More than 300 law enforcement personnel and first responders who responded to the Pulse nightclub shooting and its aftermath were honored at Orlando police headquarters
By David Harris
ORLANDO, Fla. — It was a normal night, with people having fun until last call.
“At 2:02 a.m., everything changed,” Orlando Police Master Sgt. Leith Harrell said.
Orlando Police SWAT team members and officers listen to police chief John Mina deliver remarks during a ceremony honoring the officers and staff involved in the response to the Pulse nightclub massacre on May 4. (Photo/Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)
More than 300 law enforcement personnel and first responders who responded to the Pulse nightclub shooting and its aftermath were honored at Orlando police headquarters Thursday.
“During that night there were many brave and heroic acts by law enforcement and citizens,” said Orlando police Chief John Mina.
Several units at the Orlando Police Department — from the initial officers who first engaged with shooter Omar Mateen, to the SWAT team who killed him in a firefight, to the Critical Incident Stress Management team who helped with the mental health of the officers — played a critical role in responding to the incident and its aftermath, officials said.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the men and women at the Orlando Police Department, Orlando Health and our community,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.
Firefighters, EMTs, emergency room doctors and officers from other departments also were honored.
The names of the honored officers streamed on video screens as Harrell read about each unit’s actions on June 12.
The Orlando police officer serving as security at the club, Adam Gruler, shot at Mateen from the outside. A second officer was on scene within 90 seconds.
Within five minutes, teams of officers went inside to look for Mateen and rescue survivors.
“The victims lay together so tight that the living couldn’t be differentiated from the dead,” Harrell said.
Nearly three hours after the initial shots were fired and all survivors except those held in a bathroom with Mateen were rescued, the walls were breached and he began firing again.
The SWAT team killed him in the firefight.
“They stood face-to-face and went toe-to-toe with a killer,” Mina said.
Just because the shooter was dead didn’t mean the incident was over in the following hours, days and weeks.
The club was documented by Crime Scene Investigators. The bodies were removed from the club by the Hazmat team.
The Emergency Services Unit blocked off streets and erected tents near the club for law enforcement to convene.
Within hours, civilian employees with the department took calls from victims’ family members.
Within days, the Critical Incident Stress Management had multiple debriefings for more than 100 officers to ensure their mental health was good.
Other local, state and federal departments, also were thanked.
“Fortunately, we were not alone,” Harrell said.
Citizens also were honored.
Jeff Augustino, a delivery manager from Atlanta for the IT firm TEKsystems, came down from Atlanta.
He went around to the nightclub, police and fire departments and hospitals, to hand out coffee and doughnuts.
The company has offices in Central Florida and Augustino said it was important that he help out.
“I’m gay, so I wanted to take action on this,” he said. “I wanted to take care of the people — my people.”
©2017 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
McClatchy-Tribune News Service