New Pulse review from Orlando police reveals details, lessons learned

Nearly half of those killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting died where they were dancing, without a chance to react or run for help.

Thirteen died in the bathrooms waiting for help during the three-hour hostage situation.

The revelations are part of a newly released 78-page presentation Orlando Police Chief John Mina has given to about 10 police groups around the world to discuss how his department responded to the June 12 shooting — and what they learned.

The report, obtained exclusively by the Orlando Sentinel, has the most comprehensive timeline offered by police of the incident thus far and also includes diagrams and still photos from body cam footage showing officers in their initial confrontation with gunman Omar Mateen.

One of the questions not addressed in the presentation is if any of the victims were struck by friendly fire. Mina said Wednesday that he doesn’t know if any civilians were hit by police gunfire.

The presentation notes 38 people died inside the nightclub, including 20 on the dance floor, three on stage, one in the front lobby and one out on the patio.

Nine people died in the north bathroom, where Mateen was barricaded for a large majority of the standoff. Four died in the south bathroom.

The remaining 11 people died at the hospital or at triage areas set up outside the club during the shooting.

Orlando’s police department has been criticized by some survivors and families of the victims for its choice to not use explosives to breach the club until 5:02 a.m., leaving those in the bathrooms injured and pleading for help for hours.

The department has consistently said it did not go in until then for fear that hostages would be harmed. Mina made the decision after Mateen said he strapped bombs to people in the four corners of the club. The timeline says Mateen told police at 2:48 a.m. that he was wearing a bomb vest and “had a vehicle in the parking lot with enough explosives to take out city blocks.”

No explosives were found in the club.

The presentation includes self-assessments and ways the department might approach things differently in the future.

Police also note better coordination with local fire departments could have led to better communication. The Orlando Fire Department and Orange County Fire Rescue were not in OPD’s command post, Mina said.

“Would that have saved any more lives? No. The people who needed care got care,” Mina said. “But the communication would have been better between our two agencies if someone from the fire department would have been in our command post.”

For instance, the fire department did not know officers were going to breach the wall.

The Orlando and Orange County fire departments also included this observation in its “lessons learned” section of a similar presentation they have been giving at conferences across the country since last fall.

The fire departments said the “indirect communication” with law enforcement prevented fire crews from being informed with some of the movements of OPD, including the wall breach and explosion. Fire departments did not know what the sound of the explosion was when it happened, according to their presentation.

The report notes that an explosive breach into the south bathroom meant to allow hostages a way out did not fully breach the wall. Officers were forced to use a “Bearcat” armored vehicle to ram the walls to help widen holes. Mina declined to expand on the breach, or what they would do differently in the future, citing tactics.

Orlando police have also concluded that immediately releasing officers’ names to the media was a mistake. After 11 names of officers involved were made public, hordes of reporters called, “stalked on Facebook” and camped out at several of their homes, Mina said.

The report also offers details about the FBI’s role in the investigation: The federal agency followed up on more than 1,600 leads and conducted about 500 interviews.

FBI spokeswoman Andrea Aprea said, like every investigation, they followed up on every lead and tip.

“We leave no stone unturned,” Aprea said.

The bureau’s crime scene analysts collected more than 950 pieces of evidence. They have also subpoenaed more than 300 people amid the investigation.

Aprea would not go into details about the subpoenas, citing the active investigation. She said several hundred pieces of evidence were returned to survivors and victims’ families in December.

Mina’s presentation includes dramatic footage from body cameras and dash cameras from the first officers who responded at 2:02 a.m.

Images include Officer Adam Gruler, who was working an off-duty job at the club, firing shots at Mateen, who was standing in the doorway.

Gruler then called a signal 43, meaning an officer needs help.

When help arrived, Gruler told them “He’s in the patio!” and fired “multiple rounds” toward Mateen as he went toward the dance floor.

That’s when, at 2:05 a.m., the “rapid fire of gunshots” coming from the club stops, nearly three minutes after the shooting started.

Surveillance footage inside the club then captures Mateen running from the main dance floor toward the bathrooms.

The rest of the narrative largely mirrors previous accounts, but offers more detail and maps to offer a better understanding of what happened, and when victims were rescued.

The report showed photos of Officer Michael Napolitano, who was hit in the head during the barrage of shots. His Kevlar helmet saved his life. He was the only officer hurt during the siege.

OPD was one of 27 agencies that responded to the shooting. Another 68 people were injured.

The presentation said officers were rescuing patrons throughout the night.

There were so many people on the dance floor, one officer asked, “if you’re alive, raise your hand.”

chayes@orlandosentinel.com, dharris@orlandosentinel.com, cdoornbos@orlandosentinel.com, glotan@orlandosentinel.com

Copyright © 2017, CT Now
49°