4 hours of terror
How the worst mass shooting in U.S. history unfolded in Orlando
Omar Mateen, 29, parked his van outside Pulse, a gay nightclub at 1912 S Orange Ave. in Orlando.
Reports put about 200 to 300 people in the club when the shooting began. It was Latin Night.
Mateen attacked the nightclub armed with a .223-caliber AR-15 style semiautomatic rifle and a 9mm handgun, Orlando police Chief John Mina said.
A nearby Orlando police officer, off-duty and working security at the club, responded to the gunfire.
From the patio, DJ Ray Rivera heard a series of pops. People started running out from the club, jumping over the patio fence to escape. “People were screaming, pushing each other out of the way,” he said.
Rivera fled the patio, then looked back into the club through an open doorway. “All I could see was bodies,” he said.
In Pulse’s back room, Joe Galligan, 24, was drinking a Long Island iced tea and talking to friends. Then he heard gunshots. “Everyone in the room thought it was a speaker blowing out in the other room,” he said. “But it didn’t take very long to realize what it actually was. So the next thing I know, everyone was just on the ground.”
Jeannette McCoy, 37, was dancing with her friend when she heard gunshots. “It was just pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop,” she said. “The shots were continuous.”
Yvens Carrenard, 29, first hid in a storage closet and then an attic-like crawlspace. He caught a glimpse of the shooter firing off rounds in quick succession.
McCoy ran outside, bodies falling around her. She used her crop top to bind the gunshot wound in a bartender’s leg. “The shots are still going. Pop-pop-pop-pop,” McCoy said. “At times they seemed like they would stop. It was because he was (reloading).”
The Orlando officer engaged Mateen in a “gun battle” near Pulse’s entrance, the chief said.
More officers arrived. They entered the club. Another gunfight with Mateen ensued.
Mateen retreated further into club, then into the bathrooms where four to five people were hiding. They became hostages. In another bathroom, 15 to 20 more people hunkered down.
Officers evacuated dozens of people from the club, the chief said: “We were able to get people out of the dance floor and out of the lounge area.”
“There was a split second where the shots stopped, and my instincts took over," Galligan said. That's when he ran. “I can’t even which you which door I ran through. I really don’t remember.”
Pulse published an emergency post to its Facebook page: “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.”
Omg. Shooting at pulse. We hid in the bathroom. And we can't find our friends.— Brandon Wolf (@bjoewolf) June 12, 2016
By this point, police believe Mateen killed most of his victims.
For the next few hours, the timeline is unclear.
The SWAT team soon arrived and took up positions inside the club. Mateen “barricaded” himself in the bathroom, the chief said.
Officers took victims to hospitals in police vehicles. Those trapped inside used 911 and social media to ask for help.
More than 100 Orlando police officers and Orange County sheriff’s deputies rushed to the scene.
The shooter then started speaking to police during the standoff, said FBI Director James Comey.
Mateen called 911 about 30 minutes after the attack but hung up.
He called a second time, spoke briefly to a dispatcher, then hung up again. The dispatcher called back. Crisis negotiators also spoke to Mateen.
This is when authorities said Mateen declared his allegiance to the Islamic State.
“During the calls, he said he was doing this for the leader of ISIL, who he named and pledged loyalty to,” Comey said.
Mateen also mentioned the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and Moner Mohammad Abusalha, the Fort Pierce man who in 2014 became the first American to conduct a suicide attack in Syria.
During the 911 calls, Mateen made no demands. Negotiators did most of the talking. Meanwhile, police said they heard no more gunshots inside the club.
“He really wasn’t asking for a whole lot,” the chief said, “and we were doing most of the asking.”
Mateen indicated to police that he may have explosives, such as a bomb vest. And there was this:
“He was cool and calm,” Mina said.
Shooting at Pulse Nightclub on S Orange. Multiple injuries. Stay away from area. pic.twitter.com/5Di2mc6XUY— Orlando Police (@OrlandoPolice) June 12, 2016
Police feared Mateen was about to add to his body count. Commanders decided to storm the club. “We all knew that was the right thing to do,” Mina said.
That sound was a controlled explosion by law enforcement. Please avoid reporting inaccuracies at this time.— Orlando Police (@OrlandoPolice) June 12, 2016
The SWAT team used explosives to try to breach the club’s wall, but failed.
Then they used a BearCat armored vehicle equipped with a battering ram to punch their way in.
Hostages ran out of the hole, police said, but so did an armed Mateen.
The last firefight of the night ensued. One of Mateen’s rounds struck the Kevlar helmet of a SWAT officer, saving his life.
Mateen died in a gunfight with the SWAT team: six Orlando police officers and three Orange County sheriff’s deputies.
Pulse shooting: In hail of gunfire in which suspect was killed, OPD officer was hit. Kevlar helmet saved his life. pic.twitter.com/MAb0jGi7r4— Orlando Police (@OrlandoPolice) June 12, 2016
Orlando police announced via Twitter that the shooter is dead.
Pulse Shooting: The shooter inside the club is dead.— Orlando Police (@OrlandoPolice) June 12, 2016
Afterward, police scoured the club for explosive devices using a robot and an explosive-sniffing dog. Police did not say whether they found anything.
Trauma surgeons hurried to treat the wounded at Orlando Regional Medical Center, just half a mile from the club.
The first victims started arriving immediately after 2 a.m. One trauma surgeon is always available here around-the-clock.— Orlando Health (@orlandohealth) June 12, 2016
He called in 2 more surgeons initially, and when we saw the volume of victims, we brought in a total of 6 surgeons.— Orlando Health (@orlandohealth) June 12, 2016
Jeannette McCoy arrived home. The friend she had been dancing with was at the hospital, being treated for at least one gunshot wound. Her car keys were still inside with the valet. “I had blood on my upper arms, a little bit on my face,” McCoy said. “I had people’s blood. It just wasn’t my blood.”
Four hours later, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer stepped in front of the microphone. Police had finished sweeping the club, he said. Officials said 53 were wounded. Forty-nine were dead.
Compiled by Times staff writer Zachary T. Sampson. Staff writers Kathryn Varn, Claire McNeill, Steve Contorno, Kathleen McGrory, Josh Solomon, Sara DiNatale, Nathaniel Lash, Eli Murray, Martin Frobisher, Connie Humburg and Cameron Cottrill contributed to this report, which uses information from the Orlando Sentinel, the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN.