Orlando nightclub shooting

Pulse nightclub shooting
Part of Terrorism in the United States
A street-level view of a small white structure with a blue roof, black awnings, and empty parking lot
The Pulse nightclub in 2006. It had been painted black by the time of the shooting.
Orlando is located in Florida
Orlando
Orlando
Orlando (Florida)
Location1912 S. Orange Avenue, Orlando, Florida, U.S.
Coordinates28°31′11″N 81°22′37″W / 28°31′11″N 81°22′37″W / 28.51961; -81.37683 EDT (UTC−04:00)
TargetPatrons of Pulse nightclub
Attack type
Mass shooting, terrorist attack, hostage-taking
Weapons
Deaths50 (including the perpetrator)
Non-fatal injuries
53
PerpetratorOmar Mateen

On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old security guard, killed 49 people and wounded 53 others in a mass shooting inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, United States. Orlando Police Department officers shot and killed him after a three-hour standoff.

In a 9-1-1 call made shortly after the shooting began, Mateen swore allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and said the U.S. killing of Abu Waheeb in Iraq the previous month "triggered" the shooting. He later told a negotiator he was "out here right now" because of the American-led interventions in Iraq and in Syria and that the negotiator should tell the United States to stop the bombing. The incident was deemed a terrorist attack by FBI investigators.

Pulse was hosting a "Latin Night," and most of the victims were Hispanic. It is the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people in U.S. history and the deadliest terrorist attack in the U.S. since the September 11 attacks in 2001. At the time, it was the deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter in U.S. history, being surpassed by the Las Vegas shooting a year later. By June 2018, the FBI had declined to classify the incident as an anti-gay hate crime, as evidence suggested that Mateen had scouted several different targets before choosing Pulse, and that he did not know it was a gay nightclub.[1][2]

Shooting

First shots and hostage situation

On June 11, 2016, Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, was hosting "Latin Night," a weekly Saturday night event drawing a primarily Hispanic crowd.[3][4] About 320 people were inside the club, which was serving last call drinks at around 2:00 a.m. EDT on June 12.[5][6] After arriving at the club by van,[7] Omar Mateen approached the building on foot, armed with a SIG Sauer MCX[8] semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol.[9][10][11][12] At 2:02 a.m., Officer Adam Gruler, a uniformed off-duty Orlando Police Department (OPD) officer working extra duty[13][14] as a security guard, engaged Mateen.[15][16] Mateen bypassed him into the building and began shooting patrons.[5][6][16] Dozens were killed or severely injured.[17]

Gruler called in a signal for assistance. When additional officers arrived at the nightclub beginning at 2:04 a.m., he shouted "[The gunman]'s in the patio!" and resumed firing at Mateen.[18][14] Two officers joined Gruler in engaging Mateen, who then retreated farther into the nightclub and "began a 'hostage situation'".[5][19][20] In the next 45 minutes, about 100 officers from the OPD and the Orange County Sheriff's Office were dispatched to the scene.[20] Among the earliest first responders to arrive were a firefighter crew from Fire Station 5 and two supporting firefighter paramedics from Fire Station 7. Eighty Fire and Emergency Medical Services personnel from the Orlando Fire Department were deployed during the entire incident.[21]

During the shooting, some of the people who were trapped inside the club sought help by calling or sending text messages to friends and relatives. Initially, some of them thought the gunshots were firecrackers or part of the music.[22][23][24] A recently discharged Marine veteran working as a nightclub bouncer immediately recognized the sounds as gunfire, which he described as "high caliber," and jumped over a locked door behind which dozens of people were hidden and paralyzed by fear, then opened a latched door behind them allowing approximately 70 people to escape.[25][26] Many described a scene of panic and confusion caused by the loud music and darkness. One person shielded herself by hiding inside a bathroom and covering herself with bodies. A bartender said she took cover beneath the glass bar. At least one patron tried to help those who were hit.[27] According to a man trapped inside a bathroom with fifteen other patrons, Mateen fired sixteen times into the bathroom, through the closed door, killing at least two and wounding several others.[28]

According to one of the hostages, Mateen entered a bathroom in the nightclub's northwest side and opened fire on the people hiding there, wounding several. The hostage, who had taken cover inside a stall with others, was injured by two bullets and struck with flying pieces of a wall hit by stray bullets. Mateen's rifle then jammed briefly, at which point he switched to using a handgun.[29][30][31] Two survivors quoted Mateen as saying, "I don't have a problem with black people",[32][33] and that he "wouldn't stop his assault until America stopped bombing his country".[34] Other survivors heard Mateen claim he had explosives as well as snipers stationed around the club.[35]

Patrons trapped inside called or texted 9-1-1 to warn of the possible presence of explosives.[36]

Emergency response

At 2:09 a.m., several minutes after gunfire began, the club posted on its Facebook page, "Everyone get out of pulse [sic] and keep running."[37] At 2:22 a.m., Mateen placed a 9-1-1 call in which he mentioned the Boston Marathon bombersTamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev—as his "homeboys" and made a reference to Moner Mohammad Abu Salha, an American citizen who died in a suicide bombing in Syria in 2014.[20][38][39] Mateen said he was inspired by Abu Salha's death for the Al-Nusra Front targeting Syrian government troops (a mutual enemy of the two Salafist groups, despite their history of violence with each other), and swore allegiance[40] to ISIL leader al-Baghdadi.[41] The FBI said that Mateen and Abu Salha had attended the same mosque and knew each other "casually".[42] Mateen made two other 9-1-1 calls during the shooting.[39] Numerous 9-1-1 calls were made by the patrons inside the nightclub around this time.[43]

