When a gunman stormed Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in June 2016, about half of the more than 200 shots he fired hit someone.
Law enforcement, which fired over 180 bullets back at the attacker, hit only one person — the gunman. There was no “friendly fire,” claimed the State Attorney for Orange and Osceola counties.
Eight shots hit the gunman, who murdered 49 people and injured 53 others at the predominantly LGBTQ nightclub in the first hours of June 12, 2016, before being killed by one of those shots.
The Wednesday announcement, more than two years after the deadly shooting, did not put to rest the longstanding concerns of Christine Leinonen, the mother of slain clubgoer Christian Andrew Leinonen.
When the FBI emailed her about the announcement a week ago, she said the law enforcement agency mentioned “closing out” the investigation, which prompted her to email back asking again for a full ballistics report, which has yet to be released.
“Why are you closing it if I still don’t know how my son was shot?” she replied.
In a news conference, Orange and Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala said all 11 Orlando Police Department personnel and three Orange County Sheriff’s Office personnel who fired their weapons have received clearance letters from the State Attorney’s Office.
“I know the officers and deputies are relieved by this,” said Orange County Sheriff John Mina, who was Orlando’s police chief during the shooting. “They knew in their own minds they were justified. To have another independent party with a review of their actions which were courageous, brave. They did what they had to do to save many lives.”
Shoot reviews are standard after any firing of a weapon by law enforcement. Unlike most shoot reviews, based on a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation submitted to the state attorney’s office, an FBI investigation was sent to the state attorney in this case.
“This is a review of shots fired by law enforcement and whether or not those shots were justified,” Ayala said. “All other details are outside the scope of my responsibilities as state attorney.”
Ayala’s memo on the investigation’s findings does not mention anything about the 170-plus bullets that struck no one. Leinonen, who was a fatal accident reconstructionist and evidence technician with the Michigan Highway Patrol for a decade, wants to know exactly where they were found.
“Where were the other shots? Were they wild? If Omar Mateen had lived and we were going to trial, you’d be releasing that as evidence,” she said.
Leinonen finds it hard to believe that in the dark chaos of that evening, when hundreds of terrified club patrons were running for their lives, police didn’t accidentally hit a single civilian.
“The suspect is a perfect shot in an enclosed space with an automatic weapon; virtually all of his bullets hit people. But the police don’t hit anybody?” she said. “Ridiculous.”