ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Five days on from the massacre at Pulse club in Orlando, there are still gaps in the timeline. There are unanswered questions about the shooter's motive and about the sequence of events. We don't even know how the shooter got into the club with his weapons.
NPR's Caitlin Dickerson and Hansi Lo Wang are part of our team in Orlando they've been piecing together what we do know. And for the next several minutes, we'll hear from them, beginning with the evening before the massacre. A warning that their story features difficult details about the attack, including the sound of gunfire.
CAITLIN DICKERSON, BYLINE: We know this story - mass shooting, dozens dead, more injured.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: This time, the highest death toll in modern U.S. history - not in a church or a school, but a different kind of sacred space, the kind of gathering place where, for decades, LGBT Americans have sought refuge from discrimination and violence.
DICKERSON: All week, NPR and our member station WMFE have been reporting on the Orlando shootings. And just like the people who live here, we're trying to wrap our heads around what happened. We're going to walk through new details we've learned about what happened between Saturday night and Sunday morning. We'll tell you what we still don't know and we can make of all of it.
WANG: We'll take you to three key locations - inside the Pulse nightclub, where Omar Mateen gunned down 49 people and injured more than 50 other, the surrounding neighborhood, where residents watched helplessly and the Orlando Regional Medical Center, in an emergency room doctors compared to a war scene.
DICKERSON: We're going to start about 10 minutes before 10 p.m. on the evening of Saturday, June 11. Like a lot of Saturdays, Francisco Pabon pulled into the parking lot at Pulse. It was Latin night. This music was uploaded from the club on Facebook. Pabon dropped his car off of with the valet, walked inside and said hi to his friends.
FRANCISCO PABON: Oh, hi, how you doing, you know? I go buy a drink, and my friends start talking to me.
DICKERSON: Pabon is 22, from Puerto Rico and has lived in Orlando for three years. He's in community college. He was at Pulse with more than a dozen friends. They all watched the drag show at midnight.
PABON: Everything was fine. Like, it was a perfect night - like, everybody talking, dancing, having fun, like...
WANG: There were newcomers at Pulse that night, too.
PATIENCE CARTER: This is my first time ever being in Florida, the first time ever being in Orlando, first time ever being at Pulse nightclub.
WANG: Patience Carter is 20 years old. She was visiting from Philadelphia with two friends, Tiara Parker and Akyra Murray. Murray had just graduated from high school.
CARTER: It wasn't until about 1:58 when I looked at Akyra's phone. And I turned to Tiara. I said, so how are we getting home? Tiara told me, oh, we're going to get a Uber. And a few seconds from her ordering the Uber and me asking that question, that's when we started hearing the gunshots.
WANG: A shooter was inside. He had a handgun and a semi-automatic assault-style rifle. He was firing at people.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)
WANG: Bullets whizzed by patrons like Amanda Alvear, who recorded this sound on Snapchat before she was killed. The shooter exchanged gunfire with an off-duty police officer working security. Francisco Pabon and his friend were panicking on the club's patio.
PABON: I was like, oh, my - what happened? Oh, my gosh - we - I was like, oh, my gosh. We need to get out. We need to get out. We need to get out. We need to get out.
WANG: Pabon and other club-goers scrambled for the exits, some running over the bodies of those who had already been shot. Patience Carter hit the ground, terrified.
CARTER: We just went from having the time of our lives to the worst night of our lives, all within a matter of minutes.
DICKERSON: Across the street from Pulse, Bobby Edge was at home, sleeping. You can see the nightclub from his front porch.
BOBBY EDGE: The first thing I heard was my dog waking me up. She knew something was going on. She could feel it. So I got up, put on my skivvies. All of a sudden, I heard two sets of fire.
DICKERSON: Edge is 58. He has two wooden chairs set up outside his house, where he spends most everyday with his dog, Emma, sitting on his lap because he's disabled and can't work. It was 2 in the morning, but Edge sat down anyway.
EDGE: All of a sudden, you started seeing people everywhere. And they started to run into this parking lot. And people was talking about, where's such and such? Where's such and such? I've been hit. I've been shot. Such and such is dead.
DICKERSON: Pulse is about a half-mile from the largest trauma center in the area, The Orlando Regional Medical Center, where a regular overnight staff was in place. Dr. Gary Parish is an Emergency Department director there. He was scheduled to go home in less than an hour
GARY PARISH: Around 2 o'clock or so, we got word that there were some shootings, but we didn't know quite what was about to hit us.
CHADWICK SMITH: Just started coming - one came, then another came, then another came.
KATHRYN BONDANI: They weren't being brought in by ambulances. They were being dropped off in truckloads.
SMITH: The flow did not stop, and I quickly realized that I needed to call backup.
BONDANI: In a matter of 30 minutes, I think we had multiple surgeons coming in the door to help us out.
SMITH: I said, please come. Please come. We need your help.
WANG: Along with Parish, that was Chadwick Smith, Kathryn Bondani and Joseph Ibrahim. Doctors and nurses at other hospitals were also preparing for more shooting victims, who were streaming through emergency rooms.
