SITORA Yusufiy fought back tears as she watched body bags being removed from a nightclub on the news, knowing that her ex-husband was responsible for their deaths.
When Omar Mateen opened fire in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in June 2016 he killed 49 innocent people, and injured a further 53.
And for Sitora, it was horrifying to know that the man she’d married was capable of such a harrowing crime – and it brought back horrific memories of their abusive relationship.
“It was a shock. I didn’t want to believe that he actually did that and he actually took so many lives and hurt so many people,” Sitora explains in this week’s episode of I Lived With A Killer.
“I started having flashbacks of how he would abuse me, of his anger and violence, and it all just fit together. I felt so much pain for everything that happened.
“He loved to inflict fear, and he loved to have that power over people and was just a really imbalanced person who had a lot of hate and anger.”
Horrifying scenes from outside the nightclub following the shooting[/caption]
‘He was my first boyfriend’
Just years before his chilling attack Omar had seemed fun and charming in 2009, when he met Sitora Yusuify, then 19.
Sitora recalls: “Omar and I met online. He looked very sweet, very charming.
“He messaged me and said ‘hey how are you, you look cute,’ and we started talking.”
After a few weeks messaging online, the pair then exchanged numbers and three months later they met for the first time.
Like Sitora, Omar was from a traditional religious family.
Sitora says: “It was really my first real relationship and it was an exciting time.
“We both knew we were from the same religion and from a similar culture and we knew it could possibly lead to marriage.”
After six months of dating Omar proposed over the phone and they became engaged – but Sitora had no idea of Omar’s troubled past.
‘He threatened to shoot a student’
Omar was born in New York in 1986. His parents had fled Afghanistan a few years earlier, heading to America to start a new life.
His father was a successful political figure and a financial adviser, and expected Omar to follow in his footsteps.
Sitora explains: “Omar’s childhood was not easy. His father especially had high expectations for him as his only son.”
Unable to live up to his father’s expectations, Omar began to rebel, getting into trouble so many times that he attended ten different schools.
“Even at a young age Omar was a handful. He would be verbally abusive to adults and the other students,” legal analyst Michel Bryant says.
“He’d talk about sex, talk about violence.”
“In 1999 his parents came to the school and it turns out Omar was being bullied. His response was to threaten to to shoot another student but no one took him seriously.”
As he got older, he still struggled to fit in, and harboured a desire to become a police officer.
Michel says: “His classmates say it was at this time he started frequenting gay bars, trying to strike up relationships with gay men.
In 2006 he graduated and got a job as a prison guard – but he was sacked after telling a fellow trainee that he wanted to bring a gun to training.
‘He dragged me by my hair and choked me’
However, at the beginning of their relationship, Omar was able to hide this troubling history from Sitora and in April 2009 she ran away from her home and moved to Florida to be with him, living with his family.
Sitora says: “Two weeks after I arrived in Florida we officially got married. It was a happy day for me because I thought I was with a good person.”
However, things soon started to sour and Omar became abusive, only letting her go out to work and not allowing her to call parents.
“I would give my cheques to Omar- he wanted to have a joint account. I never saw that money. He would definitely monitor my finances,” she says.
“I realised Omar had issues and was not the person that I thought.”
Before long the verbal abuse became physical.
She says: “Omar knew a lot of techniques to attack where it would not leave evidence. I had bruises on my body but it never got to the point where I had to go to hospital.”
In one particularly violent attack Sitora recalls: “I fell asleep on the floor watching TV and all I remember was the pillow being snatched from under my head.
“I banged my head against the floor and then he started pulling me by my hair, dragging me. I tried to push him off so he just grabbed my neck and threw me on the floor and started choking me.
“I still remember the way his eyes looked. There was no soul , no heart, no humanity there. He let go just before I passed out.
“The explanation that he gave me was that I didn’t finish the laundry and he’d had a fight with his father.”
‘He was obsessed with ISIS’
The next week Sitora’s parents visited – and they sat down to talk to Omar’s parents.
She says:”My dad starts talking and says ‘our children are together and married but I’m feeling my daughter is not happy’.
“His dad responds by yelling. Dad just looked at me and said ‘Sitora get up, we’re going to leave. I got up and followed my family out the door.
“Omar just grabs me and pulls me back. He says ‘no you’re my wife you’re not going to go anywhere’.
“Omar reached into the back pocket of his pants. I knew he had a gun. My mum saw it too and she screamed.”
The terrified family fled the house with Sitora, who returned to New Jersey.
In 2011 her divorce was finalised, and she tried to move on – despite her ex-husband’s persistent attempts to contact her.
After his marriage ended Omar became increasingly fanatical about his religion, and became fascinated with suicide bombings and ISIS.
He was obsessed with the Boston Marathon bombing, and even claimed to know the bombers – a claim that turned out to be false.
Despite marrying again and starting a family, he continued to try reaching out to Sitora on social media.
Opening fire in a gay club
In 2016 Omar drove to downtown Orlando where 320 people were dancing in Pulse nightclub, armed with a semi automatic rifle and a hand gun.
At around 2:02am he entered the club and opened fire on the innocent revellers, who tried to flee in terror.
Forty-nine were killed and 53 injured.
Omar then called 911 and pledged his allegiance to ISIS while hiding out in the nightclub toilets.
Police arrived and threw two stun grenades into the bathroom to kill him – and at 5:53am authorites confirmed Omar was dead.
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In shock, Sitora was questioned by the FBI about her former husband, and the media flocked to her door.
In 2017, his new wife was arrested and charged with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organisation and obstruction of justice, before later being released.
Sitora says: “I just immediately imagined what she must have gone through being with him.
“I was pretty sure that she was also being abused and she was also threatened and she was in a worse situation than me because she had a child with him.”