Cops were ordered NOT to pursue Orlando gunman during massacre: Officer says he was told to wait while victims lay dead and dying and Mateen fled to club bathroom. ‘I grabbed my assault rifle and ran’: An officer’s account of the critical early minutes in Orlando. "ORLANDO — After an initial burst of fire between Omar Mateen and a security guard at the Pulse nightclub, a group of five or six police officers arrived on the scene within minutes, broke through a large glass window and entered the club as the killing of 49 people was underway inside, according to a Belle Isle, Fla., police officer who was among the first responders. Officer Brandon Cornwell, 25, said the ad-hoc team spent the first seconds in the dimly lit club “trying to locate exactly where the shooter was — we kept hearing people scream and shots fired.” He and the other officers followed the sounds to the bathroom area, where Mateen was now holed up. But instead of entering the bathroom, the officers aimed their assault rifles toward the area and were told by commanders to hold their position as the sounds of gunfire stopped, according to Cornwell. And so they waited “15 or 20 minutes — could’ve been longer” — until the SWAT team arrived, he said. Cornwell never saw Mateen. Cornwell’s account is the first by a police officer who went inside the club during the first critical moments of the shooting. The FBI said Monday that police first responders “engaged the shooter” inside the club at 2:08 a.m., but Cornwell’s account raises questions about whether gunfire was actually exchanged, why first responders were told not to pursue Mateen into the bathroom, and whether any SWAT or other officers entered the club once the first responders retreated. “I was yelling, ‘Go in there, go in there, my friends are in there,’?” said Jeannette McCoy, who escaped the nightclub during the first several minutes and saw the first responders gathering near the main entrance. “People are bleeding to death.” The Orlando Police Department and the FBI declined to provide further clarification Tuesday. Cornwell also declined to further clarify what happened inside, citing the ongoing investigation and instructions not to talk about such details. He did not second-guess the decision for the officers to hold their position outside the bathroom. “We just basically stayed there, waited for movement, and we just held our position until SWAT got there,” said Cornwell, who never fired his weapon. “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.” Chris Cotillo, a former SWAT commander in Prince George’s County, Md., and the current police chief in Seat Pleasant, Md., said that in active shooter situations, officers are now trained to “immediately go in” and “engage the threat.” He said he arrived “in 38 seconds.” Cornwell estimated that “no more than two minutes” had elapsed since he and the other officers arrived, and they were now inside the club. According to the FBI’s timeline, officers “engaged the shooter” inside the club around this time, and three survivors said they heard or saw a brief gun battle. But Cornwell said Mateen was nowhere to be seen. The club was dim — lit with a disco ball and colored lights — and quiet except for the sound of the shooter’s gunfire, screams and cries for help, Cornwell said. The sound of the shots echoing around the club made it difficult to tell exactly where they were coming from, he said. But fairly quickly — “within minutes,” Cornwell said — officers located Mateen in the bathroom area. At that point, he said, “we took up a tactical position by the bar standpoint in the middle of the club.” As he aimed his AR-15 assault rifle toward the bathroom door, he said, the shooting stopped. And it was then that the “15 or 20 minute” holding pattern began, he said. Though Cornwell said he cannot recall exactly how he received his orders — whether via the radio or in person — his clear understanding was that he and his fellow officers were to hold their position rather than attempt to go into the bathroom after the shooter. Minutes passed as he kept aiming toward the bathroom, he said. He could hear screams. There were people lying all over the floor of the club. He kept aiming, waiting for SWAT. More screaming. He and the other officers held their position, focused on the bathroom, where he could see “some movement inside,” he said. Asked whether he felt an urge to pursue the shooter at that point, Cornwell said: “I couldn’t tell you. I was following the lieutenant’s command.” At some point during the 15 to 20 minutes — it is unclear exactly when — Cornwell and the others in the group of first responders exited the club, he said. “We got word from higher up, and it was communicated to the OPD lieutenant that we needed to withdraw,” he said. “So we came back outside. And waited for SWAT. SWAT arrived. SWAT handled everything from there.” Multiple survivors have described pauses in Mateen’s gunfire, moments when he left either the main dance floor or the bathroom long enough that some of the survivors were able to place phone calls. What is unclear is whether these movements happened in the first moments, before Cornwell and the other officers entered the club, or after they withdrew. In the main dance hall, Angel Colon said, he was shot in the first seconds, and then Mateen left the room, only to return and start “shooting everyone who’s on the floor, making sure they’re dead.” Colon told reporters last week that at first he thought the shooter’s absence would give someone else “time to tackle him.” In the north bathroom, Patience Carter and others were able to make phone calls after Mateen shot them and then appeared to leave the bathroom. “We laid there for hours and hours... hoping that the police would come through at that point in time and just save us all,” she told reporters last week."