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Authorities Still Notifying Next Of Kin In Orlando Shooting Deaths

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And let's go to a news conference now in Orlando, where we've heard from the mayor of Orlando, Buddy Dyre, that 48 of 49 victims in Orlando's shooting has been identified. Now let's listen to a senior police official.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

JOHN MINA: Based on statements made by the suspect about explosives, about possible bomb vests, we kind of secured everything, called SWAT, and we did set up for an explosive breach on the bathroom wall, where we knew there were approximately 15 people in the opposing bathroom to where the suspect was with his hostages. Based on statements made by the suspect, based on information we received from the suspect and from the hostages and people inside, we believed further loss of life was imminent.

I made the decision to commence the rescue operation and do the explosive breach. The explosive breach did not penetrate the wall completely. We used our armored vehicle - the BearCat armored vehicle - to punch a hole in that wall and defeat the wall. So there's a hole in the wall about 2 feet off the ground and about 2 or 3-feet wide. We were able to rescue dozens and dozens of people that came out of that hole. The suspect came out of that hole himself, armed with a handgun and a long gun, engaged in a gunbattle with officers, where he was ultimately killed.

INSKEEP: This is John Mina, the Orlando police chief.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

MINA: So at that time - at this time, I just want to say that the OPD officers - from the initial responding officers, to the SWAT officers, to all the other law enforcements, acted very heroically and courageous and saved many, many, many lives during this operation. And our one officer was struck in the Kevlar helmet right above his forehead. That Kevlar helmet did save his life. I talked to him. I spoke with him at length last night. He is doing great. So at this time I'll turn it over to Special Agent Danny Banks.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Could you clarify if any more victims were shot when it was a hostage situation?

DANNY BANKS: So good morning. I want to talk very briefly about what our primary mission for all of us today is. And that's the identification of the victims and the notification of the family. As you heard from Mayor Dyer, we have confirmed the identity of 48 of our 49 victims. The last identity confirmation is pending right now, so we anticipate having that name here shortly. A number of those, as you've heard from the mayor, we have notified their next of kin. And that is our 100 percent priority mission today. As you're aware, the city of Orlando is advertising the names of those victims as we make the notification to the family member.

And I'll explain to you very briefly on how that's going. We have teams of FDLE agents, OPD officers, FBI agents, that we are deploying as we're identifying these victims throughout the state, and really throughout the nation, to identify the family members - to let them know that their loved one is deceased. Once we've confirmed that, that is the time we'll post that to our website. So I ask that everybody just respect the privacy of the family and that we will advertise those names of those victims. But only at the time that we can confirm the next of kin is notified.

Again, I want to state that is the primary mission of all of us right now, to notify the family members exactly that one of their loved ones is dead. And then we will advertise those names publicly to the rest of the community. So I'll turn it over to now - I believe the FBI is ready to speak - Ron Hopper? U.S. attorney Lee Bentley.

INSKEEP: We're listening live to a news conference in Orlando, Fla.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

LEE BENTLEY: As mayor Dyer said, yesterday was the most horrific day in the history of Orlando. Indeed, it was the day of the largest mass shooting in the history of the United States, terrible tragedy. First of all, on behalf of the federal government, I'd like to thank our state and local partners - the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Orlando Police Department, the Orange County Sheriff's office. The men and women of these agencies have been working tirelessly over the last day and a half.

INSKEEP: You've been listening live to a news conference in Orlando, Fla., about the weekend shooting at a gay nightclub that left 50 people dead. We've heard a little bit of news in the last few minutes. First, that 48 of 49 victims have been identified. And I guess we're saying 49 - NPR's Carrie Johnson is with us now because the 50th is the shooter himself. Is that correct?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: We believe that's the case. And the FBI, state local law enforcement say their top priority today is finishing those victim identifications and notifying family members of the victims. About 24 next of kin have been notified.

INSKEEP: Now, we've been trying to identify what happened between 2 o'clock and 5 o'clock in the morning. And we have some dramatic new details there from John Mina, the police chief in Orlando.

JOHNSON: Yes, Steve, for the first time a sense of what was happening inside that Pulse nightclub, inside the bathroom where the shooter, Omar Mateen, was apparently holed up with dozens of hostages. Chief John Mina said he made the call based on statements from the suspect and the hostages inside the bathroom that future loss of life was likely. So they tried to use an explosive to breach the wall in the bathroom. It didn't work, John Mina said, so instead they brought in an armored vehicle called a BearCat to punch a hole in the wall. They did punch a hole through that wall. The shooter came out firing. And he was killed in an exchange of gunfire with police and that SWAT team.

INSKEEP: And I believe he also said dozens and dozens of people were saved. We don't know exactly how many people were in that bathroom, but it sounds like quite a few people were still in one way or another trapped or cornered in that building at that moment.

JOHNSON: That's right. The police chief praised the heroic action of law enforcement and pointed out that a least one of his officers got shot in the helmet. But that Kevlar helmet protected the officer from being injured.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Carrie Johnson, I mean, there have been - I mean, in these hours since this happened a lot of people in Orlando have been thinking about those three hours. What was going on? What did the police do? Did they make the right decisions? Are we moving now to the phase where sort of figuring out what happened is over? Or are there still a lot of unanswered questions that the authorities need to answer here?

JOHNSON: David, there are still a lot of unanswered questions, such as why did this shooter target this nightclub? Were there other targets? Did he have any help? Right now the FBI and local police say no signs of any other imminent threat in Florida or anywhere else. But they're going to be looking through his social media accounts, talking with family members, talking with acquaintances to see any clues, any hint of his motivation and what else he might have been up to.

INSKEEP: OK, thanks very much. That's NPR's Carrie Johnson here in Washington. David Greene is with us in Orlando as well. We've learned a little bit more about the three hours on Sunday morning in which 49 people were killed, and ultimately a 50th - the gunmen - killed. Police say that they assaulted, burst a hole in a bathroom to get the suspect out of there. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.