Noor Salman cries as graphic evidence from Pulse shooting plays during trial

Salman, 31, accused of aiding Omar Mateen in Orlando attack

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

Noor Salman listens to testimony during her trial on March 15, 2018.

ORLANDO, Fla. - He watched them salsa dancing and had a drink among them before he came back to kill them. Omar Mateen saw his victims laughing, smiling before he went out to his van and retrieved his weapons.

He opened fire at 2:02 a.m. on June 12, 2016, walking back into the club and raining bullets on couples who were just dancing at Pulse nightclub.

[WARNING: Some of the content may be considered graphic]

Friends, lovers, dancers fell in a mass on the dance floor against the bar, holding each other close, trying to hide from the shooter among other huddled bodies, but he came back.

He came back for the wounded already on the ground, spraying them with bullets again, and then he came back once more shooting into them. After a three-hour standoff, 49 were dead and Mateen was killed by SWAT officers after 5 a.m.

The gruesome scene was shown Thursday in a video from Pulse nightclub security cameras during the trial of Mateen’s widow, Noor Salman. The 31-year-old is accused of aiding and abetting her husband in the attack on the gay nightclub and lying to the FBI.

The video introduced by the U.S. government was the first time anyone outside of law enforcement has seen the moment Mateen opened fire.

The jury panel sat in complete silence during the video, taking no notes. Salman, who has been in court for all of the proceedings, looked away and was visibly upset.

Multiple FBI agents were called to the stand during the second day of testimony at the U.S. District Courthouse in Orlando to discuss the aftermath of the shooting and their response processing a horrendous scene. 

Mateen claimed in talks with crisis negotiators and fake phone calls overheard by survivors that he had planted improvised explosive devices around the club and had co-conspirators with him. 

When Mateen was killed, wires and electric devices under his legs led the FBI and SWAT officers to believe he had not been bluffing, said FBI Special Agent Paul Castillo who testified in court Thursday and was a bomb technician who responded to the Pulse shooting.

The many bodies on the floor made it difficult to navigate two bomb detecting robots through the club, when they couldn’t get any further, Castillo said, he and his team suited up and went in.

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Castillo said it was later determined that the wires were from an emergency light that came down when SWAT officers blew a hole in the bathroom wall near where Mateen was killed.

The Pulse building and Mateen’s rental van parked next to the club were not cleared by bomb technicians until 10:30 a.m. All the victims were not removed from the club until 11 p.m. that night.

The Orange County medical examiner also testified about collecting bodies from the club, two from the Einstein Bagel shop across the street and Orlando hospitals.

After the scene was deemed safe for investigators, FBI Special Agent Lynn Billings and her team began collecting many pieces of evidence. FBI teams from Atlanta, Jacksonville and Tampa were called in because of the size and magnitude of the scene.

Asked what the scene looked like Billings said “lots of blood” and “people were constantly calling cellphones that were scattered throughout the club.”

Her initial priorities were to collect the DVR from the club, Mateen’s weapons and his cellphone. Mateen’s Samsung cellphone was found submerged in bloody water in the bathroom where nine people were killed. When SWAT blew open the wall they hit a water line causing the bathroom to flood.

The FBI crime scene response team collected “many, many casings” and five magazines inside the club, as well as Mateen’s Sig-Sauer rifle, a Glock handgun and a knife. 

Billings held the long gun in court so the jurors could see the weapon that fatally shot many of the 49 victims.

Outside near his vehicle, agents found a Smith & Wesson handgun case with a pistol and three speed loaders, which allow the shooter to load all of their bullets into the chamber at one time.

In Fort Pierce, an FBI team from Miami went to Salman and Mateen’s apartment complex where they searched Mateen’s Toyota Camry and found their trash in a dumpster that contained receipts for ammunition from Walmart purchased on June 10.

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Salman signed a consent form allowing the FBI to search their apartment and car, after first denying them to do so, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Sweeney said.

