A shooting rampage at an Orlando nightclub early Sunday created left approximately 20 people dead, including a gunman, Police Chief John Mina said.
Mina said the tragedy began at 2:02 a.m. when a police officer engaged in a gun battle with a suspect outside Pulse, a gay club just south of downtown. A hostage situation then took place and a SWAT team was called in, he said. Police received updates from patrons trapped in the club.
"At about 5 a.m., a decision was made to rescue hostages," Mina said. "Exchanged gunfire with the suspect. He is dead."
Mina said 42 people were transferred to local hospitals. He estimated the death toll at 20, and said about 30 people were rescued.
"Tonight our community witnessed a horrific crime... that will have a lasting effect on our community," a solemn Mayor Buddy Dyer said.
Mina said the gunman was armed with an assault rifle and handgun. Officers from multiple agencies and dozens of emergency vehicles responded to the scene. Orange County Fire and Rescue called for gurneys to move victims from the club.
"We can confirm this is a mass casualty situation. Support from local/state/federal agencies," Orlando police tweeted, then later: "Pulse Shooting: The shooter inside the club is dead."
Few details were available. It was not immediately clear if there was only one shooter. A bomb squad was at the scene, and police reported conducting a "controlled explosion."
The shooting spree came just one day after The Voice star Christina Grimmie was shot and killed after a concert Friday night at the Plaza Live Theater in Orlando. That gunman, identified as Kevin James Loibl, 27, of St. Petersburg, Fla., fatally shot himself after the attack.
Police responded to the Pulse shooting at 2:02 a.m. Sunday, according to police calls for service log. Another call was made for backup minutes later. Hours after the shooting, police were still trying to piece together what happened.
"Anyone who was at Pulse nightclub and was a witness Please come to the Orlando Police HQ," the department tweeted almost five hours later. "Any information you have could aid investigators in this case."
Club patron Christopher Hansen told CNN he heard what could have been 20 or 30 shots, setting off a panic as people scrambled for cover or raced for the exits.
"It's just shocking," Hansen said."It was just one (gunshot)afater another."
As the tragedy was unfolding, Pulse Orlando posted to its Facebook page: "Everyone get out of pulse and keep running."
Rosie Feba, a witness, told the Orlando Sentinel she and her girlfriend were in the club near closing time when, "she told me someone was shooting. Everyone was getting on the floor. I told her I didn't think it was real, I thought it was just part of the music, until I saw fire coming out of his gun."
Feba told the Sentinel she her girlfriend ran out of the club and helped a man who had been shot get outside.
WESH-TV reported that several victims were loaded into ambulances outside Pulse, and a crisis negotiator was at the scene. Police were searching for a suspect or suspects using dogs, the station said.
There was no immediate information on how many people were shot or what their conditions were. WESH reported several people were taken to nearby Orlando Regional Medical Center, a Level 1 trauma center. The hospital was not immediately available to comment.
The Orlando Fire Department called for its bomb squad and hazardous material team to the scene after 3 a.m. ET. Police K-9 dogs searched the area around nearby Orlando Regional Medical Center with an armed deputy in head-to-toe military gear.
A loud bang was heard before 5 a.m., but Orlando Police tweeted that it was controlled explosion by law enforcement.
Ali Kurnaz, 25, told USA TODAY he was working in his living room about a block from the nightclub when he heard multiple gunshots from outside.
"I could hear multiple rounds of gunfire to the point where it scared my cats," Kurnaz said. "They came running from a different room."
Kurnaz said he heard sirens as multiple police cars headed to the crime scene and helicopters flying over his neighborhood.
In some tweets appearing to come from inside Pulse nightclub short after the assault, people said they were hiding.
Twitter users also said they heard multiple gunshots.