‘I wish I knew,' Pulse gunman's mother says during Noor Salman trial

Pulse gunman's wife charged with aiding, abetting husband in terrorist attack

ORLANDO, Fla. – As soon as Sabrina Mateen took the stand Wednesday in the federal courtroom, she looked near tears and was breathing heavily. About 10 feet away sat her sister-in-law, Noor Salman, on trial for aiding and abetting Omar Mateen in the terror attack on the Pulse nightclub.

Sabrina Mateen's testimony for the prosecution marked the first time since Salman left Florida shortly after her husband murdered 49 people, almost two years ago, that she had seen her.

“We were like friends, motherly-like, more because we had kids,” Sabrina Mateen said of her relationship with Salman.

Sabrina Mateen said she never heard her brother talking about jihad, ISIS or terrorism.

Mateen’s mother, Shahla Mateen, testified next. Both the gunman’s mother and sister were emotional while talking about their interactions with Salman and Mateen in the days leading up to and after the attack.

Shahla Mateen said she last saw her son after he got off work around 3:30 p.m. on June 11. She testified that she called him later to invite his family to the mosque for dinner during Ramadan, but he didn’t answer. Then she called Salman.

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Noor Salman, center, is seen with tears in her eyes on March 30, 2018 after a jury found her not guilty of aiding and abbetting in her husband's attack at Pulse nightclub.

"She said, ‘The boy, he goes to bed early, by 9 o'clock,’ so she couldn't go, and Omar went to Nemo's house for dinner,” Shahla Mateen said her daughter-in-law told her.

When Mateen's mom got to the mosque, she said she ran into Nemo's mom and learned from her that Nemo wasn't even in the state, exposing the lie.

"I feel, like sad. I feel sad and embarrassed. I said, 'He lied,'’’ Mateen's mother said in court.

She testified that when she got home around 10:30 that night, she tried calling Mateen again. 

"I wanted to ask him where he was. I said, ‘It's an emergency can you come over?’" she said.

Shahla Mateen waited by the phone for her son’s call and she fell asleep. She woke up at 4 a.m. when FBI agents were trying to find him.

Asked by defense attorney Fritz Scheller if her son was acting strange the last time she saw him, Shahla Mateen said he was acting normal.

"I wish I knew. I wish I knew,” Shahla Mateen said.

The defense cross-examined Mateen's sister and mother, during which they both said several things that seem to support some of the defense team’s arguments from opening statements that Salman was “simple,” cared deeply for her son and was exhausted after FBI questioning on June 12.

"She was a good mother, attentive to her child," Sabrina Mateen said. "My kids also loved her."

Mateen's mother said Salman was simple and childish. Shahla Mateen began to cry on the stand when she said that she once sent a text to Salman telling her she needed to grow up.

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After the FBI questioned Salman for approximately 12 hours, Sabrina Mateen said she saw her sister-in-law and “she looked tired, drained. She had dark bags on her eyes.”

Mateen’s sister also confirmed Salman was afraid her son would be taken away.

The defense team said Salman was kept awake for 36 hours while she was questioned by FBI agents in Fort Pierce.

Salman family spokesperson Susan Clary said outside the courthouse Wednesday that it was an emotional day for Salman as well as her sister-in-law and mother-in-law, because of how close she was to them.

"I think they've all been victimized by Omar's atrocities, the mother has, the sister has, Noor has and there was a a lot of shared sadness in that moment," Clary said.

Clary said Salman hasn't seen Mateen's family in almost two years.

'???????,' jurors shown texts from Pulse gunman's wife

“What happened?!” Salman asked her husband in a text message in the early-morning hours of June 12, 2016.

When Mateen received the text just before 4:30 a.m., the 29-year-old was holed up in a Pulse nightclub bathroom in the middle of carrying out one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.

Mateen’s mother called him hours earlier.

“Omar call me … I am so worried,” she said in a voicemail. "Please call me.”

At 2:30 a.m., when Mateen was in the Pulse restroom, he posted a Facebook message that read, “You kill innocent women and children by doing US airstrikes. Now taste the Islamic State vengeance.”

