With rumors flying among survivors of Sunday morning’s attack on Orlando’s Pulse night club that jihadist Omar Mateen had not acted alone, police have confirmed that they are investigating whether some of the victims were killed by friendly fire.
Orlando Police Chief John Mina responded to a question on whether the SWAT team the ultimately stopped the massacre may have hit some clubgoers in the darkness and chaos of the incident. “I will say this, that’s all part of the investigation,” Mina said. He noted that among the likeliest scenarios for misfires was when the SWAT team opened a hole on the outside of the building, from which they extracted an estimated dozens of patrons trapped in the bathroom.
“But I will say when our SWAT officers, about eight or nine officers, opened fire, the backdrop was a concrete wall, and they were being fired upon,” he said.
Local NBC affiliate KARE 11 adds that a “law enforcement source close to the investigation who asked not to be named” also told them that it was possible police struck some patrons due to “a crowd of up to 300 people and the complex layout of the dance club.”
At least one witness has told the media that he was shot at by police. Norman Casiano, who survived the attack by hiding in the bathroom and pretending to be dead, told ABC News that he stayed still and silent until he heard a gunfight that appeared to end when Mateen was killed. When he began to walk out of the bathroom, police shot at him. “I started screaming and yelling, ‘I’m a victim. I’m a victim,’” he said, which stopped the attack.
The whole operation to kill Mateen and rescue those inside took an estimated three hours. The Daily Mail notes that the extended time frame in which police operated – which has led many to criticize the operation – is likely in part a result of the situation switching from an active-shooter situation to a hostage situation when Mateen entered the bathrooms, trapping those inside. “In active-shooter situations, police are now trained to respond immediately, even if only one or two officers are available to confront the suspect. In a hostage crisis, law enforcement generally tries to negotiate,” the Mail notes.
Mina confirmed that police were trying to talk to Mateen to reveal if he had any demands. ‘We had a team of crisis negotiators that talked to the suspect, trying to get as much information as possible, what we could do to help resolve the situation… He wasn’t asking a whole lot, and we were doing most of the asking,’ he said, according to the Daily Mail.
The phone conversations and high death toll – Mateen killed 49 people – have led some survivors to believe that he did not act alone. “There’s no way” he acted alone, survivor Leydiana Puyanera told CNN. She noted that she heard Mateen yell “Allahu akbar,” the Muslim slogan widely known as a battle cry among jihadis, and had heard that there were people holding the doors of the club closed. At least one survivor, Luis Burbano, has told media that he held the door closed fearing the gunman would run out to kill those who escaped.
Another survivor, Patience Carter, has also told media that she saw Mateen “communicating with other people who were involved” on his phone, not just police. “I honestly feel like he wasn’t able to pull that off all by himself,” she added.
Mateen had at least one known accessory: his wife, who told authorities that she had driven him to Pulse that night and tried to convince him not to commit the act of terror. She did not alert law enforcement to his plan, and has not been arrested. She is said to be “cooperating” with authorities.