New records paint picture of chaos at Pulse, raise question about exits

Courtesy of Brett Moots

New records released in the Orlando nightclub massacre offered a glimpse into the chaos of that bloody night while spurring confusion about whether an exit door may have been blocked as clubgoers fled the killer.

The log of 911 and police calls chronicled 193 minutes of chaos, with terrified callers describing a gunman apparently reloading as he stalked victims in the dark nightclub, possibly with bombs strapped to his chest. Some described horrific gunshot wounds to their friends, and some fell victim themselves.

“My caller is no longer responding, just an open line with moaning,” one dispatcher noted.

In the first few dark and panic-filled hours, it’s clear police didn’t know exactly what they were dealing with. Were there explosives? Booby-trapped hostages? Multiple shooters?

The police logs, along with code-enforcement reports and emails of city leaders released Tuesday, did not include the full 911 audio calls from shooter Omar Mateen or calls between him and police crisis negotiators during a three-hour standoff. More than 20 news agencies, including the Miami Herald, have sued, seeking the 911 calls, which in general are public record under Florida law.

But the new cache of records did reveal that the Pulse nightclub passed a city fire inspection in January, but just weeks before the massacre, an inspector checked off “Exit Door or Hardware Inoperable” on a form. At the same time, emails and text messages from the fire marshal noted that after the shooting, she saw a photo of a soda machine blocking one door.

That led to questions about whether one of six exits might have been blocked as clubgoers fled Mateen’s rampage. Code-enforcement staffers would have to “answer some tough questions,” the city’s fire marshal wrote in a text to Orlando’s fire chief the afternoon following the shooting.

But the Orlando fire department said Tuesday evening that a May 21 inspection only found that a back-up battery was needed for the electronic exit sign. The only other violation: A fire extinguisher was on the ground, not on the wall.

“We have no indication that exits were blocked,” fire department spokeswoman Ashley Papagni said in a statement.

And as for the soda-machine photo, Papagni said, it was taken after the rampage with no evidence it was that way during the shooting.

The club’s attorney told the Orlando Sentinel that none of the exit doors were blocked that night.

Snapchat video sent to a friend of Amanda Alvear, who was at Pulse nightclub when the gunshots rang out, the night of the attack. Alvear died in the shooting.

It was early on June 12 when Mateen entered the gay nightclub in downtown Orlando, armed with an assault-style rifle and a pistol in what is now considered the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Forty-nine people died, and 53 were wounded —Mateen himself was killed by SWAT officers after they punched holes in the wall of the club’s bathroom.

The FBI said Mateen was likely radicalized online by extremist Muslim teachings but there is no evidence to show he was acting under directions from abroad.

Although some lines were redacted, the call logs largely verified, in fragments, the narrative already provided by Orlando police. “Shots fired,” read the first 911 log entry.

Many dispatches are terrifying snapshots of chaos and a fast-unfolding massacre: “Someone screaming help . . . still hearing gunshots . . . multiple people screaming.”

At 2:10 a.m., a line notes “making entrance at patio” — which may refer to what police have said were officers confronting Mateen in an initial gun battle.

By 2:15 a.m., the log reads “shooter trapped in bathroom.” A few minutes later, the SWAT team was paged while another dispatch described Mateen as “loading up.”

Many of the logs chronicle injuries: shots to the chest, stomach, arms and legs. Victim has gunshot wound “to leg and rib,” one operator reported. “Losing a lot of blood.”

At 2:30 a.m., as Mateen was holed up in the bathroom, he “pledges allegiance to the Islamic State.” More than 10 minutes later, he claimed to have explosives in the parking lot.

Other callers said he had “several bombs strapped to him.” Those reports proved to be unfounded but clearly complicated the challenge for police.

The dressing-room window was an escape route for some, but the rest of the survivors fell back to the bathrooms.

At 4:29 a.m., texts from an officer said the shooter was planning to strap bomb vests on victims in 15 minutes. The SWAT officers breached the club at 5:02 a.m. Thirteen minutes later, Mateen was dead.

The records released Tuesday also included text messages and emails to and from city leaders in the wake of the shooting — including one email from a family wondering whether it was still safe to proceed on their vacation to Orlando.

The Orlando Police chief’s phone was flooded with text messages in the hours after the shooting — messages he rarely responded to, with some replies appearing to have been redacted. The 19 pages of text messages consist of mostly condolences and offers of support from other police departments and community members.

Video of the shooting outside of Pulse nightclub early Sunday morning, June 12, 2016, shot by Brett Moots from his apartment.