FORT PIERCE, Fla. (AP) — As early as the third grade, the Florida nightclub shooter talked frequently about sex and violence and before finishing high school was suspended for a total of 48 days, including suspensions for fighting and hurting classmates, school records showed.
In the years since, other people reported having disturbing run-ins with Omar Mateen, including a bartender who said he stalked her nearly a decade ago and sent so many uncomfortable Facebook messages that she blocked him on the social network.
Mateen, whose attack on the Pulse nightclub left 49 people dead and 53 wounded, enrolled in Florida public schools after his Afghan immigrant parents moved in 1991 from New York City to Port Saint Lucie, on Florida’s Atlantic coast.
Teachers “couldn’t seem to help him,” said Dan Alley, retired dean of Martin County High School. “We tried to counsel him and show him the error of his ways, but it never had the effect that we were hoping for.”
At least some of the suspensions were for fighting that involved injuries. Others were for unspecified rules violations, according to the records.
For elementary and early middle school, he attended class in neighboring St. Lucie County, where teachers said he was disruptive and struggled academically.
A third-grade teacher wrote that Mateen was “very active … constantly moving, verbally abusive, rude, aggressive.” The teacher described “much talk about violence & sex,” with Mateen’s “hands all over the place — on other children, in his mouth.”
The same teacher wrote that Mateen and another student sang the words “marijuana, marijuana” rather than the school’s song, “mariposa, mariposa.”
In seventh grade, school administrators moved Mateen to another class to “avoid conflicts with other students.” That same report said Mateen was doing poorly in several subjects because of “many instances of behavioral problems.”
In a 1999 letter to Mateen’s father, one of his middle school teachers wrote that the boy’s “attitude and inability to show self-control in the classroom create distractions and become a main source of difficulty for him.”
“Unfortunately, Omar has great difficulty focusing on his classwork since he often seeks the attention of his classmates through some sort of noise, disruption or distraction,” the letter said.
Mateen attended high school and part of middle school in Martin County, spending time on three campuses in all, including one alternative facility.
He withdrew from Martin County High School in 2003 and eventually graduated from Stuart Adult Community High School with a standard diploma, records show.
In 10th grade, he received a five-day suspension on Sept. 13, 2001 — two days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
The records offer no details except to call it a “rule violation.” But in recent media reports classmates have said it was because he celebrated the attacks.
Alley said Mateen’s father, Seddique Mateen, was an enabler.
“He would not back up the school, and he would always take his son’s side,” he said.
Mateen’s father has suggested his son had anti-gay feelings after recently seeing two men kiss. But others have said he was a regular at the Orlando club and that he tried to pick up men there.
After high school, Mateen attended Indian River Community College, graduating in 2006 with a degree in criminal justice technology.
It was around that time that he met a bartender from Fort Pierce.
“He was one of those guys who wouldn’t leave me alone,” Heather LaSalla told an Associated Press reporter in an interview Friday in the doorway of her home. She worked at a bar in Port St. Lucie at the time, and Mateen started coming there, mostly by himself.
“He was always like a loner,” LaSalla said.
The tone of Mateen’s Facebook messages made LaSalla uncomfortable, she said, but she never filed a criminal complaint.
She ran into him again at a park in November while she was with her young son and Mateen was with his, she said.
“He still had that weird vibe to him,” LaSalla said, but she did not feel threatened as Mateen told her had a wife and talked about his son’s soccer league.
In the aftermath of the shooting, she said she recognized Mateen immediately from his picture on television.
Asked whether she believed Mateen was gay, LaSalla said she “never noticed.” She said he never exactly propositioned her in his messages.
Associated Press Writer Curt Anderson in Miami contributed to this report.