The Terrible Hours

You’re in a room.

Between you and the exit – any exit – is someone who is busily killing people.  So you’re not going anywhere.  Probably not, anyway.

You’re in the midst of a spree killing – sometimes called a rampage killing.  You’re surrounded by crowds of people, as someone – one person, most likely – is carrying out some deluded or diabolical plan to kill…

…well, lots of people.  Maybe you’re in a gay bar, and the killer’s faith hates gays.  Maybe you’re in a synogogue, and the killer hates Jews.  Maybe you’re in a classroom, and the killer hates classrooms?  Or you’re in a church basement, and the killer hates you, whether you be Episcopal or Black or Unitarian.  Maybe it’s just because you’re a westerner, and they’re there to make a point, and inflict terror upon the rest of us westerners.   Or maybe they’re just doing the bidding of the voices in their head.

Either way, here you are.  When you woke up this morning, you didn’t expect to be involved in a spree killing.  Only one person in the room did.

You’re not him.

But there’s no getting around it.  And barring some miracle, there’s no getting away from it;  There are two exits from the space you’re in – but the shooter can see both, and has been mowing down anyone trying to get to the exits for quite some time.  Once, he stopped to reload, and someone rushed him with the only weapon he had available, his bare hands and shoed feet; perhaps he didn’t realize one can reload with a round in the chamber; that bit of resistance, valiant as it was, ended with a body on the floor.

Seeing someone shot down trying to attack the attacker took the fight out of the rest of the people in the room with you.

You may be dimly aware that the room you’re in is a “gun free zone” – an irony that causes not a single laugh.   You’re probably not aware; you may be like most Americans, and have never considered making carrying a firearm part of your lifestyle.  You might have even been one of that tiny, dim little fraction of the population that thought those signs made you safer.

But here you are.

The first transcripts of the 911 traffic in and around the Pulse night club have been released.

These are preliminary transcripts – but if they’re even remotely accurate, you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to reach a couple of inescapable conclusions.   And it’s not from the mainstream media, so it’s got that going for it.

I’ve included the entire list of transcripts below the jump.

In the opening moments of the massacre, Omar Matteen engaged the cop who was providing off-duty security.  The cop and Matteen exchanged fire; neither was hit, and Matteen retreated into the club, where the massacre continued.

It took six minutes for five or six officers to show up; they broke out a patio window and, armed with “patrol rifles” (it’s a marketing term for “pretty much the same gun Matteen had”, for police departments and city councils that don’t want to have to explain to their dimmer constituents why they’re buying “assault rifles”), entered the building.

And took cover, as the shots continued.

I’m not going to monday-morning-quarterback the cops.  I’d damn sure take cover if someone was in a room, shooting.

Standards and Practices:  At the Columbine massacre, the Jefferson County (CO) SWAT team, nervous about reports of bombs in the building, held up outside the high school for four hours before entering.  By this time, all the victims, and the two killers, were stone cold dead.

This caused some significant outcry at the time; why had the citizens of Jefferson County spent all that money lavishly outfitting a SWAT team to not one degree behind the current SOCOM fashion curve, only to have them turn out no more useful to saving lives than the Jefferson County VFW Drum and Bugle Corps?

And to their credit, law enforcement did some studying.  They found a couple of things about spree/rampage killers:

  • They tend to exist in a fantasy world.  In this fantasy, killing will make them…something. Important.  Martyrs.  Popular.  Something.
  • The planning for the attack tends to be extremely elaborate (by the planner’s standards, anyway).
  • That many rampage killers – not all, but most – carry out their final “mission” in a sort of reverie; this is the culmination of their entire fantasy life.
  • Breaking that reverie – by upsetting the plan, interfering with the fantasy, and “getting inside their decision loop” – is essential in thwarting an attack once it’s underway.
  • The best way to do this – or at least the best way available when prevention has ailed, andonce the shooting starts – is to shoot at the shooter.  And preferably hit him.  But any resistance will do, really.  Because…
  • …once the shooter meets resistance, their reverie usually breaks, and their long-fantasized plans go awry, they usually – not always, but usually – panic; they break off the attack, they give up or, frequently, they kill themselves.  Sometimes it doesn’t work – Matteen kept shooting after he met resistance (I’ll speculate that his terrorist motivations may be part of the reason for this).  Sometimes it works amazingly well; Nick Meli had only to point his gun at Jason Roberts (he checked fire out of worry that he’d hit a bystander), causing Roberts to withdraw into a nearby store and kill himself, still carrying hundreds of unspent rounds.   More according to the theory – Jeanne Assam shot and wounded Matthew Murray inside New Life Christian Center, after he’d already killed two (and two more at an earlier crime scene); Murray withdrew and ended his worthless life.
  • Because of this observation, the convention wisdom among law enforcement became to “get in there and engage active shooters”; rather than wait for SWAT teams and bomb squads to assemble and stage and come up with a plan, individual officers, armed with whatever was in their cars or on their persons – “patrol rifles”, shotguns, handguns – should move toward the shooting, and try to put some lead in and around the shooter.  To seize the initiative, to take control of the narrative.
  • While cops don’t say this in public, of course, it doesn’t really matter if the person putting that fire into and around the shooter has a badge or not; incoming bullets all sound the same. This blog has compiled a sizeable list of mass shooters thwarted by civilians with guns – currently 16 and counting.  From Nick Meli to Dr. Lee Silverman, the list of regular schnooks who’ve thwarted mass shooters is much, much longer than the media and the ignorant (pardon the redundancy) are willing to comprehend, much less admit.

Apparently, though, someone from Orlando didn’t get the memo.  Or, more likely – I’m guessing, here – the SWAT team, in a situation of immense stress and confusion, held off doing anything drastic while they figured out what to do.

When Seconds Count…:  As Bob Owens at Bearing Arms notes, around the point in the transcript where Mateen is reloading his magazines.  I’ll add emphasis:

The terrorist has been killing at will, unimpeded, for 20 minutes, longer than any mass shooting in recent American history [except possibly Columbine – Ed.] (in 1966 Charles Whitman, the University of Texas bell tower sniper was still active 20 minutes into his rampage, but civilians and police were actively firing on his position).  Virginia Tech was over in 12 minutes. Sandy Hook took five.

This terrorist was charging magazines, as the OPD waited and victims bled out on the dance floor and in bathrooms.

He had time to reload (as in “put more bullets in his magazines” – perhaps twice.

“High capacity magazines” were clearly irrelevant to this situation, by the way.  As they were at Virginia Tech, where the shooter used mundane handguns with regular (12-15 round) magazines.

Victims are bleeding out, no longer responding to the dispatchers they called to save their lives.  Other callers, including a nurse who is among the wounded, are warning that victims are losing too much blood.

No one is coming.

No one is coming. 

It isn’t until 38 minutes into the terrorist attack that the now-reloaded shooter calls Orlando PD and announces that he is a Islamic terrorist aligned with the Islamic State.

At this point, a competently trained SWAT command, having learned from the Russian experience at Beslan that terrorists call to “negotiate” only to stall for time and improve their positions to kill more people, should have recognized that the best option for a shooter in a confined space with hostages is to throw in flash-bang grenades and storm in while he was disoriented to take him down.

And yet they didn’t.

Why?  We don’t know, yet.  Maybe we never will.

At the end of the day, a cop wants to go home safe.

Who can blame ’em?

Defense:  Well, I’m no monday-morning quarterback.  If I’m a patrol cop, armed with a rifle I’ve rarely trained on, in a thin kevlar vest that might turn a pistol bullet or shotgun pellet but not a rifle round, going into a dark room full of screaming people, floors slick with blood, and the deafening sound of rifle fire in a confined space booming all around?  I might well take cover, and stay there.  Maybe hiding behind the brick I’d crap.

And the Supreme Court has ruled as much, saying that while it’s police’s job to try to protect you, they’re not really liable if they don’t.

On the other hand: the taxpayers of Orlando, like those of every major city, have spent years and millions outfitting police SWAT teams with all sorts of high-test body armor, flash-bang grenades and other right-with-the-SOCOM-fashion curve hostage rescue goodies, and the exquisitely expensive training that goes with with it (or so one hopes that’s where the money went).

Why did the Orlando SWAT team wait until 5:02AM – three hours after the first 911 call – to breach the wall and go into the club?  Why did it take fifteen more minutes to kill Mateen?    We don’t know.

How many died in those three hours?    Go through the transcript (below he jump), and count the number of people whom callers report expiring to blood loss as they huddled in piles on the dance floor, or to cell phone contacts quietly dropping off the line, leaving nothing but the sounds of gunshots and screaming in the background, as victims slowly bled out.

Go ahead.  Do it.

It sounds like an awful place.  Who can blame the SWAT team for being careful?


You, huddled on the floor and playing dead in the room full of frantic people and a growing toll of wounded, maimed and dead bodies, can blame them.   As the hours tick by, as the blood on the floor gets sticky and dry, as the gunman reloads, kills another handful of people, reloads again and again.

It’s you who won’t be going home.

Could it have been different?   If one other person in the room with you had had the means to react in a meaningful, e.g. life-threatening, way?

Maybe.  There are no guarantees, least of all when bullets are flying.    Who knows – maybe they got hit before they had a chance to draw.  Maybe they’d draw, but get shot first.

Or maybe they’d trade fire with the killer, and lose – but un-nerve the killer, allowing at least a  few people to escape.

Or maybe, just maybe, the citizen with the gun would catch a few lucky breaks; the killer doesn’t have eyes in the back of his head, after all.  A couple of shots to the back while the killer was looking the other way, and suddenly it’s camera crews and yellow tape.

But as the hours drag on, it’s pretty clear – the only help that’s coming is from outside.

Sometime.  Maybe.  Hopefully before you join the dead.

NOTE:  While I intend my comment section as a discussion, and tolerate dissent and cognitive dissonance better than most, be advised; comments I deem stupid will not be deleted; they will be mutilated for my pleasure.  

The judgment of “stupidity” is all mine; it doesn’t mean “disagreement”; just stupidity.  I know it when I see it.

There will be no other warnings.


19 thoughts on “The Terrible Hours

  1. Coppers are not special forces operators. They are not going to move until they know for sure they have overwhelming forces behind them and are not going to take any chances. Doesn’t matter how many people are bleeding out, unless it’s another copper you’re gonna wait until they feel safe.

    You are responsible for your own safety. If this incident doesn’t get that through, nothing will.

  2. You’re right – they’re not special operators.

    But part of the new SOP with active shooters HAS been to move to engage without waiting for overwhelming force; to move in using prudent close-quarter battle tactics, but to move in

    Clearly not every cop does this, and not every cop does it with the same gusto in every situation.

    End of the day? You’re right, and it’s also my point; you are responsible for your own safety. I try not to patronize any place that tries to interfere with that responsibility.

  3. If they are not special forces operators, why are they outfitted as such? Why are they trained as such? Why are they being militarized? All for show? All to intimidate the law abiding citizenry and keeping them cowed and under thumb while politicians play dress up? But when the shit hits the fan they forget the “serve and protect” part of their oath? I am talking about the politicized police departments around the country and am not singling out individuals.

    Like you, I am no chair quarterback and we may never know why it took so long for an armed response. But somewhere, there was a break in a chain of command. And I would bet it had more than a passing chance to have something to do with political correctness – same breakdown that allowed Mateen to purchase weapons.

  4. But part of the new SOP with active shooters HAS been to move to engage without waiting for overwhelming force; to move in using prudent close-quarter battle tactics, but to move in..

    Heh. I’m guessing the story is different during lively discussions in the coppers union hall.

    The only time you’ll see coppers move in is when they have overwhelming numbers of heavily armed reinforcements against a single opponent.

