Law Enforcement Releases Partial 911 Transcripts From Orlando Shooter

Jun 20, 2016
Originally published on June 20, 2016 7:30 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We begin in Orlando with the latest news on the mass shooting at a nightclub there a week ago. The FBI has released partial transcripts of the phone calls the gunman made to 911 and police during the attack. All told, he held people hostage inside the nightclub for three hours before police killed him. There's an update to the timeline of that night as well.

We turn now to NPR's Hansi Lo Wang. He joins us from Orlando. And Hansi, to begin, what more have you learned about these transcripts and this timeline that tell us things we didn't know before about that night?

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Well, the main thing we're learning, Audie, is the timing, which is a really big issue because this lasted for more than three hours - this entire situation. Forty nine people have died, but we're not exactly sure how did they die. Immediately after their gun wounds, did they bleed out?

And what we've learned from the police and FBI today was that police backup arrived within two minutes after a security officer who was working security at the club engaged in gunfire initially with this shooter. And then after about 10 minutes later, a SWAT team was called in. So it was an active shooter situation that quickly became a hostage situation. It lasted, like you said, about three hours.

And police said that there was no gunfire in the club during those three hours. That's a new detail. And they confirmed details about potential threats they were dealing with, threats that the shooter made, saying that there was a vehicle outside that had bombs in it, and that there - he had an explosive vest similar to ones that were used during the Paris attacks and that more of this type of action he was threatening was going to happen over the next few days.

All those turned out to not be true. The police ran those down, and the police just said these were the reasons why they were so cautious in how they approached entering the club to help rescue the folks still stuck inside.

CORNISH: What other records of that night are authorities keeping under wraps?

WANG: Well, just to be clear, they did release a full transcript of a 50-second phone call the shooter made to 911, but the transcripts of the phone calls the shooter made to crisis negotiators with the Orlando Police Department - those have not been released. Neither has the audio. They did release a summary, and that's where we learned the details about the bomb threats.

And they also have not released transcripts of the phone calls that the victims made themselves from inside the club to police, calling 911, asking for help. They were also feeding information to police officers to help them extract survivors.

And these - this decision was made by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch. She's actually coming to Orlando tomorrow. And the reasoning, DOJ - Department of Justice - says is they're not trying to hide anything. They're just doing it out of respect for the victims. They also don't want to give terrorists groups that were mentioned in these calls more publicity.

And it's important to mention that NPR has joined other news organization to request these transcripts and other records from that night from the city of Orlando in part to bring more transparency to better understand the full picture of what happened.

CORNISH: What are some of the outstanding questions here?

WANG: Well, the main question is what exactly happened during those three hours. Police say there was no gunfire, and they gave a broad sketch that negotiations were going on. But we don't know exactly if there was any friendly fire that was exchanged by the police, and we asked - and if casualties resulting from them. We asked the police chief that today. He said it's part of the investigation, and he defended the officers. This is what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

CHIEF JOHN MINA: Those killings are on the suspect and on the suspect alone in my mind. All that will be investigated, but our officers acted heroically and did as they were trained in an unbelievable circumstances and did a phenomenal job.

WANG: And so it's not quite clear exactly, again, if casualties resulted from exchanges of gunfire from the police, any friendly fire. And that's an important question because that will tell us exactly how some of the victims died.

CORNISH: And briefly, Hansi, what more do we know about motive?

WANG: That's still a big question for investigators. They say he's not - there's no evidence directly linking him to terrorist groups. And they're still trying to figure out exactly why he did what he did.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Hansi Lo Wang from Orlando. Hansi, thank you.

WANG: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.