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World & Nation

Judge to listen to Pulse 911 calls before ruling on their release

Staff Writer

Wilhemina Justice told a judge Monday that she could not bear the thought of hearing the sounds of her 30-year-old son, Eddie, dying inside the Pulse nightclub.

“I would relive it every day,” she said. “I know what happened. I don’t need to hear. I know.”

Lawyers for media companies and the city of Orlando have argued for months about what to do with 911 recordings that may have captured the sounds of 49 people dying inside the Orlando nightclub on June 12 at the hands of a gunman.

Media companies want them released. The city does not.

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On Monday, the judge who must decide listened to family members of those who died.

Justice and three others spoke for themselves. Two other families sent lawyers.

Pulse 911 calls court hearing

Jessica Silva, of Osceola County, left, sister of Juan P. Rivera who died at Pulse nightclub hugs Wilhelmina Justice, of Davenport, Florida mother of Eddie Justice another Pulse nightclub victim after they testified before Circuit Judge Margaret Schreiber. Judge Schreiber listened to family members of Pulse victims give evidence about whether they want 911 recordings that capture the sounds of family members dying released to the public and media.

(Red Huber / Orlando Sentinel)

Three people said they would have no objection to a written transcript of the calls being made public.

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No one spoke in favor of releasing the audio.

Two urged Circuit Judge Margaret Schreiber not to release the calls in any form.

One family member wavered on whether she wanted the calls released.

Most said they want to know more about what happened inside the club during the three-hour standoff that left 49 dead and at least 68 injured.

Schreiber said she would listen to the 232 calls then make a decision. It’s not clear how much weight she will give to the wishes of family members.

The judge did make one ruling from the bench: She ordered the city to release the calls that the gunman made to 911 and recordings of other conversations he had with police during the standoff.

 Pulse 911 calls court hearing

Darryl Bloodworth, an attorney for the City of Orlando, left, hands over two envelopes containing 911 calls during the Pulse nightclub shooting to Circuit Judge Margaret Schreiber after she listened to family members of Pulse victims give evidence about whether they want 911 recordings that capture the sounds of family members dying released to the public and media. Judge Schreiber also gave orders to release audio of the Pulse gunman's 911 calls.

(Red Huber / Orlando Sentinel)

City attorney Darryl Bloodworth had announced moments earlier that the city would not object. Less than five hours after the hearing ended, it released audio of those calls. The city had previously released the transcripts.

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A lawyer for the parents of the youngest victim, 18-year-old Akyra Murray, urged the judge to release all 232 calls in transcript form.

Her parents, Albert and Natalie Murray, were told that their daughter “bled out” during the standoff, Richard Klineburger III told the judge.

They had received a call from her while she was trapped inside, Klineburger said, and had rushed to the scene.

They think the release of that information will help create a timeline and allow people to better understand what happened, Klineburger said.

“We don’t know what happened,” he said. “The pain that will come with releasing those tapes can’t be any greater than what they’ve already experienced in this loss.”

The first family member to testify was Aileen Carrillo, whose brother Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez died. She told the judge that she does not want any recording of her brother’s voice to be made public, but she wants to listen privately.

Since a few days after the massacre, two dozen media companies, including the Orlando Sentinel, have fought for the release of the 603 city recordings.

Their attorney, Rachel Fugate, argued Monday that the recordings’ release will allow the public to evaluate whether the Orlando Police Department responded appropriately.

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Gunman Omar Mateen started shooting about 2 a.m., holed up in the club for three hours and was killed after 5 a.m. after the Orlando police SWAT team punched holes in the back wall with an armored vehicle.

The city originally refused to release any of the calls, saying they were part of an FBI investigation, but a police captain testified several weeks ago that the FBI only had use for 70 of them and that as of Sept. 2, they were no longer needed.

The city then modified its position. It released more than 200 but said it could not release the others, arguing it was prohibited by law because they captured the sounds of people dying.

Specifically at issue now are 232 recordings that originated from the club or went to people inside.

Fugate said many may not include the sounds of anyone dying. There is no reason for those to be kept secret, she said.

Shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando

If the calls do capture the sounds of someone dying and they are graphic, she argued, the judge could allow members of the media to listen to them and report what they contain but not record them.

Bloodworth urged the judge to keep the recordings private.

“I cannot imagine a more serious invasion of privacy,” he said. 

rstutzman@orlandosentinel.com or 407-650-6394

A previous version of this story misidentified the relationship of Wilhemina Justice and Eddie Justice. He was her son.


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