THE FIRST reports of gunfire that would result in America’s deadliest shooting in the modern era were received by Orlando police at 2:02 a.m. At 5:02 a.m., police stormed the nightclub that had been turned into a slaughterhouse, and at 5:15 a.m. came the call that the gunman was down. Key details about what happened during those three desperate hours remain unknown as authorities continue their investigation into the events of June 12. Some have raised questions about whether more could — and should — have been done to save lives. That makes the need for thorough investigation, rigorous analysis and transparency all the more important.
In the weeks since 49 people were murdered and dozens more injured at Pulse, accounts from people who were inside the nightclub and anguished questions from victims’ family members have raised the issue of whether police were right to delay storming the bathroom where the gunman had holed up with hostages. “I just feel that with so many cops to one person, it should have been a little quicker,” Albert Murray, whose 18-year-old daughter was killed, told the Wall Street Journal.
Orlando Police Chief John Mina has defended the actions, telling reporters last week it was a “misconception” that nothing was done for three hours: That time was used to rescue patrons, understand the building’s layout, figure out where people were hiding, get resources in place and talk to the gunman. So, what had been an active shooter turned into a hostage situation, and the decision to storm the building came when the gunman raised the threat of explosives. Police logs released this week indicate that most of the shooting occurred in the first 16 minutes. That there was heroic work by first responders who saved lives goes without question. And, of course, responsiblity for the carnage lies solely with the gunman, who was killed by police.
But authorities are wrong to be so defensive about legitimate inquiries; to argue, as did U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida A. Lee Bentley III, that there must be no second-guessing of the police response. What exactly transpired during the critical three hours? Were any of those wounded or killed caught in police gunfire? Could any of the victims have been saved if police stormed the club sooner? Those are questions that need to be asked and answered. In that sense, the release of the detailed police logs was an encouraging sign that authorities realized the need to be more forthcoming.
A thorough accounting is important not only for those whose lives were horribly changed June 12 but also because of lessons that might be drawn from the what-ifs of second-guessing. Just as the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999 prompted police to train differently to deal with mass shootings, so might Orlando provide insights that could help prevent — or at lease minimize — future horrors.