Making of a monster: Hints of Omar Mateen’s menace started early

Years before he carried out the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, Omar Mateen was a troubled child in an erratic household, his years-long problems belied by the calming facades of his family’s handsome homes.

Raised by an eccentric father and a mother later arrested on a domestic battery charge, Mateen brawled with boys at the local mosque. As a teen, classmates remember him openly celebrating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In fifth grade alone, he was disciplined more than 15 times for misbehavior. A middle school teacher warned of his “inability to show self-control.” In high school, he was frequently suspended, arrested after a school fight, and later expelled.

“Clearly, if his employer had access to his juvenile record, he would be the last person to own a weapon,” his former high school dean, Marty Bielicki, wrote on social media last week.

Signs of mounting social and emotional problems only seemed to worsen as he drifted from one low-wage job to another, including stints as a cashier at Chick-fil-A, a floor watcher at Gold’s Gym and gigs at two stores in the Treasure Coast Mall.

He was fired seven months into a prison guard job after threatening to bring a gun to a training course. He was moved from a security guard posting after complaints about his behavior prompted an FBI investigation.

His first marriage ended after just a few months — because, his ex-wife said, he repeatedly beat her.

A week after he stormed into a gay Orlando nightclub and killed 49 people, Mateen’s motivations are still being debated, with focus on his references to ISIS and other terrorist groups, speculation about his possible homosexuality and his ex-wife’s claim that he appeared bipolar.

5 homes, 7 schools

But signs of deep-rooted troubles emerged early in life and with increasing frequency, beginning before Mateen became a teenager.

Born in New York to immigrants from Afghanistan, Mateen moved with his parents and three sisters to Port St. Lucie in 1991 when he was about 5.

The family spoke Farsi at home, and Mateen struggled with English in his early school years.

Growing up, Mateen lived in at least five different homes and attended at least seven different schools from kindergarten to high school.

The family moved at first between modest ranch-style homes on wide, quiet Port St. Lucie streets. But while he was in middle school, they began living in more upscale planned neighborhoods, including one in Jensen Beach’s Windemere neighborhood and two in the gated St. James Golf Club in Port St. Lucie.

Mateen’s father, Seddique Mir Mateen, was a licensed insurance broker who ran several small businesses over the years, including, state records indicate, a beauty salon and picture store.

Litigious and eccentric, the father unnerved neighbors with unusual antics.

In Jensen Beach, he once cut a neighbor’s lawn without permission, then tried to negotiate payment for it, two neighbors said. When his picture store appeared to be going out of business, he gathered the framed paintings on his lawn and pressured neighbors to buy them.

“We never felt comfortable with him,” one longtime neighbor said.

The father also clashed with neighbors in Port St. Lucie.

Vinnie Krestalude, who lived next door to the family, told the Miami Herald that the feuds between his father and Mateen’s father occasionally had to be resolved by police.

‘That boy is not normal’

For years, Mateen’s family attended the local mosque, the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, a faded building on Midway Road that used to house a church. There, Hamid Slimane, a longtime attendee, recalled Mateen often fighting with the other children.

“He was a little chubby man,” Slimane told The Los Angeles Times. “That boy is not normal.”

In third grade at Mariposa Elementary, a teacher described him in a letter as “verbally abusive, rude, aggressive” and noted that his misbehavior include “much talk about violence and sex.”

Mateen’s problems in school continued into middle and high school. His grades were persistently low, and his teacher at Southport Middle School warned his parents in a letter of his “inability to show self-control.”

At age 14, he got into a fight with another boy in his math class at Martin County High School and was arrested on a battery charge. He was never convicted, he wrote in a job application.

A few months later came the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and with them suggestions that Mateen snapped.

Classmates recall him celebrating the planes crashing into the World Trade Center towers, grinning and mimicking the planes by spreading his arms and crashing into his bus seat.

One student recalled watching Mateen’s father strike him in the face as he picked him up from school after the incident.

Expelled at Martin County High

Omar Mateen was quick to joke, too, and seemed to savor the role of class clown. To some, his shocking statements appeared to be ploys for attention.

“He would say all that stuff about Osama bin Laden and all that,” one schoolmate said. “Only half of the people in class thought he was serious. I think me and a lot of other people thought he was just doing it for attention.”

He was eventually expelled from Martin County High and took classes at Spectrum Junior/Senior High School, an alternative school in Stuart, according to school records.

It was around the same time, in 2002, that his mother was arrested on a domestic battery charge for striking Mateen’s father. The father told sheriff’s deputies that she had grabbed his hair and pinched him during an argument in their Jensen Beach home. The mother, Shahla Mateen, told deputies that Mateen’s father had threatened to kill her.

After graduation Mateen drifted from job to job. He lifted weights to bulk up and admitted to taking steroids. He chafed, acquaintances said, under his disapproving father.

“He could do nothing right in his father’s eyes,” Margaret Barone, his former boss at a GNC store in the Treasure Coast Mall, told CBS News.

He earned an associate’s degree in criminal justice nat Indian River State College and harbored ambitions of becoming a cop, snapping cell phone pictures of himself in police apparel.

