GUN VIOLENCE
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Orlando mass shooting

Patrons trapped in Pulse nightclub during Orlando shooting spree begged for help, dispatch records show

Minute-by-minute account of mass shooting sheds new light on timeline of the event.

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 July, 2016, 8:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 July, 2016, 8:03am

For 25 minutes, an 18-year-old woman, trapped in a bathroom at the Pulse nightclub, talked to an Orange County Sheriff’s Office dispatcher. She was wounded, afraid and going numb, she said.

She first lost feeling in her left arm, where she had been shot, she reported, then, a few minutes later, at 2.34am, she said she could no longer feel her left leg. Two minutes later, she said she was going blind. She “just keeps pleading” for a rescue, a dispatcher reported at 2.37am. “She does not want to die.”

Then, at 2.45am the phone line went dead. When a dispatcher tried to call her back three minutes later, no one picked up.

That woman’s story is in 35 pages of dispatch records released on Thursday by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. They give a minute-by-minute account of what dispatchers at that agency heard and reported during the mass shooting two weeks ago.

They were released two days after the Orlando Police Department released a transcript of its dispatch traffic during and after the stand-off.

Forty-nine people were killed and more than 50 others were injured after a 29-year-old Fort Pierce security guard, Omar Mateen, entered the club with an assault rifle and 9mm handgun and opened fire at 2am on June 12.

He was killed in a shoot-out with Orlando police shortly after 5am, when 10 Orlando officers and three deputies opened fire, OPD’s Swat commander, Mark Canty, said on Thursday.

Much of what appears in the Sheriff’s Office records is consistent with OPD records, but they differ on one critical detail: When the gunman stopped shooting.

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According to the Sheriff’s Office records, there were reports of gunfire at 2.30am and 2.34am.

Orlando Police Chief John Mina has said it ended at 2.18am until the final barrage began after 5am.

On Thursday, he would not specifically discuss the Sheriff’s Office dispatch records. But his earlier statements, he wrote in an email, were based on an FBI timeline and what officers have told him.

“The investigation into this incident is not complete,” he added.

Four hostages have told the Orlando Sentinel that they heard gunfire after at 2.18am.

Some critics have accused the Police Department of allowing the stand-off to drag on too long. The ordeal began at 2.02am, and the Police Department reported the gunman dead at 5.17am after the final gunbattle.

Mina has defended his department, saying officers stopped shooting about 2.18am because Mateen had stopped shooting.

After that, the department stopped treating Mateen as if he were an active shooter, a scenario in which officers typically move toward gunfire and engage the shooter. Instead, they treated him like a barricaded gunman with hostages.

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As the night progressed, according to the new dispatch records, callers became increasingly desperate, begged for help and warned that people around them were dying.

The 18-year-old woman who went silent after talking to a dispatcher for 25 minutes was one.

There were about 10 other people in the bathroom with her, she told a dispatcher.

“Everyone in the bathroom is groaning in pain,” a dispatcher reported her saying. “People are bleeding out.”

More than an hour later, at 3.46am, another caller told a dispatcher that his girlfriend was texting him from a bathroom. There were 18 other people in the room with her, he said, two of them dead.

About 45 minutes later, the death count in the bathroom had climbed to four, he told a dispatcher, records show.

Many of the things in the Sheriff’s Office records match OPD records: The first shots were reported at 2.02am, and officers rushed inside and challenged Mateen at 2.08am.

By 2.17am, while Mateen was still blasting away, Sheriff’s Office dispatchers were beginning to get a picture of how much damage he was inflicting.

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Callers reported that several people had been wounded, that Mateen had barricaded himself in a back room with hostages – some of them hurt – and deputies were calling for shields.

“Sounds like an AK,” an apparent reference to an AK-47, a military-style rifle, according to one dispatch entry.

“Shield will not stop rifle fire,” someone noted a few seconds later.

At 2.18am deputies were told to “hold hard cover”, an order that they should take cover but hold their positions, records show. That’s the same time the Swat team was called out, according to an FBI timeline.

A police negotiator talked to Mateen three times during the stand-off, Mina has said; during those conversations he claimed to have explosives, something that prompted the department to revise its tactics again.

The first mention of explosives in Sheriff’s Office dispatch records was at 2.51am – when someone, “possibly the shooter”, reported them in the nightclub parking lot. One minute later deputies got word from OPD that the shooter was in the bathroom, possibly “wearing a bomb.”

The Sheriff’s Office bomb squad would later search a car in the parking lot and inside the club, but found no explosives.

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The stand-off ended after a shoot-out with the OPD Swat team.

Sheriff’s Office documents revealed that Mateen died inside the club.

The Swat team tried to blast its way into the building just after 5am, records show, but failed, so officers rammed the building with an armoured vehicle, punching holes in the outside wall of a bathroom near where several hostages huddled.

The final gunbattle began when shots were fired in the north bathroom at 5.14am, according to the Police Department. The gunman was reported down at 5.17am. The Swat commander told the Sentinel Mateen died in a hallway. “Bad guy down strapped,” OPD dispatch reported.