Saturday, September 22, 2018
News Roundup

Orlando sheriff releases first Pulse nightclub 911 recordings to public (w/video)

ORLANDO — Authorities in Florida on Tuesday released a handful of 911 calls about the shooting inside Pulse nightclub in Orlando, making public for the first time recordings of what police were told about the attack while it was happening.

In the calls, a series of increasingly distraught callers can be heard alerting police to the shooting and warning of injured friends and relatives who were trapped at the venue.

Callers were asking police about when they were going to go inside the club, warning that more people were going to die if they didn't get in there and worrying about those trapped inside.

"He's over there," one caller said about her husband. "He said he cannot get out."

Another caller said they receiving a text message from a friend who reported being shot three times and going into a bathroom at the club.

"We called him because he posted on Facebook that he got shot," the caller told the dispatcher shortly after 2:40 a.m. "So we said, 'Is everything okay?' He said, 'Got shot three times.' We said, 'Where are you?' And the response was, 'In bathroom. Tell them to check the bathroom.'"

By this point, however, the gunman had barricaded himself in the bathroom. And what began as an active shooting rampage inside a crowded nightclub turned into what became a standoff lasting nearly three hours. Ultimately, police say Omar Mateen, the attacker, remained there until dying in a shootout with police.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office released the limited selection of calls on Tuesday in response to public records requests stemming from the June 12 massacre at Pulse, which left 49 people dead and dozens of others injured. These calls from the Sheriff's Office were not from people inside Pulse, but were instead calling after hearing from relatives or friends of people inside.

Authorities had previously refused to release any of the 911 calls, only providing a limited transcript of Mateen's discussions with police, during which he identified himself as the Orlando shooter and pledged loyalty to the head of the Islamic State. Police had also made public documents showing that dispatchers spoke with people inside the club who reported seeing the gunfire or described gruesome injuries they were seeing.

Many of the 911 calls made during the Pulse shooting and the ensuing standoff were to the Orlando Police Department, which has not released any of the audio so far. While Florida has broad public records laws, the state has exemptions for information deemed to be part of "active" criminal investigations, and city officials say the 911 recordings are part of an ongoing criminal inquiry that involves the Orlando police but is being led by the FBI.

A group of media organizations that includes the Washington Post have gone to court to seek these records. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer directed his city to file a lawsuit seeking guidance from a court about what records should be released. City officials say that there are hundreds of 911 calls that cannot be released without a court's directive.

Since the attack inside Pulse, the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, authorities have been investigating both the shooting and how officers handled it. The Justice Department, at the Orlando Police Department's request, is reviewing the law enforcement response to the entire incident.

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