ORLANDO, Fla. — The brother of the bride arrived late for her reception.
Then, at the lakeside pavilion in West Palm Beach, came the moment to join in a traditional Afghan dance called the attan, in which dancers form a circle and are led through a series of synchronized turns and moves. If well executed, the attan can create an almost trancelike sense of oneness.
But here was the bride’s brother — stocky, bespectacled Omar Mateen — dancing in the group and yet dancing apart. Clumsy, out of sync, his head mostly down, the man dressed in black was following his own rhythm.
Four months after this celebration of life in February, the awkward man in black caused wholesale death. Chuckling and declaring allegiance to the Islamic State, he opened fire at a gay and Latino nightclub here, leaving 49 people dead and wounding 53 others before he was killed by police to end a protracted standoff.
The June 12 massacre at the Pulse nightclub stands as the worst mass shooting by one person in U.S. history.
Rising amid the international grief is the aching and obvious question of why. But the short life of Mateen, who was 29, provides no easy road map to motivation. He had shown occasional flashes of interest in radical Islam, but his professed embrace of the Islamic State seems to have come suddenly.
Instead, the recollections of those who knew or encountered him conjure a man who seemed forever aggrieved, forever not at peace, forever out of step.
“He was just agitated about everything,” Daniel Gilroy, a former co-worker in the security business, recalled. “Always shaken. Always agitated. Always mad.”
A first-generation American, Mateen was born in New York City’s melting-pot borough of Queens in 1986, and moved about four years later with his Afghan parents to Port St. Lucie in Florida. He was a disciplinary challenge in school, unafraid to push buttons.
“Constantly moving, verbally abusive, rude, aggressive,” a school assessment noted. In the third grade, his rendition of the school song at Mariposa Elementary replaced “Mariposa, Mariposa” with “marijuana, marijuana.”
The boy was formally disciplined more than 30 times in elementary and middle schools as he pursued attention and occasional conflict. “Unfortunately, Omar had great difficulty focusing on his classwork since he often seeks the attention of his classmates through some sort of noise, disruption, or distraction,” one of his teachers wrote in an assessment.
Omar cycled through three high schools, collecting a string of suspensions — for fighting and other infractions — along the way. (In one case, a charge of battery was adjudicated and a charge of disturbing school function was dropped, he later wrote to a potential employer. “This was an experience of me growing up and I learned a big lesson from it.”)
He secured after-school jobs here and there, and improved so strikingly in the classroom that he graduated from Stuart Adult Community High School in April 2003 in the top half of his class — at the age of 16.
He moved from one low-level job to the next. All the while, though, he was attending a community college, working toward an associate degree in criminal justice technology. His passion, it seems, was in law enforcement: Omar Mateen saw himself in uniform, buff and armed.
The young man’s dream was conditionally realized when he was sworn in as a Corrections Department employee and assigned as a trainee to the Martin Correctional Institution in Indiantown, not far from where he grew up. Four months in, he seemed on his way to a career in law enforcement, having received an evaluation of having the makings of one day becoming a “good correctional officer.”
But six months in, Mateen was fired. The unsettling reasons were revealed in documents released Friday by the Department of Corrections.
An officer reported in a memorandum that, during training, Mateen had laughingly asked him “if he was to bring a gun to school would I tell anybody.”
Mateen’s joke, if that is what it was, coupled with his penchant for sleeping in class and being absent without permission, prompted the warden, Powell Skipper, to recommend his termination.
Denied the right to wear one uniform, Mateen soon dressed in another — that of a security guard. He completed a training course, passed a background check, and began working for a security firm called G4S.
Life continued. He had connected online with a young woman named Sitora Yusufiy, an immigrant from Uzbekistan, who initially found him to be a nice, funny man who treated his family well and had aspirations of becoming a police officer. He was religious, but he never expressed sympathy for radical Islamists, she said.
Soon after their marriage in April 2009, Yusufiy said, he began beating her and isolating her in their Florida home. With the help of her parents in New Jersey, she fled within the year. The next year, he married again to a woman he met online, this time to Noor Salman, in Rodeo, California.
Hints of a disturbed mind continued to emerge. In 2013, G4S removed Mateen from his security post at the St. Lucie County Courthouse after he made “inflammatory comments” about being involved somehow in terrorism. Though far-fetched — he claimed connections to al-Qaida, the Sunni extremist group, and ties to its near-opposite, the Shiite Hezbollah — his comments were troubling enough for the county sheriff’s office to notify the FBI.
The bureau’s subsequent inquiry was inconclusive.
The next year, Mateen again attracted federal scrutiny, after an acquaintance from his mosque, the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, carried out a suicide bombing in Syria. Federal investigators concluded Mateen knew the bomber only casually.
By the end of 2014, Mateen — who had once imagined a respected future in law enforcement — was working the guard’s booth at the entrance to PGA Village, a golf-resort community in Port St. Lucie.
But even in this low-pressure position, he managed to unnerve and upset. Jasmine Kalenuik, a frequent visitor to PGA Village, came to dread encountering the guard at the gate — who, she said, “acted like a straight-up predator.”
Finally, it seems, rage consumed the man. Over what — infidels, gays, society’s failure to grant him proper deference, all of it — remains unclear.
Earlier this month, legally and with little wait, the man rejected by law enforcement purchased a Glock 9 mm handgun and a SIG Sauer MCX military-style rifle.
Then, early last Sunday morning, he carried his recent purchases into the Pulse nightclub, where hundreds of people were dancing and celebrating life, the way families do at weddings. And, following his own rhythm, he began to shoot.