In June of 2016, a terrorist opened fire on the crowds at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando, FL. By the time his rampage came to an end, 49 people would lose their lives and another 58 suffered gunshot wounds. I watched the coverage of this event unfold on multiple media outlets. The footage was raw, intense, and horrifying.
Later that year, the City of Orlando released 911 tapes and transcripts, which I read thoroughly. The details coming from inside the club were morbidly compelling as they described individuals hiding from the shooter in bathroom stalls, closets and in plain sight under dead or dying bodies.
Nothing I read or saw on news footage could properly convey to me just how a crazed individual could accomplish such a devastating body count in mere moments. The shooter was actively using his weapons from 2:02 AM and 2:10 AM, during which time he fired more than 200 rounds from his Sig Sauer MCX rifle and Glock 17 handgun. In the months since this attack, I’ve wondered how the shooter could kill and injure so many people in so little time. This past summer, I figured it out to some degree.
In the spring of 2017, my wife learned that she would be honored by a national writers’ organization for her work. The conference would take place in Orlando. We immediately made plans to travel down for the convention. I had secondary motives, however. I didn’t get to see the club the previous year (just 6 weeks after the tragedy) when I was traveling for a conference. It was just too soon after the shootings. This trip, however, my wife and I agreed that planning a visit to the club would be possible.
Thus, as we passed through Orlando on the way to our hotel, we hopped off I-4 to visit the Pulse Night Club site:
Seeing this location was moving. The wall, the murals, the signage, the memorials on the ground. The entire event leapt from surreal television coverage to disturbing reality in seconds.
When we took a few minutes to consider this club, the answer to my pressing question finally arrived. How could this rampaging lunatic commit such an atrocity in such a short time? The reply was staring me in the face.
The Pulse Night Club is not very big. In fact, it is impossibly small for a dance club.
There were more than 300 people packed into the club that night. The shooter wouldn’t have needed to even aim his rifle; leveling it and pulling the trigger was all he had to do. He could have worn a blindfold and caused equal amounts of bloodshed.
Defensive Lessons (Closed Spaces & Big Crowds)
- The shooter started his rampage at 2:02 AM. The first officers entered the club at 2:08 AM. Six minutes is an eternity when someone is killing everyone around you. Having a plan to get out, even when you are shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of people,is an absolute must.
- Doors are fatal funnels, and the Pulse club proved that with macabre finality. There were multiple available doors in the club: two doors led to the rear stage area and the bathrooms. Four other doors led outside (two to the patio and two to the parking lot). Two doors led to bathrooms from the main dance area. Every single one of these doors is single passage, meaning that the massive crowd on the dance floor could only exit in single file. As the bottleneck at the doors slowed evacuation, the shooter only needed to pick a crowd and fire.
- The only double doors in the club were emergency exits located in the secondary stage area, beyond the most crowded area in the club and thus beyond the bottleneck. 20 people died on the dance floor, likely because the exits would not accommodate mass evacuation of the area.
- This tragedy could have happened in any crowded auditorium. The Manchester bomber took advantage of a similarly crowded space to kill 22 innocent attendees at a concert. Taking particular precautions in a densely populated area can save lives, including staging yourself near an exit and using secondary exits as much as possible when evacuation is necessary.
- Recognize the situation. When every exit is bottlenecked and the likelihood of taking fire becomes probable, it is then time to turn the tables and either seek cover/concealment or move aggressively toward the shooter. Aggressing the attacker may seem counter-intuitive, but here’s the reality: you can die with your back to the shooter as you try to run, or you can go after the threat in an attempt to break his attack cycle. The Pulse shooter wasn’t expecting resistance, and he never received it. When all other options are likely to result in grave injury (or death), it is time to work offense instead of defense.