Surveillance footage from inside the Orlando club the night of the rampage shows Omar Mateen firing at people, stopping and then shooting again those who were already wounded, said officials who have viewed the evidence.
The video suggests “he was making sure anybody who was shot was dead,” said one official, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation into the shooting is still ongoing.
The footage corroborates eyewitness accounts that Mateen quickly shot through a 30-round magazine and then reloaded, proceeding to empty another 30 rounds into the wounded sprawled in front of him.
The video of the attack has become a key piece of evidence as officials piece together what happened in the early morning hours of June 19. The FBI declined to comment.
Eyewitness accounts indicate so far that Mateen killed most of his victims during the initial minutes of the massacre. Mateen was using a powerful Sig Sauer MCX rifle firing .223 caliber ammunition at a velocity of 3,200 feet per second. And he was a trained shooter from his time as a student at a police academy.
On Saturday night, before leaving his home, Mateen told his wife he was going to see an old friend nicknamed Nemo, said officials and others familiar with the case. He then drove to Orlando. Officials said that Mateen got a wristband, entered the club and then left. He later returned and began his bloody rampage.
In recent days, the Orlando police department has faced tough questions about its officers’ actions during their hours-long encounter with Mateen inside Pulse. Some inside the club have wondered, for example, whether police should have moved more quickly to confront the gunman, and whether anyone who was gravely wounded inside the club died because rescuers were unable to reach them.
Mateen told authorities he had a vehicle outside with bombs and a vest like the kind “used in France.” Officials on the scene believed those threats were real.
During a news conference earlier this week, authorities repeatedly defended their response at the club. The officers who arrived at the shooting that night “should not be second-guessed,” U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III said. “They performed valiantly during those early morning hours. Lives were saved because of their heroic work.”
Investigators are still filling in a timeline of the evening’s events, which were often marked by confusion about the shooter’s intentions.
An officer working security off-duty at the club first exchanged gunfire with Mateen shortly after 2 a.m., and by 2:08 a.m. more officers were rushing in for another confrontation.
One officer who arrived at the scene said he and others went into the club but did not see Mateen, who appeared to be holed up in the bathroom area. The officers were told to hold their position aiming their rifles toward the bathrooms, said Brandon Cornwell, and they waited “15 or 20 minutes – could’ve been longer” for the SWAT team to arrive.
Officials have said that at 2:35 a.m. Mateen called 911 from a bathroom where he had apparently taken hostages.
Authorities tried to remove those they could out of the club – from a patio, the dance floor and dressing rooms – and began negotiations with Mateen, officials have said. Those talks broke down just after 5 a.m., around the time that Mateen threatened to strap hostages with explosives and send them out into the club, authorities have said.
The final confrontation was perhaps the most chaotic. Authorities tried to detonate an explosive charge to breach the wall to the bathrooms, but it did not create an opening as intended, Mark Canty, the Orlando Police Department’s SWAT commander, has said. They then used an armored vehicle to ram a hole, which ended up between two of the club’s bathrooms, Canty said.
Canty said Mateen was in the north of those bathrooms, and officers created another hole in the south bathroom so hostages could escape. Mateen, he said, soon emerged from the other hole – between the two bathrooms – where he was fatally shot in a final gun battle with police.
John W. Mina, the Orlando police chief, said at a news conference Monday that he thinks “there was this misconception that we didn’t do anything for three hours” and emphasized that police officers were continuing to work, an effort that included heading back into the club to rescue people. He declined to say whether officers had inadvertently wounded bystanders in the encounter but said Mateen bore responsibility for what transpired.
“That’s all part of the investigation, but here’s what I will tell you: Those killings are on the suspect and the suspect alone, in my mind,” Mina said.
Dorian Wayne, who was in the club that night, said he thinks police “could have run in and shot” Mateen, but he was sympathetic to the tough decisions law enforcement had to make.
“I feel for the people who were in there and didn’t get the proper help that they needed,” Wayne said. “But at the same time, I understand the cops – they’re human.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Adam Goldman, Matt Zapotosky