Review of the Pulse Nightclub Shooting Attack
On June 12, 2016, emergency services operators were notified of a shooting that took place at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. As is often the case, initial public reports of the incident were incorrect as media outlets rushed to disseminate information without verifying the sources or their accounts. Several narratives began to be written as more was learned about details of the shooting. First, the Pulse Nightclub is known to be an establishment frequented by the LGBTQ community, as such, reports that the shooting was related to homophobia. Second, increased tensions surrounding the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and the group’s urging for supporters to act on their own in terror attacks caused some to speculate the perpetrator was an Islamic terrorist. Third, given the frequency of mass shooting events in the United States, several media outlets raised the potential that the Pulse incident was another episode in a long series of such massacres. All of these preliminary theories would be proven at least possibly behind the attack (Aisch, 2016).
What is important to understand about the Orlando shooting is the way in which the perpetrator was able to carry out his assault to determine how future efforts could be stopped or the damage inflicted could be reduced. Also important in reviewing the incident is how law enforcement – both local and federal – were able to confront the assailant to learn ways to better handle these situations in the future. Particularly relevant to this attack was the opportunity provided to communicate and negotiate with the shooter. The manner in which the perpetrator was engaged and what was accomplished during the communication would serve as an instructive tool for future situations similar to this event.
The aftermath of the attack also provides the opportunity to learn from how the event was handled. Among the aspects of the Pulse nightclub shooting that are relevant are the ways information was provided to the media, how the suspect was identified, how information was delivered to the victims’ families, and how the emergency medical technicians were able to treat the victims after the threat was neutralized.
Political Climate Surrounding the Attack
The political climate surrounding the attack in Orlando was different in that a presidential election cycle was underway. This climate added to the increased attention for the event and caused media outlets to observe the situation through a political lens that was less than helpful in getting accurate information out to the public. There is no indication that press releases and press conferences provided by law enforcement officials or anyone else in the leadership of the response effort had their assessment affected by politics any more than would usually be the case (Williams, Connor, Ortiz, & Gosk, 2016).
One of the factors law enforcement had to consider when confronted with the task of responding to initial reports of shooting was that ISIS had recently embarked upon a campaign to inspire lone-wolf attackers to commit acts of terror around the world. Instead of being able to link potential extremists by recognizing tangible associations or travel to regions known for training radicalized operatives, a new era of ISIS-inspired terror was possible and the Pulse nightclub shooter had to be suspected of potential ties to the group (Williams, Connor, Ortiz, & Gosk, 2016).
Speculation about a motive was addressed by statements made by the shooter in which he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and drew specific attention to a coalition force bombing in Iraq that killed ISIS commander Abu Wahib. Though the motive was advanced by the shooter, other factors had to be considered by responding officers. One reason the motive mattered in this particular situation was the usual procedure for Islamic Terrorists is to inflict as much damage on their target, inflict damage on law enforcement, and sacrifice their own lives in doing so. Knowing that the shooter was working under extremist guidelines made confronting him different than other mass shooters (Sallah, 2016).
Law Enforcement Response
The first intervention of law enforcement occurred when an off-duty Orlando Police Department officer who was working security at the location engaged in an exchange of gunfire with the shooter. The officer was unable to compete with the shooter who was armed with an assault rifle and pistol. The Orlando Police Department issued an “all call major alert” which caused the scene to be swarmed by local officers. Responding officers entered into the establishment and began returning fire toward the shooter (Perez-Pena, 2016).
The club’s managers alerted everyone on social media that an emergency was taking place and that everyone should evacuate. Since the club was large with several rooms and restrooms, the alerts reached patrons who were away from the direct scene and unable to understand whether the incident was an authentic emergency, and if so what the proper next steps should be to ensure their safety. The Facebook posting was the alert that some needed to understand the threat better and to seek cover according to the Miami Herald account of the minute-by-minute report (Perez-Pena, 2016).
