all going through.”
Matt Apuzzo and Eric Lichtblau contributed reporting from Washington.