Gunman in worst US massacre described as 'quiet,' with few friends

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Who Is Omar Mateen?

FORT PIERCE, Fla., June 12 (Reuters) - The photo from Omar Mateen's high-school yearbook is hardly remarkable - a toothy, dimpled smile with a peach fuzz mustache below a mop of black hair.

But his transformation from high-school football player to perpetrator of America's worst mass shooting raises questions over whether authorities, and the security company where he worked, missed red flags over the depth of his apparent sympathies with Muslim extremists and whether the United States has a clear strategy to turn Americans away from radicalism.

SEE ALSO: Authorities begin identifying victims in Orlando nightclub massacre

Much is unknown about what drove Mateen, 29, to walk into a packed gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, with a handgun and AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and open fire, killing 50 people before police stormed the club and fatally shot him. Fifty-three others were wounded, many critically.

In Fort Pierce on Florida's southeast coast, 120 miles (195 km) from the shooting, the imam at the mosque that Mateen attended for nearly 10 years described him as a soft-spoken, regular worshipper who rarely interacted with the congregation.

"He hardly had any friends," Syed Shafeeq Rahman, who heads the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, told Reuters. "He would come with his little son at night to pray and after he would leave."

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Rahman said Mateen never approached him regarding any concerns about homosexuals.

Mateen was born in New York of Afghan descent but spent most of his life in Florida, attending Martin County High School in in Stuart, a small city about a 20-minute drive from the Fort Pierce condominium where had most recently lived.

A classmate described him as a typical teenager who played football. An image of Mateen in his school yearbook was seen by Reuters.

SEE ALSO: Orlando shooting victims GoFundMe has raised $325,000 — and counting

Samuel King, who was one year ahead of Mateen, said the two often spoke after Mateen graduated in 2004. King worked as a waiter at Ruby Tuesday's restaurant at Treasure Coast Square, a mall where Mateen worked at GNC, the nutrition store, he said.

King, who is openly gay, said the Mateen he knew until 2009 did not appear to be anti-gay.

"What is shocking to me is that the majority of the staff at Ruby Tuesday's when I worked there were gay. He clearly was not anti-(gay) at least not back then. He did not show any hatred to any of us. He treated us all like the individuals we were. He always smiled and said hello."

While at GNC, Mateen lifted weights and "got really buff," King said, describing Mateen as gregarious and talkative in the immediate years after high school. "Something must have changed" since he last saw him, he added.

