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orlando shooting

Mourners hold candles while observing a moment of silence during a vigil outside the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts for the mass shooting victims at the Pulse nightclub June 13, 2016 in Orlando, Florida.BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP / Getty Images

Thousands of people gathered in downtown Orlando to mourn the 49 men and women killed in a hail of gunfire on Sunday, vowing to counter hate and violence with love and solidarity.

With speeches, music and prayers, they honoured those lost in the worst modern mass shooting in American history. There were calls for unity and for stronger gun laws. As the sun set, a multitude of small candles lit up the centre of the city. A bell tolled, once for each victim, slow and endless.

As Orlando grieved, U.S. authorities continued their investigation into the gunman, 29-year-old Omar Mateen.

Mr. Mateen, born in New York to Afghan immigrant parents, was an apparent example of "homegrown extremism" inspired by radical information over the Internet, U.S. President Barack Obama said at the White House on Monday. There was no clear evidence Mr. Mateen was directed externally by a larger terrorist network, even though the shooter claimed allegiance to Islamic State "at the last minute," Mr. Obama said.

However, the attack on a gay nightclub underscored the degree to which Islamic State was able to inspire acts of brutality around the world, the President said after a briefing with law enforcement, counterterrorism and homeland security officials.

Investigators were trying to determine whether Mr. Mateen had recently scouted Disney World as a potential target, FBI director James Comey said. This was reported by, which cited an unidentified federal law-enforcement source.

Law-enforcement officials were also investigating whether anyone had worked with Mr. Mateen to prepare the attack. "There is an investigation of other persons," Lee Bentley, a federal prosecutor in Florida, said at a news conference. "We are working as diligently as we can on that."

Officials stressed that they believed there had been no other attackers and had no evidence of a threat to the public.

Wielding an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and a handgun, Mr. Mateen opened fire at Pulse nightclub early Sunday in a three-hour shooting rampage and hostage siege. During the attack, he called 911 to profess allegiance to Islamic State group – and remained "cool and calm" during phone calls with police negotiators, Orlando Police Chief John Mina said.

While Mr. Mateen pledged loyalty to Islamic State, a number of other possible factors and motives may have driven him toward violence. His ex-wife said he was mentally ill, while his father has suggested he may have acted out of anti-gay hatred.

The FBI chief defended the bureau's handling of its two previous investigations into Mr. Mateen and his apparent terrorist sympathies. As for whether the FBI should have done anything differently, "so far the honest answer is, 'I don't think so,'" Mr. Comey said.

More details of the bloodbath emerged Monday. The shooting began after the gunman approached the club around 2 a.m., exchanged fire with an off-duty officer working security, and then went inside and started gunning people down, police said.

After two other officers arrived and exchanged gunfire with Mr. Mateen, the gunman holed up in a restroom with about five club-goers. An additional 15 to 20 were in another nearby bathroom, authorities said.

Hostage negotiators began talking with the gunman.

After he began to talk about explosives, Mr. Mina, the police chief, made the decision around 5 a.m. to blow open a wall to the bathroom. The explosives didn't penetrate the wall completely, so an armoured vehicle was used to punch a half-metre-by-one-metre hole. Dozens of people escaped and Mr. Mateen was gunned down, police said.

Pastor Deyni Ventura of Sanford, Fla., said she visited a survivor in the hospital, whom she identified only as Norman, who had taken refuge in a handicapped bathroom stall crammed with people.

He could hear the shooter laughing loudly as he sprayed gunfire over and under the bathroom stall. "They couldn't see the shooter but they could hear him laughing," she said, imitating a loud cackling laugh.

Norman, who was shot four times, crawled over the bodies of his friends to safety. Everyone else in the stall died, Ms. Ventura said.

In total, the gunman killed 49 people before he was shot by police. They ranged in age from 18 to 50, but most were in their 20s, out for a night of music and dancing. As of Monday afternoon, 23 of the wounded remained in a local hospital, five of them in grave condition.

Mr. Mateen was an armed guard at a gated retirement community and had worked for the global security firm G4S for nine years. He had cleared two company background screenings, the latest in 2013, according to G4S. Investigators said he legally purchased the weapons used in the shooting in the week before the attack.

Mr. Mateen's father, Seddique Mir Mateen, told reporters that the massacre was "the act of a terrorist," and added: "I apologize for what my son did. I am as sad and mad as you guys are."

He wouldn't go into details about any religious or political views his son held, saying he didn't know. Asked whether he missed his son, he said: "I don't miss anything about him. What he did was against humanity."

At the vigil in downtown Orlando on Monday night, thousands came together to mark the tragedy that has scarred their city.

Pattie Rivera, 41, wept as the bell tolled once for each victim. Her husband is a DJ at Pulse and managed to escape on Sunday. "I'm a lucky one," she said.

Being with so many others on Monday night was "amazing," she said. "As painful as this has been, to see people here, with their children, teaching them to respect people's differences – it's beautiful."

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