An Editor’s Note published July 12, 2017, about Kevin Deutsch’s reporting appears at the end of this story.
FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Before he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and carried out the deadliest mass shooting in American history, Omar Mateen made a living protecting his neighbors.
The 29-year-old Fort Pierce-area resident worked as an officer for the Jupiter-based G4S security company for nine years beginning in 2007, guarding golf courses and retirement communities and, according to one colleague, making inflammatory statements about homosexuals, Jews and the American military.
“When I saw his picture on the news, I thought, of course, he did that,” said Eric Baumer, whose security guard shifts at the PGA Golf Club at PGA Village overlapped with Mateen’s in 2015. G4S confirmed Mateen’s employment with them in a statement issued Sunday. “He had bad things to say about everybody — blacks, Jews, gays, a lot of politicians, our soldiers. He had a lot of hate in him. He told me America destroyed Afghanistan.”
Mateen’s march toward radicalization was apparent in those talks outside the golf club, Baumer said, but the accused mass killer showed signs of violence years earlier, according to several other people who knew the suspected terrorist.
Oana Braescu, 32, of Fort Pierce, recalls hearing Mateen screaming at his then-wife when Braescu lived next to the couple’s Fort Pierce home in 2009.
“He’d scream and scream, and one time . . . I could hear her asking him to stop hitting her,” said Braescu, adding that she recalls seeing Mateen’s ex-wife come running out of the house in tears on several occasions. “There was something the matter there, in his head.”
She said she also recalls seeing Mateen come home from work with a holstered gun on his hip, looking exhausted.
“I was thinking, this person is dangerous,” she said.
Sitora Yusufiy, Mateen’s ex-wife, spoke to CNN last evening from Boulder, Colorado, about her ex-husband.
Upon hearing the allegations against him, she said: “I was devastated, shocked. I started shaking and crying. More than anything I was so deeply heartbroken for the people that lost loved ones.”
Yusufiy described her former husband as normal at first, but a few months into their marriage he began abusing her “physically” and prevented her from talking to her family, she told CNN.
He worked at a juvenile jail, she said, and dreamed of becoming a police officer. “He wanted to be a cop,” she said, adding that he applied to a police academy.
Others recalled Mateen as a typical American 20-something — a “normal guy from New York” who “talked a lot about New York,” said Frank Severance, of Port St. Lucie.
“He liked sports, he liked girls,” said Severance, who recalls talking with Mateen outside a Fort Pierce condominium where the suspected terrorist most recently lived. On Sunday afternoon, members of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies were gathered in force around the community. “I didn’t think he was a bad guy. But I think other people had a bad feeling about him.”
Indeed, by 2014, law enforcement was receiving information about Mateen’s inflammatory statements to colleagues and his discussions about violent acts. That year, the FBI investigated Mateen for his potential connections to Moner Mohammad Abusalha, the first American-born terrorist to carry out a suicide bomb attack in Syria, according to a federal law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation into Sunday’s mass shooting.
Abusalha had at one point lived in Fort Pierce, where Mateen also lived. Abusalha is believed to have received terrorist training in the Middle East before he came back to Florida and tried to recruit others to the cause, the source said. He was apparently unsuccessful in those efforts at the time, but may have influenced Mateen nonetheless, setting him further on the path toward radicalization, the source said .
“We’re going over every piece of information we have from that time,” the source said, adding that the men had limited contact. “Was he an influence? That’s a question being asked.”
Also of renewed interest to investigators — given the location of Sunday’s shooting — is a social media post Abusalha made in 2011 calling for homosexuals to be killed, the source says.
He says the FBI has already interviewed dozens of people who’ve had contact with Mateen over the years — family, friends, colleagues, etc. — trying to learn more about his day-to-day life and path to radicalization. It is also analyzing computers and other electronics seized from Mateen’s home, as well as several properties owned by his relatives in Port St. Lucie and Fort Pierce, as part of their probe.
The FBI is also examining his medical history and interviewing relatives to determine the severity of Mateen’s possible mental illness, the source said.
Mateen’s family is from Afghanistan, the source said, and maintains contact with at least some relatives in the region.
“He would talk about what America did to Afghanistan after 9/11, saying we [the Americans] were murderers,” Baumer, the ex-security worker, said of Mateen, who was born in New York.
“He did talk about killing people, gay people, people he thought were bad,” Baumer added. “I didn’t know he meant it. How could you know?”
Editor’s note: Newsday undertook an extensive, four-month review of reporting by Kevin Deutsch, who covered law enforcement from April 2012 to September 2016.