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Gunman in worst US massacre described as 'quiet,' with few friends
Orlando Police officers direct family members away from a multiple shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. A gunman opened fire at a nightclub in central Florida, and multiple people have been wounded, police said Sunday. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Brandon Shuford, left, waits down the street from the scene of a shooting involving multiple fatalities at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Bystanders wait down the street from a multiple shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. A gunman opened fire at a nightclub in central Florida, and multiple people have been wounded, police said Sunday. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
An aerial view shows the Pulse gay night club after a mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub, where people were killed by a gunman, in Orlando, Florida, U.S June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Nesius TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, center right, and Orlando Police Chief John Mina, center left, arrive to a news conference after a fatal shooting at Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub, where people were killed by a gunman, in Orlando, Florida, U.S June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Nesius
Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub, where people were killed by a gunman, in Orlando, Florida, U.S June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Nesius
Jermaine Towns, left, and Brandon Shuford wait down the street from a multiple shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. Towns said his brother was in the club at the time. A gunman opened fire at a nightclub in central Florida, and multiple people have been wounded, police said Sunday. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 12: FBI agents investigate near the damaged rear wall of the Pulse Nightclub where Omar Mateen allegedly killed at least 50 people on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The mass shooting killed at least 50 people and injuring 53 others in what is the deadliest mass shooting in the country's history. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 12: FBI agents investigate near the damaged rear wall of the Pulse Nightclub where Omar Mateen allegedly killed at least 50 people on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The mass shooting killed at least 50 people and injuring 53 others in what is the deadliest mass shooting in the country's history. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 12: FBI agents investigate near the damaged rear wall of the Pulse Nightclub where Omar Mateen allegedly killed at least 50 people on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The mass shooting killed at least 50 people and injuring 53 others in what is the deadliest mass shooting in the country's history. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Jermaine Towns, left, and Brandon Shuford wait down the street from a multiple shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. Towns said his brother was in the club at the time. A gunman opened fire at a nightclub in central Florida, and multiple people have been wounded, police said Sunday. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse night club, where as many as 20 people have been injured after a gunman opened fire, in Orlando, Florida, U.S June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Nesius TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Demetrice Naulings sobs outside the Orlando Police Headquarters where police are interviewing witnesses in the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub, where people were killed by a gunman, in Orlando, Florida, U.S June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Nesius
Concerned friends and family of victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting wait outside of the Orlando Police Department on Sunday, June 12, 2016. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Ray Rivera, DJ at the Pulse nightclub, is consoled by a friend outside of the Orlando Police Department on Sunday, June 12, 2016. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
FBI assistant special agent in charge Ron Hopper, center, answers questions from members of the media after a fatal shooting at Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. Listening are Orlando Police Chief John Mina, left, and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Police stand in front of one of the houses that officials indicated was connected to the Orlando shooter in Port St. Lucie, Florida, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
An aerial view shows the Pulse gay night club after a mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Police stand in front of one of the houses that officials indicated was connected to the Orlando shooter in Port St. Lucie, Florida, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 12: FBI agents investigate near the damaged rear wall of the Pulse Nightclub where Omar Mateen allegedly killed at least 50 people on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The mass shooting killed at least 50 people and injuring 53 others in what is the deadliest mass shooting in the country's history. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 12: FBI agents investigate near the damaged rear wall of the Pulse Nightclub where Omar Mateen allegedly killed at least 50 people on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The mass shooting killed at least 50 people and injuring 53 others in what is the deadliest mass shooting in the country's history. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Officers arrive at the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse nightclub, where people were killed by a gunman, in Orlando, Florida, U.S June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Nesius
An aerial view shows the Pulse gay night club after a mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
An Orange County Sheriff's Department SWAT member arrives to the scene of a fatal shooting at Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Orange County Sheriff's Department SWAT members arrive to a fatal shooting at Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Police cars and emergency vehicles surround the Pulse Orlando nightclub, the scene of a fatal shooting, in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
A police officer stands guard outside the Orlando Regional Medical Center hospital after a fatal shooting at a nearby Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Emergency personnel wait with stretchers at the emergency entrance to Orlando Regional Medical Center hospital for the arrival of patients from the scene of a fatal shooting at Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Police cars surround the Pulse Orlando nightclub, the scene of a fatal shooting, in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Orlando Police Chief John Mina and other city officials answer the media's questions about the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Kolczynski
Police lock down Orange Avenue around Pulse nightclub, where people were killed by a gunman in a shooting rampage in Orlando, Florida June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Kolczynski
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Mateen's father, Mir Seddique, told NBC News the massacre was not related to religion.

He said his son turned angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami a couple of months ago. Mateen's ex-wife, who spoke to the Washington Post, said her former husband was violent and mentally ill and beat her repeatedly while they were married.

FBI INTERVIEWS

The FBI twice interviewed Mateen for having suspected ties to Islamist militants. The first investigation took place in 2013 when Mateen made inflammatory comments to co-workers that indicated sympathy for militants, FBI special agent in charge Ron Hopper told a news conference in Orlando.

At the time, Mateen worked as a security guard at G4S, a British-owned multinational company that is among the world's largest private security firms.

SEE ALSO: Donald Trump says he told us so in anti-immigrant Orlando response

He joined G4S in September 2007 and carried a gun as part of his duties, the company said. It was unclear if Mateen had access to them. "He was an armed security officer," said a spokesman, David Satterfield.

G4S provides security to federal buildings in Florida.

Mateen was investigated and interviewed twice but the FBI was "unable to verify the substance of his comments," Hopper said.

In 2014, Hopper said, Mateen was investigated and interviewed again, this time for suspected connections to Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, an American citizen who became a suicide bomber in Syria in 2014.