Police officers from 11 different stations responded to the situation. The overwhelming firepower caused the shooter to retreat deeper into the building. Law enforcement officials were unable to provide assurances that some of the fleeing patrons may have been hit by crossfire from police officers in an exchange with the shooter. As the situation became clearer to officers on-site, the determination was made to resist advancing further into the part of the establishment where the shooter was located and instead officers waited for tactical response teams that were better able to lead the assault that would hopefully neutralize the shooter (Perez-Pena, 2016).
Contact with the Shooter
Approximately 30 minutes after initial reports of gunshots the shooter called 9-1-1 but did not speak with the operator. Another call to 9-1-1 was subsequently placed and the shooter commenced in communicating with officials and operators over the course of three hours. After law enforcement negotiators considered the content of the communication from the shooter, including several references to other known terrorists and a pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State, it was presumed that any possibility to end the conflict peacefully were remote. The negotiators decided to keep the communication going for the purpose of occupying the attention of the shooter while rescue efforts were employed to save patrons still trapped inside of the building (Harris, 2016).
Assault on the Perpetrator’s Location
The final decision to mount an assault to neutralize the shooter was made after the shooter made repeated references that gave law enforcement officers the indication that he was not planning to be taken alive. Included in the shooter’s statements were references to explosives and snipers positioned outside – an apparent attempt to make officers believe the shooter was not alone (Aisch, 2016).
Prior to initiating the assault on the building, law enforcement officers announced to the patrons still inside that they should move away from the walls of the building. Flash-bang grenades were inserted to divert attention away from the point of entry and an armored vehicle penetrated the wall of the nightclub to allow officers to enter. The shooter, hearing noise from the front of the building (the distraction) retreated into the bathroom. Police entered the bathroom and ended the confrontation with gunfire (Aisch, 2016).
Resulting Policy Changes
The implications of the Orlando shooting attack and response by law enforcement raises issues related to homegrown terrorists, cooperation between local and federal law enforcement, and gun laws. Tactically, questions were raised in the aftermath of the incident about a change in protocol. Specifically, the three hours that passed between the first contact with the shooter and the final assault have raised doubts about whether more people could have been saved if the action was taken sooner. The shooter was employed as an armed security guard. The policies surrounding the psychological evaluation of armed employees for the firm who employed the shooter were reviewed and a fine for improper vetting was levied (Klayman, 2016). Officers who respond to mass shooting situations in the Orlando area were provided with upgraded equipment that would have been more helpful in the Pulse attack (Perez-Pena, 2016). Facebook created a system for alerting users’ family that they are safe, a tool that would have been useful as hostages were trapped in the nightclub for hours without the ability to contact relatives and friends or to give response service teams an indication of the number of innocent individuals were still inside.
Aisch, G. (2016). What happened inside the Orlando nightclub. New York Times. Retrieved March 10, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/06/12/us/what-happened-at-the-orlando-nightclub-shooting.html
Harris, D. (2016). Orlando police released nine Pulse 911 calls. Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved March 09, 2017, from http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/pulse-orlando-nightclub-shooting/os-pulse-orlando-911-calls-20160901-story.html
Klayman, B. (2016). The security firm that employed the Orlando club killer fined for inaccurate forms. Yahoo News. Retrieved March 10, 2017, from https://www.yahoo.com/news/security-firm-employed-orlando-club-killer-fined-inaccurate-202827699.html
Perez-Pena, R. (2016). Orlando police defend actions as the clock ticked in the massacre. New York Times. Retrieved March 9, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/21/us/fbi-transcripts-orlando-shooting-omar-mateen.html?rref=collection%2Fnewseventcollection%2F2016-orlando-shooting&action=click&contentCollection=us®ion=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=collection&_r=0
Sallah, M. (2016). What happened between 2 and 5 a.m.? The Orlando massacre, minute by minute. Miami Herald. Retrieved March 10, 2017, from http://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article84076637.html
Williams, P., Connor, T., Ortiz, E., & Gosk, S. (2016). Gunman Omar Mateen described as belligerent, racist, ‘toxic’. NBC News. Retrieved March 10, 2017, from http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/orlando-nightclub-massacre/terror-hate-what-motivated-orlando-nightclub-shooter-n590496