Police negotiators talking to the Orlando nightclub gunman at first weren’t sure if the person they had on the phone was actually in the Pulse nightclub, according to audio recordings.
The recordings between police negotiators and shooter Omar Mateen don’t stray from transcripts of conversations released previously by the city of Orlando.
But they do capture police officials strategizing among themselves about how to talk to Mateen, who hung up several times during the three-hour standoff at the gay nightclub.
Circuit Judge Margaret Schreiber ruled this week that Mateen’s calls should be made public.
But she won’t rule on releasing other 911 calls from the mass shooting until she has listened to them.
More than two dozen news groups, including The Associated Press, have been fighting the city in court over the release of more than 600 calls dealing with the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
The city has released about two-thirds of the calls but is still withholding the 232 calls that lawyers for the city say depict suffering or killing and are exempt from Florida’s public records laws.
The media groups have argued that the city’s application of the exemption is too broad and that the 911 calls will help the public evaluate the police response to the shooting at the gay nightclub.
In one of the calls released, a police official can be heard early on saying he’s not convinced the person on the call is in the club.
At another point, the lead police negotiator, named “Andy,” said, “He sounds like he is in a very sterile environment, like he’s at a home or an apartment.”
But another police official said Mateen could be in an office or bathroom.
The recordings also show how the negotiators were feeling out whether they had accurately identified the suspect.
“We called him Omar,” said Andy, who was then interrupted by another police official who says, “He didn’t deny it.”
Between calls, they mulled over what Mateen had told them, such as his refusal to answer if he had an accomplice.
They discussed Mateen’s claims that he was wearing a vest and that he had explosives in a car outside the nightclub. He wasn’t wearing a bomb vest and there were no explosives in a car, but police officials didn’t know that at the time.
“He said the bombs are in a car in the parking lot. He’s not confirming anything,” a police official can be heard saying in the background as Andy implores Mateen to respond.
Andy tells another police official that Mateen had claimed to be wearing a vest but he didn’t know what type.
“A dress vest. A bulletproof vest, or a bomb vest. That’s all I got. We questioned him on it and he shut down,” the police negotiator said.
The judge allowed family members of the 49 patrons who died to testify about whether they wanted the remaining 911 calls made public. Some opposed the release while others were OK with the transcript being made public.
“It would be extremely difficult for family and friends to listen to these calls,” said Jessica Silva, whose brother, Juan Rivera Velazquez, died with his partner in Pulse. “Just listening to one of the calls … We can recognize voices. Just listening to them screaming … How are we going to feel?”
The FBI has offered no indication of when the probe into the shooting that also left 53 people seriously wounded will be done.
An FBI spokeswoman didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment.
Aileen Carillo, whose brother, Simon Adrian Carillo Fernandez, died in the nightclub, said she would like to listen to the calls to help her understand what happened, but didn’t want them to be made public.
“I would like to know what happened. We haven’t really heard what happened. We are unaware of the facts,” Carillo said on the witness stand through a Spanish interpreter.
More than a third of the 49 patrons killed during the Pulse nightclub massacre were shot in the head, and most of the victims had multiple bullet wounds, according to autopsy reports released this week.
Only two victims at the LGBT club had traces of soot, gunpowder or stippling, meaning most of the victims were likely more than 3 feet away when they were shot in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
The autopsies show that about half of the victims had five wounds or more, and one victim had 13 wounds.
Gunman Omar Mateen was killed during a shootout with law enforcement officers following a three-hour standoff June 12.
“It shows he shot a lot and had a lot of ammo,” said Dr. Stephen Cina, a Colorado-based forensic pathologist, who has no connection to the case.
The large number of head injuries and multiple wounds on victims suggests Mateen was targeting his victims rather than shooting randomly, said Josh Wright, a former Florida Department of Law Enforcement firearms analyst who now has a forensics consulting firm in Tallahassee.
“I wouldn’t expect to have those many hits on those many people if you weren’t actually trying to take aim and make sure you hit your target rather than running around, spraying bullets,” said Wright, who also has no connection to the case.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating whether anyone died from friendly fire during the shootout at the gay nightclub.
Officers knocked down a wall and stormed the club, killing Mateen in hail of gunfire. Mateen, who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, was shot eight times by police.
Cina said without evidence of stippling — particles of gunpowder in the skin — it’s difficult to know if the victims were shot in the head point-blank.
Michael Knox, a Jacksonville-based firearms expert, said the large number of victims with multiple wounds could also suggest Mateen was firing rapidly at groups of people in the crowded nightclub.
The unusual paths of some gunshots support eyewitnesses who said people were crouching under tables and hiding in toilet stalls.
“Some tried to run or hide under tables so you’re going to have these weird bullet paths,” he said.
The Human Rights Campaign, the largest U.S. LGBT-rights organization, on Friday called for several measures to curb gun violence in the aftermath of the attack that killed 49 patrons and staff at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
HRC endorsed steps to limit access to assault-style rifles, expand background checks, and limit access to firearms for suspected terrorists and people with a history of domestic abuse.
But despite the worldwide outrage over the June 12 attack in Orlando by a gunman armed with an assault rifle, there is no indication as yet that tougher federal gun-control measures are forthcoming to address the nation’s epidemic of gun violence.
In the Senate, a filibuster by Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut did little to break GOP obstruction in Congress over gun restrictions. Republicans are standing firm against any new legislation unless the National Rifle Association, which represents the financial interests of weapons and ammunition makers, first approves it.
President Barack Obama, who visited the victims’ families in Orlando, called on lawmakers to act.
“Those who defend the easy accessibility of assault weapons should meet these families and explain why that makes sense,” Obama said.
HRC’s board of directors approve the resolution on the gun measures Thursday evening at a special meeting. The organization said it was the first time in its 36-year history that it had called such a meeting to address a policy matter that extended far beyond the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The HRC’s president, Chad Griffin, blamed the massacre on “a toxic combination of two things: a deranged, unstable individual who had been conditioned to hate (LGBT) people, and easy access to military-style guns.”
The safety of LGBT people “depends on our ability to end both the hatred toward our community and the epidemic of gun violence that has spiraled out of control,” Griffin said.
The HRC noted that according to the latest FBI statistics, more than 20 percent of hate crimes reported nationally in 2014 targeted people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
It also repeated its call for Congress to pass an LGBT-inclusive federal nondiscrimination law, and for legislatures to do likewise at the state level. At present, only 18 states have comprehensive statewide laws banning discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity.
Equality California, a major LGBT-rights group in California, also called for new gun-safety measures on Friday, urging action at both the federal and state level. It endorsed a package of bills in the California legislature, including measures that would require federal licensing of ammunition vendors, ban possession of large-capacity magazines, fund a center for research into firearm-related violence, and require anyone whose firearm is lost or stolen to notify law enforcement within five days of the loss.
See also: 20-plus years of the NRA’s anti-gay hate