Hopper said Mateen's contact with Abu-Sallah was minimal and it was deemed that "he did not constitute a substantive threat at that time."

The FBI interviews highlight problems the United States has faced in extinguishing homegrown extremism even as U.S. terror-related arrests escalate.

In 2015, at least 71 people were charged in jihadi-related cases, the most for any year since Sept. 11. More than 250 Americans have joined or tried to join extremist groups in Iraq and Syria, the House Homeland Security Committee estimated in September.

See the vigils and remembrances across the country:

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Orlando massacre vigils and tributes around the World
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Gunman in worst US massacre described as 'quiet,' with few friends
People gather in front of the US Embassy in Copenhagen to remember the victims at the nightclub Pulse in Orlando Florida on June 13, 2016. / AFP / Scanpix / Jens Astrup / Denmark OUT (Photo credit should read JENS ASTRUP/AFP/Getty Images)
April Ross looks at a makeshift memorial outside the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts for the mass shooting victims at the Pulse nightclub June 13, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The American gunman who launched a murderous assault on a gay nightclub in Orlando was radicalized by Islamist propaganda, officials said Monday, as they grappled with the worst terror attack on US soil since 9/11. The Islamic State group claimed slain shooter Omar Mateen was acting as 'one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America' when he attacked the Pulse club in the Florida resort city, an assault that ended when police stormed the venue. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
People lay flowers and light candles to commemorate victims of a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando in front of the US embassy in Warsaw on June 13, 2016. / AFP / AFP PHOTO / WOJTEK RADWANSKI (Photo credit should read WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
People commemorate victims of a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando in front of the US embassy in Warsaw on June 13, 2016. / AFP / AFP PHOTO / WOJTEK RADWANSKI (Photo credit should read WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JUNE 13, 2016: Placards and flowers brought at the US Embassy in Moscow to pay tribute to the Orlando nightclub shooting victims. Alexander Shcherbak/TASS (Photo by Alexander Shcherbak\TASS via Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 13: Flowers are placed on a rainbow flag to remember victims of the shooting at an Orlando nightclub on June 13, 2016 in Seoul, South Korea. Omar Mateen, who had recently pledged allegiance to ISIS, died after killing 49 people early morning on June 12 at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The massacre was the deadliest mass shooting in the United States. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
People hold candles as they share a minute of silence during a vigil for the victims of the Orlando shooting in Florida, in Hong Kong on June 13, 2016. Law enforcement authorities have lowered the death toll from the weekend massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando to 49, the deadliest mass shooting in American history, explaining that the shooter had been counted in the original tally. / AFP / ANTHONY WALLACE (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - JUNE 13: People hold a rainbow flag during a vigil for the attack at the gay club in Orlando, on Monday, June 13, in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo by Dario Pignatelli/Getty Images)
Australians gather to place candles and flags in Sydney on June 13, 2016, in solidarity with the global gay community after a gunman opened fire in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing over 50 people. The Sydney Harbour Bridge was lit with the colours of the rainbow on June 13 as hundreds of Australians gathered to stand in solidarity with the global gay community after the worst mass shooting in modern US history. / AFP / WILLIAM WEST (Photo credit should read WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 13: Members of the public look on during a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, at Frank Kitts Park on June 13, 2016 in Wellington, New Zealand. Omar Mateen allegedly killed more than 50 people and injured 53 others in what is the deadliest mass shootings in the country's history. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Josh Mercer wears a T-shirt Monday, June 13, 2016, in honor of two of his friends who were killed during a fatal shooting at Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
People gather for a candlelight vigil in remembrance for mass shooting victims in Orlando, from San Diego, California, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Mourners gather under a LGBT pride flag flying at half-mast for a candlelight vigil in remembrance for mass shooting victims in Orlando, from San Diego, California, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A rainbow flag is held up during a vigil after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in front of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Men stand together during a vigil after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in front of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
People hold a vigil after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in front of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A rainbow flag is held up with the name of the gay nightclub where the worst mass shooting in U.S. history occured in Orlando,Florida, during a vigil in front of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies are seen behind a girl riding in a bus at the 46th annual Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade in West Hollywood, California, after a gunman opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/David McNew
People pay their respects to the Orlando massacre victims during a vigil in the Queens borough of New York, U.S., June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Two women hold each other at a vigil outside The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, considered by some as the center of New York State's gay rights movement, following the shooting massacre at Orlando's Pulse nightclub, in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich
A man carries a gay pride flag at a vigil outside The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, considered by some as the center of New York State's gay rights movement, following the shooting massacre at Orlando's Pulse nightclub, in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich
A man lays flowers at a memorial outside The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, considered by some as the center of New York State's gay rights movement, following the shooting massacre at Orlando's Pulse nightclub, in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich
People take part in a vigil for the victims of a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, U.S., in Sao Paulo, Brazil, June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Nacho Doce
Orlando residents Arissa Suarez (L) and Malcom Crawson attend a vigil at Lake Eola Park for victims of a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, U.S June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Nesius
A Boston Police Officer stands behind flowers left at a Pride Month block party, the same day as the mass shooting at Orlando's Pulse nightclub, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
People attend a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Orlando attack against a gay night club, held in San Francisco, California, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach
People march down Market Street during a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Orlando attack against a gay night club, held in San Francisco, California, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach
People hold up signs in solidarity at a candlelight vigil in remembrance for mass shooting victims in Orlando, from San Diego, California, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A candlelight vigil in remembrance for mass shooting victims in Orlando is held in San Diego, California, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A rainbow flag is held up during a vigil after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in front of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A couple puts their arms around each other outside the White House where the U.S. flag flies at half-staff at sundown as people gather for a vigil on Pennsylvania Avenue later in the day of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida in Washington June 12, 2016. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 13: The Michael Fowler Centre is lit up in the colours of the rainbow flag after a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, at Frank Kitts Park on June 13, 2016 in Wellington, New Zealand. Omar Mateen allegedly killed more than 50 people and injured 53 others in what is the deadliest mass shootings in the country's history. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 12: Candles sit on the edge of Lake Eola, June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The shooting at Pulse Nightclub, which killed 50 people and injured 53, is the worst mass-shooting event in American history. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Brett Morian, from Daytona Beach, hugs an attendee during the candlelight vigil at Ember in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday, June 12, 2016. (Joshua Lim/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
People sit by the water with candles during a vigil in a park following a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Flags fly at half-staff around the Washington Monument at daybreak in Washington with the US Capitol in the background Monday, June 13, 2016. President Barack Obama ordered flags lowered to half-staff to honor the victims of the Orlando nightclub shootings. (AP Photo/J. David Ake.)
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'NOT A STABLE PERSON'