“Your mom I’d (sic) worried and so am I,” Salman said in a text to Mateen at 4:27 a.m. “You know you work tomorrow right?”

The attorneys for the U.S. government say Salman knew exactly where Mateen was and what he was doing when she sent those messages.

Salman is accused of aiding and abetting Mateen while he prepared for the terror attack and lying to the FBI. Federal attorneys are attempting to show Salman willingly went with him to look at potential targets and on ammunition shopping trips, and ultimately helped him come up with a cover story saying he was with his friend Nemo the night of the shooting.

The cellphone history was presented in court Wednesday along with the testimony from FBI information technology specialist Kim Rosecrans about what he found on Mateen’s cellphone, which was recovered inside the Pulse bathroom.

At 4:40 a.m., Mateen Googled “bullet lodged in barrel." FBI Special Agent Paul Castillo testified during the first week of testimony that Mateen’s Sig Sauer MCX series long gun had malfunctioned and was jammed.

"I love you babe" was Mateen's last text to his wife before being killed in a gunfire exchange with Orlando SWAT officers.

FBI information technology specialist Steven Boyce was the final witness Wednesday, showing jurors a timeline of Salman’s cellphone activity on June 11 and 12.

After Salman spoke with Mateen’s mother for two minutes at 5:51 p.m., she sent her husband a text.

“If ur mom calls say nimo invited you out and Noor wants to stay home,” the 5:55 p.m. message read. The attack was eight hours away.

The government said this text shows Salman helped create a cover story for her husband for his family and later she told the FBI the same thing.

Between 12:47 a.m. and 1:31 a.m. Salman’s cellphone records show she was shopping online for leather biker jackets. Mateen opened fire at 2:02 a.m.

Salman tried to call Mateen twice at 2:40 a.m., but the calls didn’t go through, records show.

Two minutes later. Salman texted Mateen,“Habibi where are you?”

Boyce testified that someone had deleted that text message and the log of those phone calls from Salman’s phone sometime before the FBI seized the device from Salman’s apartment.

Boyce will return Thursday for more questioning.

News 6 legal expert Whitney Boan said despite the fact that Mateen and Salman exchanged "xoxo" and "I love you" via text it doesn't mean that shows the entire dynamic of their relationship.

"This is going to be something the government is going to show, that there was not tension between the two of them or that she wasn't in fear of him," Boan said of the messages."It's worth noting that most relationships between man and a woman or any relationship, for that matter -- shouldn't and can't be reduced to the tenor or words in text messages." 

Throughout Tuesday’s witness testimony, the government continued to try to show Salman was concerned only for her financial well-being before and after her husband's terror attack.

Another PNC Bank employee testified on Wednesday. The bank teller said that one day after the mass shooting, Salman called wanting access to her husband’s checking account, saying she was having trouble because the police wouldn’t release his body and his wallet was with his body.

Mateen made Salman a beneficiary on his PNC Bank account a few weeks before the attack.
The bank teller testified that Salman said she needed to figure out how to feed her son.

The Mateen family tax attorney testified that on June 13, Salman called and asked when their tax refund check would come in.

Jurors have heard from Orlando police, half a dozen FBI special agents, the mother of Mateen's childhood friend, and people who encountered the couple during financial transactions in the weeks leading up to the shooting. They were also shown graphic video and photo evidence documenting the attack.

Salman's attorneys say she suffered abuse at Mateen's hands, and was in fear for herself and their then 3-year-old son.

The defense team said it would begin calling witnesses on Monday. Salman’s attorney, Charles Swift, said they will call eight to 10 witnesses. It is unclear if Salman will take the stand.

Both parties will meet Friday to discuss what instructions will be given to the jury panel when it comes time for deliberation. To give her time to rest, Salman will not be present for jury instruction on Friday.

The trial was expected to last about three weeks but is moving faster than U.S. District Judge Paul Byron said he expected, and it could be in the jury's hands by the end of next week.

See a recap from Wednesday's testimony at the U.S. District Courthouse from News 6 reporters below.


About the Authors:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades.