A Belle Isle, Fla., police officer who was one of the first responders during the Orlando shooting has come forward to tell his story about how everything unfolded on the tragic night that Omar Mateen opened fire, killing 49 and wounding 53.
Brandon Cornwell, 25, told the Washington Post he was part of a group of five to six police officers who got to the scene within minutes of when the shooting started and got into the club by shattering a large glass window. Cornwell said the first few minutes after they got into the club was spent “trying to locate exactly where the shooter was — we kept hearing people scream and shots fired.”
According to Cornwell, the officers never saw Mateen, as he disappeared in the darkly-lit club. The group followed the screams of club patrons and the sounds of gunshots to the bathroom area, where Cornwell and the others were instructed to hold their position until a SWAT team arrived on the scene, which Cornwell says took “15 or 20 minutes — could’ve been longer.”
This has prompted many questions about whether the officers moved off their position at all during that time, but Cornwell has refused to elaborate because of orders he was given not to speak about it due to the nature of the ongoing investigation.
Explaining his exact involvement, Cornwell said, “We just basically stayed there, waited for movement, and we just held our position until SWAT got there. 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.”
Cornwell, a second-year police officer who served with the Army National Guard in Iraq, was in the area at a traffic stop when the radio call came in and he immediately left for the club, making it there in under a minute. He was the first of seven police cars to arrive.
Describing what it was like when he first arrived, Cornwell said, “Some ran towards the building, some stayed back with people running out,” he said. “There was tons of people running out of the club. I grabbed my assault rifle and ran toward the club. At this point the shooter is still actively shooting inside.”
He continued, “There happens to be an OPD lieutenant commander who was there, and he says we’ve got to go in,” said Cornwell. “No one disagreed. One of the officers busted out one of those side windows” — it was approximately 10 feet tall –“and we just went in and went from there.”
Cornwell says this entire process took no more than two minutes.
Eventually, the “hold your position” order came, though at some point, Cornwell says he and his group withdrew to the outside of the club to wait for the SWAT team.
The “hold your position” order and the delay in having the SWAT team move in has been the subject of debate among crisis response experts.
Former policeman Chris Grollneck, an expert on active-shooter response, told Politico that the Active Shooter response protocol, developed after the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999, dictates that once two or more officers are on scene, they should go after the shooter.
The details released thus far into police response to the event will lead to one jarring conclusion. “It will tell you the leadership of the Orlando Police Department failed the people inside the club,” Grollneck said.
h/t: Washington Post