Desperate calls from inside the Pulse nightclub; police strategizing and concerns; reports of wounded civilians: those are among the details held in records newly released by the Orange County Sheriff's Office about the June 12 mass shooting in Orlando, Florida.
The records, obtained by member station WLRN in Miami, also show that it took time for law enforcement to get a clear description of the suspect – and that there was concern that officers' shields would not protect them against rifle fire.
The records show that within minutes of the attack that began around 2 a.m., police had a generally accurate idea of the situation: that multiple people had been shot, the suspect was still inside the club, and people were hiding where they could — including in a bathroom.
Those circumstances didn't change substantially during the attack and the more than three-hour standoff that followed. But as NPR's Kirk Siegler reports the newly released records give new detail to a chaotic scene at the nightclub.
"It did take a while for the authorities to even get a clear description of who the shooter was," Kirk says.
By 2:17, the sheriff's communication records show, word emerged that the suspect was barricaded along with "multiple subjects" somewhere in the club. Almost immediately, gunshots were reported.
Seconds later, a call was relayed that personnel at the scene "need shields" — something that was repeated an instant later. But that report was followed by two other observations: that the weapon sounded like an AK-47 or another long gun — and that a shield "will not stop rifle fire."
Some 10 minutes later, after sheriff's personnel relayed both the civilians' requests for the police to come in and save them as well as witnesses' reports of "people bleeding out" in a bathroom, a similar call again went out, saying that the shield used by officers is "not equipped for long gun."
At 2:24 a.m., a request from inside the club was relayed: "Caller pleading for the cops to come inside and in the back room."
Taken along with Tuesday's release of hundreds of pages of documents by the Orlando Police and Fire departments – whose SWAT team carried out the assault that ended the standoff some three hours after the attack began – the sheriff's department records offer a new lens through which to view the night when 49 people were killed and dozens were wounded.
Several types of communications are repeated over the course of the 15 pages that are at the heart of the sheriff's records:
- Victims' reports on the number and condition of the wounded;
- The shooter's movements and weapons;
- Victims' pleas for authorities to enter the club;
- Law enforcement's discussion of equipment and deployment
In addition to concerns about deputies being vulnerable to long-gun fire, other dangerous and/or confusing issues also arose.
Around 2:51 a.m., for instance, reports came in that the shooter had claimed to have "explosive devices" in a vehicle in the parking lot. And at 4:29, deputies were advised of a report that the suspect "is going to attach 4 vest to 4 people in different directionals in the club."
The fact that explosives aren't mentioned in the sheriff's transcripts until some 50 minutes after the first shots were fired could alter discussions about the attack.
"The reason that that matters," WLRN's Rowan Moore Gerety says of the timing of the bomb, "is that there's been some speculation that one major reason the authorities might not have gone into the club sooner is because they worried that a bomb going off would obviously make things much, much worse."
At 5:02 a.m., a warning came that police would be setting an explosive charge, and the Orlando police force's SWAT team would be making an entry into the club — setting into motion the events that would culminate in the shooter's death.
That report was followed by an order to stand down — and then, minutes later, word that police were searching for victims of the attack.