If there are any signs of someone being a radical… this is it. Who knew he would later be responsible for the most deadly shooting in America.
At a high school in Florida, students watched the horrors of Sept. 11, 2001, unfold on live TV. When the second hijacked airliner slammed into the World Trade Center’s south tower, the class sat in stunned disbelief. But one student, a classmate recalled, “started jumping up-and-down cheering on the terrorist.”
That was sophomore Omar Mateen, according to one of the accounts from former students in Stuart, Fla., remembering 9/11 and the reaction by the student who, nearly 15 years later, would carry out the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
The recollections of Mateen’s actions could not be independently verified, and the memories could be clouded by the years that have passed. But similar versions were detailed in separate interviews. As the snapshot in time, the recollections appear to offer yet another stitch in the wider tapestry of Mateen’s life and views before Sunday’s rampage, which included his pledge of loyalty to the Islamic State during a call to police during the standoff.
In an interview, Robert Zirkle, then a freshman at Martin County High School, said he saw Mateen excited and making fun of how America was being attacked on 9/11. “He was making plane noises on the bus, acting like he was running into a building,” Zirkle recalled. “I don’t really know if he was doing it because he was being taught some of that stuff at home or just doing it for attention because he didn’t have a lot of friends.”
“Before 9/11 happened, we were pretty straight. We all rode the same bus. We weren’t really close friends, but friends at least a little,” he added, noting that Mateen attended the Spectrum Alternative School, a separate campus in Stuart for students with poor grades or behavioral issues.
“After 9/11 happened, he started changing and acting different,” Zirkle said.
Hours after the carnage on Sunday in Orlando, several former classmates of Mateen began talking in a group chat on Facebook.
One former student told Zirkle on Facebook that on 9/11, the students were watching the TV in class. On the group chat, the former student wrote that Mateen “stood up in class during the 9/11 attack and after the second plane hit the building he started jumping up-and-down cheering on the terrorist.”
One former student who was sitting in the same class as Mateen remembers the morning of 9/11 clearly: “Teachers said turn on the TV. We see the one plane hit. And then see second plane hit … [Mateen] was smiling. It was almost like surreal how happy he was about what happened to us.”