Authorities in Orlando released hundreds of pages of documents Tuesday connected to the massacre earlier this month at the Pulse nightclub, providing a more detailed look at law enforcement’s scramble to respond to a rapidly evolving situation and the internal deliberations that followed.
The documents include the email correspondence of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Police Chief John Mina, text exchanges between fire officials and planning, permitting and inspection records for Pulse. They also include records — described as an “incident narrative” in a police report — providing a grim outline of what happened after law enforcement officials received the first call of “shots fired” at 2:02 a.m. on June 12.
The records depict a frenzied, chaotic barrage of information, as calls about gunshots were quickly followed by a report of “multiple” people down. Callers told police they were hiding, with some people inside the club whispering so the shooter would not find them. For several minutes, the carnage continued to be heard over the phone. The incident report states that gunshots were audible, as were the sounds of “multiple people screaming.”
Officials notably have not released any audio of 911 calls, nor have they made public complete transcripts of the police negotiations with the shooter, 29-year-old Omar Mateen. And while the documents fill in more details on the shooting that ultimately left 49 people dead, not including Mateen, and dozens others wounded, they leave critical questions unanswered — including what, precisely, motivated Mateen, and whether law enforcement had inadvertently wounded any victims in their gun battles with the shooter.
The documents show people from all over the world, including many business leaders and public officials, emailed or texted Dyer and Mina to offer their support. Many praised the officials for their handling of the incident, though some questioned why police did not move more quickly to engage Mateen. Officials have said that after two shootouts, Mateen holed up with hostages inside a bathroom at Pulse, and police waited for hours to move in for a final confrontation because the gunfire had stopped. Mateen was ultimately killed in that last confrontation with Orlando police SWAT officers.
Police seemed sensitive about the insinuation that they had not made the right tactical decisions. When one emailer questioned the decision not to move on Mateen more quickly, Mina wrote to his staff director, “Come up with a standard response, thank you for your concern etc, and let me approve, then we can use for anymore of this nonsense.”
A police public affairs representative — addressing requests she had received to interview the officers who engaged Mateen — mused that making any available might subject them to tough lines of inquiry about the wait.
“In some instances, I would say we should try to produce someone, since that seems and feels like a very positive thing,” Michelle Guido, the public affairs representative, wrote. “But there’s so many ways it can go sideways of that officer is asked difficult questions (why did you wait 3 hours before going in, etc etc. …).”
Guido wrote that the department might consider producing a video “where WE interview the officer…or just ask a question that he can answer with the messages we want out there, and then upload it to youtube and tell people they are welcome to it.”
The police report said that gunshots were heard after the shooter was reported trapped in the bathroom, and calls showed the mounting toll of the rampage. Early on, there were reports — which turned out to be false — of two possible shooters. By 2:18 a.m., the report states, it was reported that potentially 25 people were injured, and SWAT was said to be paged at the same time.
The calls also described brutal injuries: One person said his friend was shot in the chest, others reported people shot in the shoulders, legs, and arms; victims were said to be losing blood and, in some cases, the callers or victims eventually stopped responding.
At 2:40 a.m., the report states that the shooter was “saying he pledges to the Islamic State,” the first stated indication of a potential motive for the attack. A little more than 10 minutes later, the shooter reportedly said there were possibly “explosives in the parking lot,” and people said they saw bombs in the club. At about 2:54 a.m., the report states, the attacker was “saying that he is a terrorist and has several bombs strapped to him in the downstairs female restroom.” At the same time, a caller said 15 people were believed to be in the bathroom.
Just after 5 a.m., after 42 people were said to be transported to hospitals. At the same time, SWAT was moving to breach the club, the report states. By 5:14 a.m., shots were reported fired in the north bathroom. At 5:15 a.m., the shooter was down.
The records show that on the day of the shooting, Orlando Fire Marshal Tammy Hughes texted Fire Chief Roderick Williams to say a code enforcement officer had showed her “a picture where the club owner had blocked the exit with a coke machine,” though exactly how and when the blockage occurred was unclear.
A police spokeswoman said officers had “no indication that any exits were blocked,” at least during their rescue efforts, and a fire department spokeswoman said that no exits were found to be blocked on May 21, the date of the club’s last inspection. Inspection records from that day show a door was found to be “inoperable,” though the spokeswoman said that referred to a “battery on the exit sign” and not an obstructed point of egress.