The review of the former Newsday reporter’s work began after The Baltimore Sun this year reported that law enforcement and other officials questioned the veracity of Deutsch’s nonfiction book “Pill City” about Baltimore’s drug trade. In addition, questions arose about individuals named in Newsday stories by Deutsch. Book publisher St. Martin’s Press and Deutsch have said they stand behind the book.
We are dedicated to accurate, factual reporting, to the highest journalistic standards and to maintaining our credibility with Newsday readers. We also are committed to being accountable to our readers. Newsday undertook the detailed review in that spirit and because of the concerns that were raised.
In late February, as our review was under way, The New York Times reported in an editor’s note that The Times “had been unable to locate or confirm the existence of two people who were named and quoted” in a Dec. 29, 2016, freelance article written by Deutsch. Deutsch “maintains that the interviews and the descriptions are accurate,” The Times wrote.
Newsday reviewed 600 stories with reporting by Deutsch. We contacted officials in the police departments regularly involved in Deutsch’s coverage. They said they had not had problems with his work. We then focused our research and reporting on individuals who, as described in the stories, would not be considered officials, or well-known, public figures.
The review found 77 stories with 109 individuals from Deutsch’s reporting whom Newsday could not locate. The main points of the stories were not affected. While two stories about the Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen were based on sources Newsday could not locate, other media reported the main points of those stories but with attribution from different sources. In this story, Newsday could not locate: Eric Baumer, Oana Braescu and Frank Severance. The story described inflammatory statements and discussions of violence attributed to Mateen that were reported by law enforcement sources and other media with attribution to different sources. Newsday is attaching an editor’s note to each story online that contains individuals we cannot locate.
Here’s how Newsday conducted the review:
Researchers and reporters searched local and national public records, sites providing nationwide people searches, databases of business, real estate and conviction records, social media sites including Facebook, LinkedIn and Ancestry.com and nationwide news archives. They searched potential alternate spellings and other name variations. Their reporting followed potential leads they found through research, within stories and in information shared by Deutsch during the review.
Finding people after publication, in some cases years later, can be difficult because of changes in residence, circumstance and contact information. Some may not have given their real names.
On the law enforcement beat, reporters may encounter people who lead lives that are not reflected in public records or other sources of information that would help locate them. It is possible that some on our list were difficult to find or reluctant to respond to our review because they are undocumented immigrants, those battling or recovering from addiction or people involved in or around illegal activity.
Some on our list were described discussing crimes in their neighborhoods, and others as relatives, friends or neighbors of victims or as individuals living near or knowing those accused of crimes.
Others we have not been able to locate, though, are described as bystanders, neighbors, spectators, relatives of drug victims, witnesses to news events or related in some way to people in the news. Still others are described in stories as people actively engaged in public issues, such as activists, protesters and marchers. Many individuals on the list are described as local.
Deutsch said in email exchanges with Newsday that “I have no doubt about the veracity of the claims of the sources I quoted.” He also said, “Not a single public official, source, or other interviewee has raised any issues with even one of these stories.”
“It's impossible for any reporter to know whether the name given to him by interviewees on the street--or those reached briefly by phone or email-- is that person's full and legal name, rather than an alias or variation of their real name (maiden names and certain common nicknames/abbreviations for first names are often published by newspapers, including Newsday.). But every one of the names on Newsday’s list was the name given to me by that interview subject, verbatim.”
During the four months of our review, Newsday shared questions and updates with Deutsch as we progressed in the search for individuals we could not locate. We requested notes and contact information. Deutsch sent us notes he said represented all individuals we were unable to locate and responded over the course of the review by email, sharing information he said was from his recollection and notes.
Reporters followed up on all information shared by Deutsch. He did not provide contact information for those on our list. Newsday reporters and editors sought unsuccessfully several times to meet with Deutsch to discuss his reporting and to review his notes together to ensure we were not missing contact information or other details that might help locate individuals. Deutsch maintained that the notes he shared “serve as evidence of interviews” with each source.
Deutsch said he kept contact information in a Rolodex he left behind at Newsday’s main office and in a company-issued cellphone he returned within a week after resigning on Sept. 6, 2016. Editorial staff did not find a Rolodex or other notes at our office, but found notes left at Newsday’s desk at a courthouse pressroom where he worked. We shared them with Deutsch and he confirmed they were his. As per company policy, the contents of the cellphone had been deleted immediately after Deutsch returned it to Newsday.
Maintaining the trust of our readers is essential to our mission. If we are able subsequently to locate any individuals, we will update our stories.