DICKERSON: Outside Pulse, the police response started minutes after 2 a.m., with two officers who were nearby, and then it grew massively. More than a hundred officers from half a dozen different agencies converged on the club.
Mike, who lives across the street from Pulse, was relaxing outside on his front porch with a beer. We're not using his last name because he's afraid of retaliation for speaking about what he saw. All of a sudden, the scene outside looked like something out of a movie
MIKE: Then, all of a sudden, the helicopters came in, and it was just even louder - because I feel like I could've just reach up and grabbed a hold of them. That's how close they were. They were, like - my house was shaking it was like, boom - shaking. Windows were rattling.
WANG: Back in the club, some of the injured played dead on the dance floor as the gunman paced, laughing and shooting at bodies on the ground. Others huddled in the bathroom, barricaded inside stalls.
CARTER: And it's still not real to me yet. It's still not real to me. I'm just like, why are they doing all of this?
WANG: Patience Carter and other hostages use their phones to contact friends and family. Some were afraid to talk, so they texted, asking others to call 911.
CARTER: And I could see piles of body lying over the toilet seat.
WANG: Carter's friend, Tiara Parker, was nearby in the bathroom, lying down.
TIARA PARKER: Yeah, for hours - looking at blood. It was running in the side of my face. I had it on my lips. Like, it was disgusting.
WANG: Parker was with her cousin, Akrya Murray, who was bleeding from a gunshot wound. Parker says one man had a serious head wound.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOHN MINA: We believed further loss of life was imminent. I made the decision to commence the rescue operation and do the explosive breach.
WANG: We've learned that the gunmen burst in and out of the bathroom. At 2:30 a.m., he made the first of three 911 calls, according to FBI Director James Comey. NPR and other news organizations have requested recordings of those calls.
DICKERSON: What we know for now is that the shooter pledged allegiance to ISIS. He said he was inspired by the Boston Marathon bombers and a suicide bomber for the al-Nusra Front in Syria.
WANG: He also searched on Facebook for Pulse Orlando and shooting and continued firing.
DICKERSON: During this time, police are sneaking into the club to get victims out. In the last day, we've learned they pulled an air-conditioning unit out of a wall to reach some, all while officers outside are trying to figure out how to overtake the shooter. Omar Mateen makes that job more difficult. He tells police he has three snipers positioned outside, ready to kill any officer who advances. He claims he'll put bomb vests on four hostages.
As 5 a.m. approaches, hostages have been holed up for three hours, some of them bleeding profusely, calling police on their cell phones, pleading for help. We still don't know how many died waiting for medical care. Orlando Police Chief John Mina decides they can't wait any longer.
Chief Mina orders officers to use explosives to penetrate the nightclub from the outside, but it doesn't work, so they move to Plan B. They ram an armored vehicle into the building, trying to break into the bathroom, where Patience Carter is still hiding and where her friend, Akyra, died.
CARTER: I could see his feet, like, scooting back, scooting back, scooting back as he heard the police outside.
DICKERSON: It seems the suspect knows his time is up. He uses those final moments to inflict more pain on his hostages.
CARTER: The last thing that I heard before the police said, you know, move away from the walls, because obviously they were about to bust through again, he said, hey, you, to someone on the floor inside the bathroom, and shot them, shot another person and then shot another person, who happened to be directly behind me.
DICKERSON: The armored vehicle breaks through bathroom wall on the second attempt. An eyewitness uploaded this YouTube video capturing the intense moment when police begin shooting.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)
WANG: At 5:53 a.m., the Orlando Police Department tweets the shooter inside the club is dead.
DICKERSON: We still don't know whether any civilians were hit in the barrage.
ANGEL SANTIAGO: I finally heard the police arrive. They - I heard police yelling drop it, hands up.
WANG: This is Angel Santiago. He was losing blood from earlier gunshot wounds in his left foot and right knee.
SANTIAGO: And they instructed me to drag myself toward them. I yelled - I said, you know, there are people shot, people who were killed in the bathroom; we need your help. The sun rose over Orlando at 6:27 a.m. on Sunday. The streets were still crammed full of people. First responders categorized the injured, separating those who could be helped from those who could not.
Francisco Pabon, who watched the drag show with his friends earlier, was still outside, frantic, trying to find them. Pabon was in the street for hours, but says it felt like days. In all, four of his friends were hospitalized, seven dead. He got word about the final death at nine thirty a.m.
PABON: (Through interpreter) She told me he didn't make it. We burst into tears. I was asking, why? They were hours of despair and anguish.
WANG: In the days since the shooting, Orlando's been trying to pull itself back together. But for neighbors who live near Pulse nightclub, like Jessica Walker, reminders of the tragedy are still outside their front doors.
JESSICA WALKER: The most heart-wrenching thing for me right now is that because overflow parking happens on my street, there have been cars that have been there since Saturday. And they're still there, and you wonder.
WANG: And now, almost a week later, some of those cars are still there. In Orlando, I'm Hansi Lo Wang.
DICKERSON: And I'm Caitlin Dickerson, NPR News.
SHAPIRO: This story was produced by NPR's Sami Yenigun, who's been covering the Orlando shooting with our reporters all week.
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