  5. Swiftee – I did read about one case where the first four cops to arrive at an active shooting did move in and engage – but I can’t find it now.

    I will say I can’t say I blame them for wanting overwhelming force.

  6. Life does not mirror Hollywood after all. There is no John McClane, no Harry Callahan, no Martin Riggs… Your protection is in your own hands. As you said, the biggest lesson from this is do not count on anyone, including people sworn to protect you.

  7. JPA, in the 21st Century PD’s Serve and Protect is straight up bullshit. Their job is to collect evidence to put people in jail, or face down in a pool of their own blood if necessary. If someone is protected by that, more to the good, but make no mistake; the police are not your friends and they damn well don’t serve you.

  8. I don’t blame them for wanting overwhelming force either; nobody wants to die. I do blame them for what they all too often do with that force.

    (Check out what the SWAT commandos of the Neenah, WI PD did…spoiler; the hostage died, the hostage taker didn’t)

  9. It’s funny that when it comes to folks who do really courageous things to stop terrorists, it’s often ex-military folks who step up to “serve and protect” even more than the police. I’m thinking of the guys who stopped the attack in France on the train in particular.

    Maybe we really need to get more ex-military guys, and especially ex-operators, hired as cops. That’s an affirmative action plan I could get behind.

  10. It’s a two-edged sword, Nerd.

    Some I’ve read trace the current militarization of the police to the wave of officers that served in Desert Storm, 25 years ago.

    It’s got its ups and downs.

  11. On a different and lighter note…did you hear what ol’ Phyllis Kahn said last week? One of those Somalians who don’t know their place is running against her again. Phyllis said her opponent’s main support is coming from young liberals with “white guilt”.

  12. His brother and sister jihadists took careful notes on this action and will modify their tactics accordingly.

  13. It all really boils down, as far as I can tell, to the motivations of a person who knows that he is likely to live if he does not act, versus the motivations of a person who knows he is likely to die if he does not act. Who is more likely to act?

    Really, that the police go in at all is kinda remarkable when you think about it.

  14. Really, that we spend so much on these police is kinda remarkable.

    Just like airport “security” these SWATers are all theater. Except they could be useful in case we peons start acting too uppity.

  15. Some I’ve read trace the current militarization of the police to the wave of officers that served in Desert Storm, 25 years ago.

    Perhaps. But I’d rate the Cold War fire sale of used equipment being more important. Without hardware, the human software can only do so much. Without the geyser of free hardware that comes from the DoD it would be very hard for nearly all municipalities to justify spending the serious dollars that militarizing would require*. I’d argue that turning that geyser towards supplying our allies and making them do more to protect themselves would be a better use of our military surplus, but as it would upset the K-Street defense industry lobbyists, I doubt that will ever happen.

    (*) Seriously, click here and look and see what local towns have gotten. I seriously doubt that you’d find an appropriation for a mine-resistant vehicle for St. Croix county in Wisconsin survive the laugh test if the county had to pay for it. And as for paying for all those 5.56mm rifles? Yeah, right. They’d have had to cut back on the number of law enforcement pretty severely had they had to come up with the money for those.

  16. Pingback: In The Mailbox: 06.29.16 : The Other McCain

  17. I agree with the concerns about the militarization of the police, but it strikes me that they still have the issue that I mentioned, along with the fact that it’s hard to wear combat grade body armor all the time. At the very least, date night would suck if that were the case, to put it mildly. So there are limits to how badly the police could abuse things in an armed society, I think.

  18. The chances of being a witness to a mass shooting in the US are pretty small, despite you read in the papers and what foreigners seem to believe. The more likely scenario is home invasion or, while out and about, witnessing an armed or a strong arm robbery.
    But, anyhow, you are getting away from bedrock: citizens can lawfully possess and use firearms for self-defense. This is a constitutional right, so important that not only is it in the Bill of Rights, it is in the Second Amendment, just after the rights to free expression and freedom of religion (though today’s left does not believe in those rights, either).

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