With the help of a Port St. Lucie police officer he befriended at the gym, he secured a job in 2006 as a corrections officer trainee at Martin Correctional Institute. Through that position, he was enrolled in the corrections academy at Indian River State College.

His law enforcement ambitions were dashed, though, when he was fired seven months into his prison guard stint. The reason: his threat to bring a gun to a cadet class at IRSC.

Threatened to kill everyone at picnic

What prompted his threat wasn’t known, but accounts of his blowup at an academy event offers a potential clue: At the 2007 cookout, Mateen exploded in anger when his hamburger made contact with a piece of pork, a student who attended the event told The Wall Street Journal.

Offended, Mateen said he ought to kill everyone at the event.

Moments later, cops surrounded Mateen in the school’s parking lot and escorted him off campus, another student told the newspaper.

Records released Friday by the state Department of Corrections show that Mateen was fired after asking another cadet in April 2007 if he would tell anybody if Mateen brought a gun to class.

His law enforcement ambitions dashed, he worked instead as a security guard, including a stint at the St. Lucie County Courthouse. It was a low-paying gig — he claimed in a court filing that he earned less than $20,000 a year.

He clashed with co-workers, too. His boasts to security guard colleagues of ties to terrorist groups prompted the first of two FBI investigations into his behavior, neither of which turned up evidence of terrorist ties.

In 2009, he married a woman he met online named Sitora Yusifiy, who moved from New Jersey to live with him in a condo he owned in Fort Pierce. There, things turned sinister quickly.

“After a few months he started abusing me physically, very often, and not allowing me to speak to my family, and keeping me hostage from them,” Yusifiy told reporters last week.

He had not given up on his dreams of being a cop, though, and he applied unsucessfully in 2011 for a position with the Florida Highway Patrol.

By then, he had also become acquainted with a Vero Beach man and fellow Muslim named Moner Mohammad Abu Salha.

Abu Sahla left the Treasure Coast for Syria in 2012 to fight in the country’s revolution. He returned to Florida a year later in an apparent attempt to recruit more fighters. Claiming he was being watched by the FBI, he soon headed for Syria once more.

In May 2014, he became the first American suicide bomber in Syria after he drove a truck full of explosives into a restaurant full of government soldiers.

A subsequent 2014 FBI investigation found only “minimal” links between Abu-Salha and Mateen, but a friend told The Palm Beach Post she had seen the two together at parties in 2011 and 2012, talking intently.

Last year, he tried once more to take the path to law enforcement, applying to Indian River State College’s police academy. He was not selected. In a letter, the college told him that “information was discovered, which caused your application to be denied.”

But by then, Mateen had held down a job as a security guard at GS4 Secure Solutions for nine years. He was married and the father of a young child, living in a townhouse in Fort Pierce. To all appearances, he seemed to have settled down, a little more than a year away from the Orlando massacre.

Staff writers Daphne Duret, Lawrence Mower and Holly Baltz and staff researcher Melanie Mena contributed to this story.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

French officer who traded places with a hostage in supermarket attack dies
French officer who traded places with a hostage in supermarket attack dies

A police officer who offered to trade places with a hostage during a standoff at a supermarket in southern France died Saturday morning, CNN reported. Lt.-Col. Arnaud Beltrame, 45, was shot by 26-year-old Redouane Lakdim as he entered the Super U market in Trèbes on Friday. Beltrame "fell as a hero" and showed "exceptional...
Mississippi College students sleep outside to raise awareness about homeless
Mississippi College students sleep outside to raise awareness about homeless

Some college students from Mississippi wanted to raise awareness about homeless people, so they spent a recent night outside, sleeping in cardboard boxes, WAPT reported. “People don’t realize how many homeless people there are and exactly what they go through on a daily basis,” Mississippi College student Jessica Flemmings...
Congress approves $450,000 for Wright brothers factory buildings 
Congress approves $450,000 for Wright brothers factory buildings 

The National Park Service will have $450,000 to buy two historic buildings at the former Wright Co. airplane factory site in West Dayton, Ohio, under a $1.3 trillion federal omnibus spending bill President Donald Trump signed Friday. But the years-long quest to buy buildings 1 and 2, the first factory in the world to produce airplanes, is anything...
FBI identifies man who crashed gate at Travis Air Force Base in California
FBI identifies man who crashed gate at Travis Air Force Base in California

The FBI identified a man who was killed in a fiery crash after his vehicle “gained unauthorized access” onto Travis Air Force Base in northern California, CNN reported Friday. Hafiz Kazi, 51, was originally from India and had lived in the United States since 1993. He was a legal resident, FBI Special Agent Sean Ragan said at a news...
Florida woman attacks husband for forgetting anniversary, deputies say
Florida woman attacks husband for forgetting anniversary, deputies say

A Florida woman was not very happy when her husband forgot their wedding anniversary, and her anger landed her in jail, deputies said. Carol Stone, 35, of Zephyrhills, was arrested by Pasco County deputies Wednesday on charges of domestic battery, a misdemeanor, WTVT reported. According to her husband, Stone became angry when he admitted he had...
More Stories