Despite several reports and claims by people who knew Orlando shooter Omar Mateen affirming he was gay, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation said it had yet to find any evidence on the matter, officials familiar with the investigation have told the Los Angeles Times.
Officials told the newspaper Thursday that in seeking to verify the reports “federal agents have culled Mateen's electronic devices, including a laptop computer and cellphone, as well as electronic communications of those who made the claims,” but have yet to find any links, photographs or phone apps that would suggest he was gay.
The comments come after reports suggested the attacker used several LGBT dating apps and communicated with several users, with his former wife claiming he was gay and his father knew about it.
Kevin West, a regular at Pulse, who had told the Los Angeles Times he had exchanged messages with Mateen on a gay dating app, reaffirmed his claims Thursday and cast doubt on the FBI. “No one is lying about him being on there,” West told the newspaper. "Once you have the app and delete your profile, it’s gone," he added.
The FBI have dismissed comments from a man who claims to have had sexual relations with Mateen and also said the attacker carried out the shooting at Pulse nightclub out of anger toward Puerto Rican men who had hurt him emotionally.
Mateen’s alleged former lover also said the gunman was upset with a Puerto Rican man who had not told him he was HIV-positive until after they had had sex. But one senior law enforcement official told the Los Angeles Times that investigators do not consider the man’s account credible.
Meanwhile, the FBI is facing a backlash over its handling of the investigation after Mateen’s former wife told a Brazilian network that the FBI told her not to tell U.S. media that he was in fact gay.
To add to the mounting evidence, a former male classmate of Mateen has also come out and said he had been asked out romantically by the mass shooter.
The FBI’s handling of the shooting came under scrutiny when it was revealed that the agency had tried to lure Mateen into carrying out a terror plot in 2013 but he “did not bite,” according to a police officer in Florida who was familiar with the FBI’s plans at the time.
Critics said the FBI’s entrapment plan raised questions on whether the agency had played a role in shaping the motives of the Orlando shooter and increased his distrust and paranoia in a country where Muslims are increasingly targeted for their faith.
Casting more doubt on the FBI’s latest comments, Cord Cedeno, 23, another Pulse regular, insisted he saw Mateen at Pulse months before the shooting and messaged with him on Grindr for a short time.
“The FBI obviously is trying to cover up their information,” Cedeno told the Los Angeles Times Thursday. “I can go take a lie detector test. I know for a fact Omar messaged me.”
Adding a further twist to the investigation, other sources close to the investigation told Reuters Thursday that the FBI was now moving toward a personal motive for the attack rather than a political and “Islamist terrorism” related one.
The Orlando shooting has reignited debates in the United States over gun control and hate crimes against the LGBT community while also highlighting how U.S. authorities hold double-standards when investigating mass shootings depending on the ethnicity of the attacker.