Intersection: Dispatchers Answer The Call During Pulse Shooting
By now, we all know what happened inside Pulse night club during the deadly shooting that killed 49 people. But we what we don’t know is what it was like for first responders, especially the dispatchers who juggled calls from frantic family members while trying to figure out what was happening and coordinate the rescue
At 2:02 on the morning of June 12th, a shooter opened fire on the patrons of the Pulse night club. Almost immediately, calls started pouring in to 911 dispatch centers.
According to documents released by law enforcement agencies involved in the incident, the shooter opened fire for 15 minutes. Halfway through the first round of shots, officers entered the building.
In the sheer chaos of the situation, first responders were trying to get a handle on what was happened: Where was the shooter? Was there was more than one? Where were victims located?
The First Calls
They relied on calls to 911, and dispatchers like “Joe” to gather as much information as possible to help law enforcement.
DISPATCH: Emergency 911, this is Joe on a recorded line.
CALLER: I’m calling because there was a shootout in pulse nightclub.
DISPATCH: Yes sir, are you there now?
CALLER: No no, but my friend is in there now on the phone with us, we don’t know what to do. He say the shooter is inside the building and on the phone with him now and we don’t know what to tell him.
DISPATCH: Let him know we have over fifteen officers there right now. Did he see who is shooting?
CALLER: Does he see the shooter? He says he can see the shooter. He’s still in the building.
DISPATCH: Can he tell me what he looks like? Is he black, white, Hispanic, Asian?
CALLER: Can he see if he’s black, white, anything like that?
The caller tells the dispatcher his friend is in the main room, on the dance floor. The dispatcher remains calm and collected.
DISPATCHER: Let him know the police are there but he needs to stay exactly where he is.
CALLER: He’s not talking? He’s not talking anymore, sir.
DISPATCHER: Okay, we have the officers there right now. Can you hear anything on the phone, did he hang up?
CALLER: No no, he hasn’t hung up. He’s just there.
DISPATCHER: Let him stay quiet, we don’t want him to talk.
The dispatcher reassures the caller and tells him again that there are police in the building and to tell his friend to stay where he is, or find somewhere safe. The caller tells the dispatcher, Joe, that his friend – inside the club – is uninjured. His friend’s mom has been shot.
Discovering The Shooter, Learning Of Bombs
According to law enforcement records, there was a pause in the gunfire. Swat was called in and the shooter began moving toward the back corner of the club into the restrooms. That’s where the situation turned from an active shooter situation to a hostage situation. At 2:35 AM, almost a half hour after the first shots were fired, the shooter calls 911.
Communication personnel at the Orlando Police department called Metro PCS, the company that serviced the cell phone the shooter called from. This is where law enforcement get their first insight into the shooter.
METROPCS: Okay it’s coming up now. First name is Omar. Middle initial is M as in Mary. Last name is Mateen.
During that first call to 911 that lasted less than a minute, Mateen pledges his allegiance to Islamic state. About ten minutes later, a crisis negotiator calls the shooter. Mateen wants the U.S. to stop bombing Syria. He refers to himself as an Islamic soldier and says he feels the pain of those bombed in Syria and Iraq.
And it’s during this call around 3:00 AM he mentions bombs. An explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) unit is called in.
DISPATCH: They’re asking for your bomb squad. I’m supposed to tell them there’s a Tahoe in the parking lot that may have explosives tied to it.
Mateen continues to talk to the crisis negotiator, and by 3 AM, the shooter says not only arethere bombs in the parking lot, but he has a vest, too. More EOD units are called in.
EOD UNIT: Are you calling me just because or do they think something’s there? DISPATCH: They think something’s there.
Coordinating Rescue, Ensuing Chaos
Meanwhile, emergency responders are trying to provide medical assistance to the victims that made it out of the club. So-called safe zones were set up outside the club to triage victims. Resources from across the area came to the aid of those victims. Orlando Fire department coordinated ambulances from Orange and Seminole county to help move patients.
OFD tried to keep up to speed with the patient count coming into Orlando Regional Medical Center ,but the scene was chaotic.
DISPATCH: Hi it’s Orlando Fire Department.Can you give us a patient count? ORMC CHARGE NURSE: We don’t have it. DISPATCH: Anything you guys can give us? ORMC CHARGE NURSE: We don’t have it. It’s chaos.
Adding to the chaos? The report of a threat to the ORMC emergency room.
DISPATCH: Hey now we got a second scene at ORMC. The shooter’s at ORMC.
The emergency room was briefly put on lockdown. The shooter wasn’t at ORMC. Instead, he was still at Pulse, holding hostages in the bathroom.
Around 4:00 AM, a half hour after the last contact between crisis negotiators and the shooter, Orlando Police Chief John Mina said everyone from the club was taken out except for those held hostage in the restrooms. One of those hostages texted her brother.
CALLER: My sister is trapped in one of the restrooms there, she wanted me to call back and give an update that she’s in a bathroom directly across from where the shooter’s at. DISPACTER: Yes, I was speaking to you earlier let me pull that call up. CALLER: She said that she’s still losing a lot of blood and wanted me to call back. She said that the men’s restroom across the hall is where he [THE SHOOTER] is at.
His sister had a friend in the opposite bathroom, where Mateen was.
CALLER: She’s saying her friend just texted her saying he’s going to shoot. There’s four women with here in the restroom. Her friend just texted and said to send somebody in there he’s got his gun ready and he’s going to shoot.
SWAT begins to move in closer to where Mateen is holed-up.
OPD 0914 4a: CALLER: She said she can see the snipers outside. I’m assuming that’s law enforcement. DISPATCH: So she sees the snipers, does she see the shooter right now, she just sees the sniper? CALLER: She can see the snipers outside. She does not have a visual on the shooter. I guess the sniper is closer to where the women’s restroom is. She says they need help. There are multiple people with gunshots. She says we are dying in here.
Around 4:21 AM, almost two and a half hours after the first shots, SWAT begins to rescue some of the hostages. Two dispatchers, hearing from victims inside the club, talk across the room. The callers inside the club are being rescued.
DISPATCHERS: Someone’s knocking on the window? Is someone knocking on the dressing room window, they can hear knocking? On the AC window they’re knocking.
The Help Needs Helps
At this time, nearly three hours after the first shots were fired the dispatchers sound exhausted. They’ve been on the phones and radios non-stop since the shooting started. At this point, the help needs help. One dispatcher puts a call out to Orlando Police for someone from the critical incident stress management (CISM) department.
DISPATCHER: We need CISM in the [communications] center. We’ve have operators talking to people on the phone for hours. It’s not good up here. We need some assistance.
It’s not clear in the calls when that help arrives, but we learn later that the dispatchers and first responders did receive counseling about 48 hours later.
Meanwhile, the calls keep coming. The ones from inside the club aren’t being released, but by this time, at 4:30 AM, there are reports that the shooter would strap bomb vests to hostages. It was at that point Chief John Mina determined that loss of life was eminent. SWAT breached the wall, engaged the shooter and killed him.
At 5:02 AM, the shooter is dead, victims are getting treated and the world is waking up to news that the deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history happened in Orlando. For the dispatchers working in those early morning hours, in possibly the longest and most intense shift in their career, their day ended.
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