The city of Orlando released the first batch of autopsies for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, which show that victims were shot multiple times but left some of the most haunting questions about the massacre unanswered.
The reports — on 31 of the 49 victims and gunman Omar Mateen — didn’t clarify whether any of the Pulse club-goers were hit by friendly fire from police. And though Mateen’s autopsy showed he was hit by eight bullets, it couldn’t pinpoint whether all the wounds were inflicted in the firefight that ended the three-hour ordeal or if he might have been wounded earlier as he exchanged shots with police.
The autopsies’ dry, clinical language couldn’t suppress their grim tale of mortality. Every tattoo was described, every organ was weighed and everyone’s hair was measured in the painstakingly detailed reports. Even the contents of their pockets were cataloged.
But they didn’t reveal anything about the caliber of the fatal bullets, the single most important factor in sorting out which were fired by Mateen and which — if any — might have come from police guns. Only fragments of bullets were recovered from most of the victims, the reports said.
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Nonetheless, experts said, the autopsies might have yielded important clues that will eventually help resolve that question.
Even fragments can be enormously helpful in establishing whether bullets were fired by Mateen — he carried a .223 Sig Sauer assault rifle and and a Glock 17 handgun — or by police, said Dr. John Marraccini, former Palm Beach County medical examiner.
There will be an after-action evaluation of that event, eventually — I’m sure it’s already under way — that will recreate the crime scene, diagram it and sequence it, and try to decide whether or not they could have improved on what they did. The autopsies are part of that.
Dr. John Marraccini, former Palm Beach County medical examiner
“The [bullet] jacketing material is important for identifying which round is which,” he said. “As long as you have fragments, you can do something like that.”
And though the medical jargon in the reports describing the victims’ wounds is mostly indecipherable to laymen, Marraccini added, it will be useful to investigators in differentiating who fired what.
“It’s difficult, but not impossible,” he said. “Some cases are easier than others. It’s relatively easy to tell whether a wound was made from a handgun vs. a rifle. The wounds are very, very different. The jackets of the bullets are very different …
“There will be an after-action evaluation of that event, eventually — I’m sure it’s already under way — that will recreate the crime scene, diagram it and sequence it, and try to decide whether or not they could have improved on what they did,” he said. “The autopsies are part of that.”
Beyond the question of friendly fire, the autopsy reports filled out some other details of the attacks. Mateen wasn’t wearing a protective vest, just a plaid, short-sleeved, button-down shirt, tan pants and a gun holster. (Though some critics of the investigation have wondered how he could have concealed the weapons in relatively flimsy clothing as he approached the bar, a viral video circulating on the Internet shows how, clad in jeans and a polo shirt, one could sneak a long gun, hand gun and ammunition into a public place.)
Most of the bullets that hit Mateen came from in front of him. But two — which struck him in the leg and foot — were fired from behind. And though law enforcement officials earlier revealed that Mateen was likely a long-term user of steroids, the toxicology report released Friday showed his hormone levels were below normal levels of abuse.
The 31 victim autopsies show that bullets were flying fast and furious that night: 129 gunshot wounds were tallied, from almost every conceivable angle. Most of the bodies had multiple wounds — one man was shot 13 times — usually from medium range. Not surprisingly for an attack that took place in a bar, most victims had been drinking that night, and a few showed evidence that there might have been marijuana or cocaine in their system.
Out of respect for the victims, the medical examiner’s office said, it kept Mateen’s body separate from the victims during the autopsy process. The office said all 50 autopsies should be released by 5 p.m. Wednesday.