Family members and an ex-wife of Omar Mateen say he regularly espoused homophobic views, but regulars at the LGBT nightclub where the 29-year-old American-born Muslim gunman killed 49 while pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group described him as a routine visitor.
Others recognized him from gay dating apps, adding to the complicated and at times contradictory picture of the man behind the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Investigators also are questioning Mateen’s second wife, Noor Salman, about the degree of knowledge she had before the attack early Sunday.
An official who was briefed on the progress of the case but insisted on anonymity told The Associated Press that authorities believe Mateen’s wife knew about the plot, but they are reluctant to charge her on that basis alone.
Mateen, who injured 53 others when he stormed the gay nightclub Pulse and opened fire, appears to have been preparing for the attack since at least June 4, when he purchased one of the firearms used in the assault.
As authorities work to piece together the motivation behind the attack, a probe that initially centered on Islamic radicalization and the FBI’s prior investigations of Mateen has veered into whether the killer struggled with feelings about his own sexual identity.
Psychological studies show that anti-gay views are more pronounced in people who repress same-sex desires, particularly those who are raised by parents who forbid homosexuality.
“In many cases, these are people who are at war with themselves and they are turning this internal conflict outward,” said Richard Ryan, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester who oversaw a 2012 study on homophobia.
Jim Van Horn, 71, told AP that he saw Mateen repeatedly at the bar and talked with him once.
“He was a homosexual, and he was trying to pick up men,” Mr. Van Horn said. “He would walk up to them and then he would maybe put his arm around ‘em or something and maybe try to get them to dance a little bit or something.”
During a news conference at Orlando Regional Medical Center, shooting survivor Patience Carter said she was praying to die as she lay on a nightclub bathroom floor covered in water and blood. She said Mateen talked about wanting the U.S. to “stop bombing my country,” a possible reference to his father’s native Afghanistan.
“I really don’t think I’m going to get out of there,” said Ms. Carter, 20, recalling her thoughts. “I made peace with God. ‘Just please take me. I don’t want any more.’ I was just begging God to take the soul out of my body.”
Citing law enforcement sources, NBC News reported that Mateen’s wife accompanied him to the gun store when he purchased ammunition several days after June 4 and at some point drove him to Pulse because he wanted to scope out the club.
Investigators are continuing to dig through his phone and communications as well as interviewing those who knew him to determine more about the killer and the degree to which those around him may have been aware of or aided him in carrying out his plans.
NBC also reported that authorities are considering whether to bring criminal charges against Ms. Salman regarding her failure to report the plans for the brutal attack to law enforcement. Mateen was killed in a shootout with police.
Ms. Salman has not spoken out publicly about Mateen.
Amy Filjones, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office for the Middle District of Florida, declined to comment on the report because the investigation is continuing.
Even if Ms. Salman knew about the pending attack, the extent to which she felt able to warn law enforcement is unclear.
Mateen’s first wife, Sitora Yusufiy, has described the gunman as controlling and abusive. She said he forbade her from seeing her family and seized control of her paychecks. Their marriage in 2009 lasted four months.
“He was totally two different people sometimes and would turn and abuse me, out of nowhere, when I was sleeping,” she told The New York Times.
Ms. Yusufiy said she did not know whether her former husband might have been homosexual but noted that he regularly expressed strong anti-gay feelings.
One regular patron of Pulse told the Los Angeles Times that he recognized Mateen from the gay dating app Jack’d. Another told MSNBC that he had received messages from Mateen through the app Grindr.
Hector Camacho, CEO of Jack’d, said the company has not been able to substantiate claims that Mateen was active on the site.
For lawmakers looking to prevent terrorism, the ambiguity in Mateen’s motivations and questions about how the attack could have been detected led to separate tactics.
Democrats were intent on forcing votes on gun control. Although it may be impossible to spot “lone wolf” attackers, they said, their rampages can be less lethal if they don’t have access to firearms.
House Republicans rejected that approach and instead vowed to pass a series of bills designed to shape an anti-terrorism strategy. Republican leaders said they would repackage and approve nine separate bills as a single bill and send it to the Senate, where they hope it will receive action.
President Obama on Tuesday renewed his call for Congress to impose more gun control, especially a ban on assault-style rifles such as the one used in Orlando.
“Stop making it easy as possible for terrorists to buy assault weapons. Reinstate the assault weapons ban,” Mr. Obama said. “Otherwise these kinds of events are going to keep on happening.”
Noting that the attackers in San Bernardino, California, and Fort Hood, Texas, were U.S. citizens, the president said authorities cannot conduct blanket surveillance on all Muslims.
“Where does this stop?” Mr. Obama asked. “Are we going to start subjecting them to special surveillance? Do Republican officials actually agree with this? Because that’s not the America we want. It won’t make us more safe; it will make us less safe.”
Law enforcement groups, including the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Association of Police Organizations, said the heavy fire that Orlando Police Department officers came under while trying to subdue Mateen is evidence that law enforcement has a real need for surplus military equipment.
Mr. Obama signed an executive order last year that imposed limitations on the types of surplus equipment that police departments could obtain through surplus programs.
• Dave Boyer and Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.