Hopper said Mateen was not under investigation or surveillance at the time of Sunday's attack.

He said Mateen called during the massacre to pledge allegiance to Islamic State, also known as ISIS, which in recent years declared a caliphate over large swaths of Iraq and Syria. But the depth of that commitment is unclear.

SEE ALSO: How to help the survivors and victims of the Orlando mass shooting

One U.S. counterterrorism official said there was "no evidence yet that this was directed or connected to ISIS. So far as we know at this time, his first direct contact was a pledge of bayat (loyalty) he made during the massacre," said the official, referring to the call moments before the shooting.

Mateen also mentioned the Boston Marathon bombers during the call, which he made 20 minutes into the shootings, authorities said.

Mateen's former wife said she met Mateen online about eight years ago and decided to move to Florida to marry him, according to the Washington Post.

"He was not a stable person," she said. "He beat me. He would just come home and start beating me up because the laundry wasn't finished or something like that."

WATCH: Raw video captures the aftermath of the shooting
Raw: Video Shows Aftermath of Nightclub Massacre

Mateen had a Florida firearms license that expired in 2013 and a state permit to work as a security guard, according to public records. He was registered as a Democrat.

City, state and federal officials were searching Mateen's apartment in the Woodlands condominium building in Fort Pierce and had told other residents to evacuate.

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