After shooting dozens of people inside the Pulse nightclub, gunman Orlando Mateen falsely claimed he was going to rig bodies with bombs – and swore more violence was coming.
“In the next few days, you’re going to see more of this type of action going on,” Mateen claimed, according to a partial transcript of his calls to police released on Monday.
The FBI released a summary of the calls and a timeline of the shooting that claimed the lives of 49 people and wounded 53 at the gay nightclub in Orlando. The information provided the most detailed scenario yet of the law-enforcement response to what became the deadliest shooting in U.S. history – but also fueled heated political debate over the government’s initial decision to redact references to the Islamic State terrorist group from the transcript.
In the calls during the three-hour standoff inside the club, Mateen identified himself as an “Islamic soldier” and demanded that America stop bombing Syria and Iraq. He also claimed that a car outside the club was rigged with explosives, and that he had a bomb vest similar to one used in recent terror attacks in Paris.
“There is some vehicle outside that has some bombs, just to let you know. You people are gonna get it, and I’m gonna ignite it if they try to do anything stupid,” Mateen said, according to the transcript.
While the FBI has not yet released the audio recording of Mateen’s calls to 911, the killer talked in a “chilling, calm and deliberate manner,” FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Ron Hopper said during a press conference on Monday.
The calls themselves were not released to avoid “re-victimizing” survivors of the shooting, Orlando’s U.S. Attorney Lee Bentley said. Police 911 calls are generally public record in Florida, but can be withheld if they depict a killing, or if a criminal investigation is still considered open.
Although FBI Director James Comey last week detailed Mateen’s phone pledge to ISIS – and confusingly, other groups that are ISIS rivals –the agency on Monday redacted the names of extremist groups that Mateen cited during this calls to police. The stated goal was to deny ISIS the “publicity platform for hateful propaganda.”
“We’re not going to propagate violent rhetoric,” Hopper said Monday morning, adding the shooter “does not represent the religion of Islam.”
The redaction of ISIS mentions, however, immediately drew criticism, the bulk of it coming from Republican leaders who have been critical of the Obama administration’s anti-terrorism strategies. In the immediate aftermath of the attack presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump had faulted Obama for refusing to call the terror attack “radical Islam.” On Monday, the criticism was similar.
“Selectively editing this transcript is preposterous,” Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement. “We know the shooter was a radical Islamist extremist inspired by ISIS. We also know he intentionally targeted the LGBT community. The administration should release the full, unredacted transcript so the public is clear-eyed about who did this, and why.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott also chimed in, telling Fox News on Monday that the entire transcript should be released.
“If it was my family I would want answers. We all would like answers,” he said, adding: “We have to get serious about destroying ISIS.”
By Monday afternoon, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice reversed course, releasing a full version of a 13-line transcript of Mateen’s first call to 911 that included his pledge to ISIS and its leader. The furor had “caused an unnecessary distraction from the hard work that the FBI and our law enforcement partners have been doing to investigate this heinous crime,” DOJ said in a statement.
Authorities also said the timeline was released to dispel criticism that police did not do enough to save victims inside Pulse.
After an initial firefight with police forced Mateen inside a bathroom, no more gunfire was reported until the climatic SWAT raid that led to Mateen’s death. In that time, Orlando Police Chief John Mina said, officers were in and out of the club, pulling wounded victims out.
“I am very confident they saved many, many lives that night,” Mina said.
He did not discount that police gunfire, in the initial gun battle with Mateen, could have killed some victims but said investigators are still trying to reconstruct the chaotic series of events.
“Those killings are on the suspect, on the suspect alone in my mind,” Mina said.
Against the backdrop of a contentious presidential race, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history has stirred debate over gun control, gay rights and the government response to terrorism.
The FBI has said that Mateen was likely self-radicalized through the Internet, and that so far no evidence exists to show he had direct orders from any terrorist groups abroad. His mindset in planning the shooting is certainly muddled – the FBI said earlier that he pledged support for extremist groups that are actually rivals.
His ex-wife, acquaintances and school records also portray him as a mentally unhinged man prone to outbursts and bizarre behavior. And some club patrons have told the media that Mateen frequented the club socially, raising the possibility that he himself might have been gay.
Back in 2013, the FBI probed Mateen after he made “inflammatory” comments to co-workers at the Port St. Lucie courthouse, where he worked for private security firm G4S. He claimed to have relatives who belonged to al-Queda.
But a 10-month investigation –which included agents introducing Mateen to an undercover informant – yielded no evidence of terrorism links. And Mateen himself admitted to making the statements, but he told agents he did so only because his co-workers were teasing him.
The following year, the FBI also probed whether Mateen had any connections to Moner Mohammad Abu Salha, the Vero Beach man who killed himself in a suicide bombing in Syria. No substantive ties were found.
According to the FBI and police timeline, this is how the police response unfolded:
At 2:02 a.m., Orlando police received multiple calls about shots being fired at the popular Pulse nightclub. Two minutes later, officers were at the club. At 2:08 a.m., a group of police “made entrance to Pulse and engaged the shooter.”
According to police, the firefight forced Mateen into a bathroom, where he was now a “barricaded subject.”
As the SWAT team mobilized, Mateen first called 911at 2:35 a.m.
“Praise be to God, and prayers as well as peace be upon the prophet of God,” he said, referring to God in Arabic, according to the transcript. “I let you know, I’m in Orlando and I did the shootings.”
Mateen refused to give him name, but instead mentioned the man who leads ISIS in the war-torn regions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“My name is I pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State,” he said.
Then at 2:48 a.m., the first police “crisis negotiation” call happened. In all, three were made in short order, lasting 28 minutes in all.
In those calls, the FBI said, Mateen insisted American stop bombing Syria and Iraq, and threatened police with a car bomb and a suicide vest.
At 4:21 a.m., Orlando police yanked out an air conditioning unit at a dressing room, saving eight more trapped victims.
Those victims told police that the shooter had said he was going to “put four vests with bombs on victims within 15 minutes.”
That spurred police to punch a hole in the wall at 5:02 a.m. with an explosive charge and an armored car. Victims poured out of the the holes in the wall, and Mateen emerged firing.
SWAT officers shot him dead. Investigators ultimately found no car bomb, or bodies rigged with explosive devices.