After the initial rounds of gunfire between Mateen and the security guard at Pulse, six officers shot out a large glass window and followed the sound of shooting to the bathroom area. When Mateen stuck his head out from one of the bathrooms, at least two officers shot at him. After the gunfire stopped, they were ordered to hold position instead of storming the bathroom, according to one of the officers.[16][29][44] After about 15 to 20 minutes, SWAT arrived and had the officers withdraw as the officers were "not really in tactical gear". SWAT then took over the operation.[44] When asked why the officers didn't proceed to the bathroom and engage Mateen, Orlando Police Chief John Mina said it was because Mateen "went from an active shooter to a barricaded gunman" and had hostages. He also noted, "If he had continued shooting, our officers would have went in there."[29] At that time, the last shot by Mateen was fired between 2:10 a.m. and 2:18 a.m.[45]

Rescues of people trapped inside the nightclub commenced and continued throughout the night. Because so many people were lying on the dance floor, one rescuing officer demanded, "If you're alive, raise your hand."[17] By 2:35 a.m., police had managed to extract nearly all of the injured from the nightclub. Those who remained included the hostages held by Mateen in the bathroom, as well as a dozen people who were hiding inside dressing rooms.[46]

Phone calls and negotiations

At 2:45 a.m., Mateen called News 13 of Orlando and said, "I'm the shooter. It's me. I am the shooter." He then said he was carrying out the shooting on behalf of ISIL and began speaking rapidly in Arabic.[47][48] Mateen also said the shooting was "triggered" by a U.S.-led bombing strike in Iraq that killed Abu Wahib, an ISIL military commander, on May 6.[49]

A crisis negotiator was present as Mateen was holed up inside and holding hostages.[50][51] Officers initially believed he was armed with a "suspicious device" that posed a threat, but it was later revealed to be a battery that fell out of an exit sign or smoke detector.[52]

Police hostage negotiators spoke with Mateen by telephone three times between 2:48 a.m. and 3:27 a.m.[53] He claimed during one of the calls that he had bombs strapped to his body.[50][53] He also claimed that he "had a vehicle in the parking lot with enough explosives to take out city blocks."[17] At 3:58 a.m., the OPD announced to the public that there was a shooting at the club, and that there were multiple injuries.[20] At 4:21 a.m., eight of the hostages escaped after police had removed an air conditioning unit from an exterior wall.[20][53] At approximately 4:29 a.m., Mateen told negotiators that he planned to strap explosive vests to four hostages, strategically place them in different corners of the building, and detonate them in 15 minutes.[36][50] OPD officers then decided to end negotiations and prepared to blow their way in.[20][22][50]

At around 2:30 a.m., Mateen's second wife—after receiving a call from her mother at approximately 2:00 a.m. asking where her husband was—sent a text message to Mateen asking where he was. Mateen texted back asking her if she had seen the news. After she replied, "No?", Mateen responded, "I love you, babe." According to one source, she texted him back at one point saying that she loved him. She also called him several times during the standoff, but he did not answer. She found out about what was happening at 4:00 a.m. after the police told her to come out of her house with her hands up.[54][55]

A survivor of the shooting recalled Mateen saying he wanted the United States to "stop bombing his country".[56][57] The FBI said Mateen "told a negotiator to tell America to stop bombing Syria and Iraq and that was why he was 'out here right now'".[53]

Rescue and resolution

Orange County Sheriff's Office body-camera footage, showing police responding to the massacre.
Pulse nightclub exterior, showing holes made by the BearCat and bullet holes

The FBI reported that no shots were heard between the time Mateen stopped exchanging gunfire with the first responders and 5:02 a.m., when Orlando police breached the building's wall.[53] Just before the breach, Mateen entered a women's bathroom where the hostages were hiding and opened fire, killing a man who sacrificed his life to save the woman behind him and at least one other, according to witnesses.[29][30]

At 5:07 a.m., fourteen SWAT officers—after failing to blow open a big enough hole in the bathroom's exterior wall using a bomb—successfully breached the building when a policeman drove a BearCat armored vehicle through a wall in the northern bathroom. They then used two flashbangs to distract Mateen, and shot at him.[16][37][46][58][59] The breach drew Mateen out into the hallway, and at 5:14 a.m., he engaged the officers. He was shot eight times and killed in the resulting shootout, which involved at least eleven officers who fired a total of about 150 bullets.[46][58][60][61][62] He was reported "down" at 5:17 a.m.[58]

At 5:05 a.m., the police said a bomb squad had set off a controlled explosion.[20][63] At 5:53 a.m., the Orlando police posted on Twitter, "Pulse Shooting: The shooter inside the club is dead."[20] Thirty hostages were freed during the police operation.[16][64] The survivors were searched by police for guns and explosives.[36]

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