Survivors Describe Timeline Of Events Leading Up To Orlando Shooting

Jun 13, 2016
Originally published on June 15, 2016 9:53 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

NPR's Hansi Lo Wang is also in Orlando. He's been piecing together the timeline of events that turned a regular night at Pulse Nightclub into one of the country's worst tragedies. A warning that what we're about to hear includes moments of gunfire as recorded by a victim and later by someone who managed to escape safely. Here's Hansi's report.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: After a night of salsa, merengue and Dominican bachata music, closing time at the Pulse was supposed to be around 2 a.m. on Sunday.

RAY RIVERA: I was kind of winding the night down by playing, you know, some mellow reggae and stuff like that.

WANG: Ray Rivera was inside the club that night, DJing in the patio area.

RIVERA: And I heard something that sounded like firecrackers. And at that point, I went ahead and kind of lowered the music, thought maybe somebody was playing a prank.

WANG: It wasn't. A shooter carrying a handgun and a AR-15 assault-style rifle had entered the club, spraying bullets.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

WANG: A Snapchat video of gunfire echoing through the club was recorded by one of the victims, Amanda Alvear, before she died. Rivera said he took cover behind his DJ booth before scrambling out of the club.

RIVERA: Just all hell broke loose, people running for the door, jumping over the gates.

WANG: 2:09 a.m. - a message is posted on the club's Facebook page. Everyone get out of Pulse, and keep running. Meanwhile, an off-duty police officer working security at the club was trying to stop the shooter according to Orlando Police Chief John Mina.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHIEF JOHN MINA: Our officer engaged in a gun battle with that suspect. The suspect, at some point, went back inside the club where more shots were fired.

WANG: Minutes later, club-goer Anthony Torres, after escaping into a car just up the street, recorded video of police cars swarming around the club and uploaded this at 2:16 a.m.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTHONY TORRES: Look at that. They're shooting back and forth. That is crazy.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish).

WANG: About a half mile north, Dr. Michael Cheatham and other surgeons were preparing to receive the wounded at Orlando Regional Medical Center.

MICHAEL CHEATHAM: We were notified of many victims - gunshot victims. As Central Florida's only level one trauma center, we immediately activated our mass casualty incident plan.

WANG: Back at the club at around 2:30 a.m., about a half hour after the shooting began, the shooter dialed 911 according to FBI director James Comey, who spoke to reporters today.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

JAMES COMEY: He called, and he hung up. He called again and spoke briefly with the dispatcher, and then he hung up. And then the dispatcher called him back again, and they spoke briefly. So there were three total calls.

WANG: Calls during which the shooter pledged allegiance to ISIS and said he was inspired by the Boston Marathon bombers and a suicide bomber from Florida for the Al-Nusra Front in Syria.

About an hour and a half after that first call at 3:58 a.m., the Orland Police Department's Twitter account warned residents to stay away from the area. It turned into a hostage situation, says Police Chief John Mina.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MINA: We were being contacted by people in the bathroom nearby, at least 15 people that were in a separate area. And our biggest concern was future loss of life.

WANG: More than an hour later, the department confirmed on Twitter that there was a controlled explosion at the club. It was part of a rescue mission to open up an exterior bathroom wall. Law enforcement eventually made a hole big enough so that dozens of survivors could escape.

MINA: The suspect came out of that hole himself armed with a handgun and a long gun, engaged in a gunbattle with officers where he was ultimately killed.

WANG: A tweet confirmed the shooter's death at 5:53 a.m., ending a national nightmare about a half hour before sunrise. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, Orlando. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.