The following is a description of the deadly shooting rampage that unfolded at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub early Sunday, where 49 people were shot dead and 53 others were wounded, according to authorities and witness accounts.
Gunman Omar Mateen was killed in a shootout with police.
Closing time: shooter on the scene
— Just after 2:00 am as the club was closing, Mateen, a 29-year-old American of Afghan descent, opens fire.
— An off-duty policeman working at the club engages the suspect, “somewhere near one of the entrances,” according to Orlando Police Chief John Mina. Shots are fired.
— Shortly after that, more officers respond to the scene and enter the club. More shots are fired.
— At 2:09 am, the club posts a message on Facebook that reads: “Everyone get out of Pulse and keep running.”
— Clubgoer Christopher Hanson says he thought at first that the loud, rhythmic sounds were part of the music “until you heard too many shots. It was like, bang, bang, bang, bang.”
“I just saw bodies going down and I was ordering a drink at the bar. I fell down. I crawled out. People were trying to escape out the back,” he told CNN.
— Mateen, armed with an assault rifle and a handgun, retreats to a club bathroom, where Mina says he is believed to have held four or five hostages.
— “It was like complete chaos. If I can relate it to anything, I would say it was like a scene out of a movie,” witness Janiel Gonzalez tells AFP.
“People were screaming ‘Help me, help me, I’m trapped.’ And people were getting trampled. There was no clear exit sign at the club, so we didn’t know which door to take or where to go.”
— One of the wounded, Angel Colon Jr, describes how Mateen moved through the club, shooting at each person on the ground to be sure they were dead.
Police fear ‘bomb vests’ talk
— After Mateen takes hostages, police are able to free “dozens and dozens of people” both injured and not injured, Mina says.
— Mateen calls the emergency number 911 a total of three times, according to FBI Director James Comey.
“During the calls, he said he was doing this for the leader of ISIL, who he named and pledged loyalty to,” Comey tells reporters on Monday, referring to the Islamic State group.
“But he also appeared to claim solidarity with the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing and solidarity with a Florida man who died as a suicide bomber in Syria for al-Nusra Front, a group in conflict with the so-called Islamic State.”
— Mateen also talks to crisis negotiators on the scene. “Things kind of stabilized,” Mina says.
— Eventually, Mateen talks about “bomb vests, about explosives throughout,” Mina says. Police fear the worst and start planning to blast their way into the club.
— At 5:00 am, Mina says he takes the “hard decision” to move in, fearing that “further loss of life was imminent.”
— A SWAT team carries out a controlled explosion. Police then use an armored vehicle to punch a hole in the wall of the club. Dozens of clubgoers escape through the hole.
— Mateen also emerges and fires at law enforcement. He is killed in the crossfire.
— One police officer is shot in the head, but his helmet saves his life.
— “We believe we prevented a future loss of life and saved many, many lives,” Mina says.