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Orlando police officers entered the Pulse nightclub as the attack by a radicalized Muslim gunman was in progress, but were told not to engage the shooter… instead, the officers waited on the SWAT team.
That’s the account of Officer Brandon Cornwell, who was among the first officers to enter the nightclub by breaking through a large glass window as Omar Mateen was still firing his weapon, The Washington Post reported.
The Post reported:
After an initial burst of fire between Omar Mateen and a security guard at the Pulse nightclub, a group of five or six police officers arrived on the scene within minutes, broke through a large glass window and entered the club as the killing of 49 people was underway inside, according to a Belle Isle, Fla., police officer who was among the first responders.
Officer Brandon Cornwell, 25, said the ad-hoc team spent the first seconds in the dimly lit club “trying to locate exactly where the shooter was — we kept hearing people scream and shots fired.”
He and the other officers followed the sounds to the bathroom area, where Mateen was now holed up. But instead of entering the bathroom, the officers aimed their assault rifles toward the area and were told by commanders to hold their position as the sounds of gunfire stopped, according to Cornwell. And so they waited “15 or 20 minutes — could’ve been longer” — until the SWAT team arrived, he said. Cornwell never saw Mateen.
Cornwell’s account differs from the FBI, which said police first responders “engaged the shooter” inside the club at 2:08 a.m., according to the Post.
There is also questions about when SWAT may have entered the club once the first responders retreated — the FBI’s timeline does not describe any SWAT movement into the building until 5 a.m., the newspaper reported.
Amid all the chaos and confusion, there were reports that the shooter may be wearing a bomb — the reports would later prove to be untrue.
Because Mateen stopped shooting while in the bathroom, a former SWAT commander told the Post that would give officers an opportunity to take stock of the situation, clear out survivors elsewhere in the club and develop a plan.
“We just basically stayed there, waited for movement, and we just held our position until SWAT got there,” Cornwell told the newspaper. “Once SWAT got there, they told us to retreat, that they’d take over because we were not really in tactical gear — we were just in our police uniforms.”
“We got word from higher up, and it was communicated to the OPD lieutenant that we needed to withdraw,” he said.
Jeannette McCoy, a club-goer who got out as the attack got underway, saw officers at the main entrance of the building.
“I was yelling, ‘Go in there, go in there, my friends are in there,’” McCoy said. “People are bleeding to death.”
There were accounts of some survivors being rescued inside the club by officers within the first half-hour or so, the Post reported.
Orlando Police Department’s SWAT commander Capt. Mark Canty said he believed that everyone “did a good job,” but that the incident will be thoroughly reviewed.
“That’s the worst part of this,” he said. “I think we did an outstanding job, but unfortunately people died.”
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