FORT PIERCE, Fla. — It was a shock to John Fumando, an out gay man in Port St. Lucie, Fla., when he learned Omar Mateen, the shooter in the Orlando massacre, lived in the same county. Then Fumando started to see pictures of Mateen broadcast on the media. Those smiling selfies. Fumando wondered where he had seen the man before, then realized.
“It could have been on Grindr,” he said. Fumando never engaged in chat with Mateen, so he has no record to know for sure if it was the same man. “But there was no question he looked familiar,” he said.
Karmein La'Raos, a gay man living in Fort Pierce, also said he believed he had seen pictures of Mateen on Grindr, "but I could have seen him in public."
Another gay man living in the Fort Pierce, Fla., area, who didn’t want to reveal his identity because he is not out, told The Advocate in a conversation over the Grindr app that he had seen Mateen’s profile. “He lived down the road from me, saw him on here a few times,” the man said. “Never talked with him or even knew he lived there until everything went down.”
Speculation that Mateen, who killed 49 people at an Orlando gay bar, was actually himself gay or bisexual started Monday, coming from multiple men telling their stories in the media. Still, no one has turned up a copy of saved chat messages or a favorited profile page.
Sources have told MSNBC and the Los Angeles Times that they had messaged Mateen on gay dating apps including Grindr, but in the Orlando area, where Pulse is located. While some witnesses have said on TV news that they spotted Mateen at the Pulse nightclub dating back as far as three years ago, there are so far no reports he was ever seen at gay clubs closer to where he lived, including TattleTails in Port St. Lucie, less than 10 miles from his home.
Fumando and the other man’s account suggest he may have also been using the app in South Florida, closer to his residence, a community where he had a wife and child, as well as his father in Port St. Lucie.
The Advocate messaged more than 100 people on Grindr in the Fort Pierce area, including men who live near Mateen’s home, his workplace, and his place of worship. Only one man, the one who lived down the road, said he’d seen Mateen.
The Advocate met Fumando at TattleTails Nightclub on U.S. 1 in Port St. Lucie, which sits in a space that has hosted a gay bar for more than 22 years. The last time any significant hate-based violence affected this place, patrons recall, was when some drunken rednecks started a fight in the parking lot. But less than 10 miles away, a vacant apartment once leased by Mateen remains the site of an FBI investigation. And two hours north, the world’s media still surround Pulse, the Orlando nightclub where Mateen launched a shooting rampage.
Still, patrons at TattleTails don’t seem preoccupied with the fact this gay bar was the closest one to where Mateen lived. A couple miles away, media stake out the home of Mateen’s father, but at the bar it’s business as usual. A benefit for Pulse victims will be held here this Saturday. “The fact the guy was from here wasn’t anything to do with anything,” said Johnny Wait, a 53-year-old gay man who has frequented TattleTails, and before it Rebar in the same location, for about six or seven years. “It’s not helpful to think Mateen could have saved some gas and come to this club instead. And it’s not worth analyzing why he went elsewhere. It’s just another closet case gone nuts.”
Nobody here ever saw Mateen in the bar, including staff members who pride themselves on learning every new person who swings through the club. Entertainers at Pulse, meanwhile, report seeing Mateen at the Orlando club once every couple weeks.
Performer Lisa Lane, a regular at Latin Night at the Pulse, told The Advocate that she recognized him from shows there. Lane never knew his name but immediately knew the face when it started appearing in her Facbeook feed.
"He was one of my fans,” she said. “Always when he saw me he would talk to me."
At least one of the men who said he’d seen Mateen on gay dating apps told the Los Angeles Times he turned over his phone to the FBI. Still, we might never be clear about Mateen’s sexual orientation.
“Forty-nine innocent people were brutally massacred in an LGBT space — this we know for certain,” said GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis in a statement. She added, “Whether the gunman’s homophobia spurred from hatred of others or hatred of himself, this is homophobia all the same. And it’s sadly just the latest example of homophobia turning to horrific violence, just as it has for decades.”