Defense attorney Charles Swift said Salman gave consent eight hours before the FBI searched the vehicle with a search warrant and questioned why they would wait so long unless they were concerned her consent was “not voluntary” or “coerced” by the FBI.

Salman’s lawyers claim she was forced into making statements to the FBI about alleged knowledge of Mateen’s plans after 12 hours of questioning.

Special Agent Brett Chabot, who led that search, said it’s always better to wait on a search warrant, because consent can be withdrawn.

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‘Only 10 hours’ without video during FBI, police interviews with Salman

The first law enforcement officers to speak with Salman the morning of the shooting testified in the afternoon. Fort Pierce Police Department Lt. William Hall and FBI Special Agent Christopher Mayo. The defense team previously tried to suppress both of their reports and statements from being presented to the jury, arguing that Salman’s Miranda rights were never read to her. The judge allowed both law enforcement officials to testify.

Hall was contacted by Orlando police after 3 a.m. on June 12 and asked to go to Mateen’s residence and speak with anyone there. He was warned of “possible booby traps” at the apartment and asked some fellow officers to meet at a nearby football field to strategize before approaching the apartment complex.

He called Salman and asked her to walk outside the apartment and speak with him. Hall said he then briefly searched the apartment before asking Salman to bring her son and wait in his unmarked patrol car until the FBI arrived.

During his brief conversation with Salman he said she made several comments that he thought odd.

Hall and later FBI Special Agent Christopher Mayo, the next person who would interview Salman, both testified that they did not inform her about the nature of the crime only saying there was an incident in Orlando and her husband was possibly involved.

“She told me her husband was very careful with guns and he would never hurt anyone except to protect himself,” Hall said on stand.

The Fort Pierce lieutenant said he never told her there was a shooting.

“I thought that was rather strange,” Hall said of Salman’s comment.

He also testified that Salman asked if “they were going to take her to Disney World.” The U.S. government alleges Salman was with Mateen when he was scoping out potential targets, which included Disney Springs and City Place, a shopping area in West Palm Beach.

During cross examination Swift asked why Hall never put those comments in his police report or in his notes and why he didn’t try to get more information from Salman about her husband while the standoff in Orlando was ongoing.

Mayo took over interviewing Salman at 5:50 a.m. June 12 and later drove her and her 3-year-old son to the Fort Pierce FBI office. Mayo, who testified for two hours Thursday, would interview Salman for the next 10 hours off and on.

Salman became very agitated during the first half of Mayo’s testimony, before being taken away for a break she told her attorney, “He’s a liar.”

Mayo testified that over the course of the day she would make several comments he considered “red flag.” including that she didn’t ask about the well-being of her husband, the recent purchases of airline tickets to California the day before the shooting and Salman saying Mateen liked “gay people” before she knew the shooting was at a gay nightclub.

By the time Salman went home from the FBI office in Fort Pierce with her in-laws, she had been awake for about 36 hours with two hours sleep, her attorney Charles Swift said. 

“Were you not concerned that she was overly tired?” Swift asked Mayo.

Mayo said he was not, even after he left the room and came back to find her sleeping on the floor. At that point, Salman also signed a consent form to allow the FBI to search her apartment when Mayo told her she couldn’t go home until it was finished being searched.

After Salman’s brother-in-law picked up her son, she continued being interviewed at the FBI building, later signing a statement saying she knew what her husband was planning during an interview by another agent who is expected to testify next week.

None of Salman’s interviews with the FBI were recorded, the building had designated interview rooms with audio and video recording equipment.

Mayo brought Salman and her child into a large conference room, saying he “never thought about” taking her into an interview room because she was being very forthcoming.

To that, Swift said, “That’s the only 10 hours for which we have no video whatsoever,” referring to the many hours of cellphone, body camera and surveillance of the Pulse shooting.

Testimony continues on Monday. The trial is expected to last three weeks.

See a recap of the first day of testimony and opening statements here.

Follow the feed below for live updates from the courthouse.

 

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