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  • Writer's picturePulse Families and Survivors for Justice

Pulse Nightclub's Second-Floor Offices Trapped Shooting Victims, Were Unpermitted

Updated: May 3

In 2016, City attorneys in the Office of the Mayor released a Q&A document to the City Council to field questions from the media, providing answers for anticipated questions.

This was done to spin the conversation away from facts that were damaging to the City. Included in this damage control was this statement: "Just because the work was unpermitted, doesn’t mean it was done improperly."

The City attorneys also crafted excuses for the nightclub owners and made a number of false assumptions pertaining to code violations and unpermitted renovations at the Pulse Nightclub.

You can read the Q&A document in its entirety below:

1.2 City Records q and a
Download DOCX • 19KB

Prior to this Q&A document, Heather Fagan (Deputy Chief of Staff in the Office of the Mayor) wrote an email to Kyle Shephard (Chief Assistant City Attorney) asking for his thoughts on her drafted response to Orlando Sentinel reporter Christal Hayes who was investigating unpermitted work done at Pulse.

In soliciting the Chief Assistant City Attorney's feedback, the Office of the Mayor's Ms. Fagan included the same language of the Q&A document, showing that the response was the result of a collaborative effort in the Office of the Mayor to justify its failings to cite the club for code violations and unpermitted renovations and force the owners into compliance.

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Email to Kyle Shephard (Chief Assistant City Attorney) and Heather Fagan (Deputy Chief of Staff in the Office of the Mayor), showing their efforts to get their story correct regardless of the documented facts that were in the City's posession.

We know, from the City's own records, that the unpermitted renovations were done incorrectly, code violations hindered escape and rescue, and documented violations were, in fact, life safety issues.

This included the Pulse nightclub's unpermitted second-floor "offices," DJ loft, and storage spaces.

This "second floor" was accessible only by a metal ladder that did not have the required safety features.

The FBI took photos of the second floor showing no railing around the ladder opening, broken ceiling tiles, wires hung up on walls, a DJ loft that overlooked the dancefloor with additional wires woven along the railing, and cables, power strips, and extension cords everywhere.

An amended building plan from 2004, shown further below, states in a handwritten note that a railing was required by code to be placed around the ladder opening.

A total of 42 photos were taken by the FBI of Pulse Nightclub's unpermitted second floor, with many of the photos taken focusing on glaring code issues, with many photos seemingly unrelated to the shooting or damage caused by gunfire (shown below; click to expand):

The second floor was accessible only by a metal ladder that extended from a storage room behind the bar in the main dance space and led up onto a wooden platform that overlooked the dancefloor where the DJ would stand, spin music, and watch the crowd dancing below.

In the years of inspections done by the City, there are no photographs of Pulse's second floor that have been released to the public.

There are no records (or no obtainable records) showing that City inspectors ever inspected the second floor.

Furthermore, the second floor and its offices were not drawn on the building plans released by the City of Orlando to the media and law enforcement after the shooting.

In 2004, there is an addendum to the finalized plans showing a "service mezzanine" to be added for speaker access. This was not a second floor.

On the plans, there are no rooms, closets, offices, or even a DJ loft.

These plans (below) also show an amplifier rack was supposed to have been where the ladder is located.

In 2019, we asked and received clearer plans directly from the Permitting Division, which are more legible than what the City released to the public on the Pulse Tragedy Public Records website on September 1, 2016. This was before the Office of the Mayor silenced Permitting Division employees and prevented them from talking directly to the public about issues at the Pulse Nightclub.

These 2004 plans were also different than what was approved by the Municipal Planning Board as part of the Pulse Nightclub's Conditional Use Permit (CUP), which showed no mezzanine, second-floor, or dance floor.

Instead, it showed dining areas and a kitchen, as would be suitable for a restaurant and martini bar, which was the only permitted use Pulse ever received by the Orlando Municipal Planning Board.

Also, note that the "outside patio" (shown above) was not the same as the outdoor patio that existed at the time of the shooting, which was significantly larger, raised with concrete, and expanded into the parking lot.

Below is a photo of the patio that existed before 1912 S. Orange Avenue became the Pulse Nightclub. In compliance with City codes, it did not have a tall vinyl fence surrounding it.

The May 20, 2010 building plans, which were the main reference for the media and law enforcement, didn't show a second floor at all. These 2010 plans (which show a dramatically altered building) were not permitted.

The absence of the unpermitted second floor on the building plans caught the eye of a local conspiracy theorist, Wolfgang Halbig, who stated that the lack of a second floor was "proof" that the shooting was staged and faked in an email sent to Frank Billingsley (Chief of Staff to the Mayor) on November 1, 2016.

Excerpt from email sent by conspiracy theorist Wolfgang Halbig, who noticed there was no second floor on the Pulse Nightclub building plans and thought this was evidence that the shooting was faked. In reality, the second floor offices were illegal and not permitted..

Had the City been honest and publicly stated that the second-floor offices were constructed without permits, victims' families and survivors would not have been subjected to the horrendous claims that they were "crisis actors." Victims/survivors would not have had to have endured years of online harassment and claims that their trauma and suffering were fabricated. This is additional harm inflicted at the hands of the City.

The lack of a second floor visible on the building plans that the City of Orlando released to the public provided fuel for those conspiracy theories and online harassment.

Unfortunately, these false claims continue to be made on social media, conspiracy websites, and online forums.

Six People Trapped Upstairs For 33 Minutes

During the shooting, six victims were trapped in a second-floor "attic" office and storage space. They could not be located by law enforcement for over 30 minutes. Two of them were shot (one in the leg and the other in the abdomen) and bleeding out.

The helicopter that circled the Pulse Nightclub looked for roof-top access. There was no rooftop access, which is why victims could not escape from Pulse Nightclub's unpermitted second-floor offices and remained up there trapped.

At 2:35 AM, a sergeant and assisting officers rescued the six survivors. They were escorted across the dance floor and out the east patio.

One of the victims who was shot and trapped on the second floor had been separated from his husband who made it out of the club without physical injury.

Javier Nava sought refuge after being shot, so he ran toward the bar and into the storage room behind it. He then climbed up the metal ladder, in excruciating pain, to the second floor. He thought it was a way to get to the roof and out to safety. But there was no roof access. There was only the office where he would remain trapped for over 30 minutes.

During this time, he talked to a 911 operator and put pressure on his wound while hiding in the office, listening to the gunshots below, and not knowing what was happening. You can see this documented in the Progress Incident Report and 9-1-1 transcripts below:

OPDPulseLIVECAD_June172016-by-narrativeandunitassignment_Redacted copy
Download PDF • 115KB

Download PDF • 26.23MB

Download PDF • 15.63MB

When Nava was finally located by law enforcement, he had to then crawl back down that same metal ladder with the bullet lodged in his abdomen.

The shooter was still in the building at this time but was located on the other side of the building in a bathroom with hostages.

This horrific "extraction" was caught on a police body cam. This footage was obtained by lawyers in the suit against Noor Salman and was not released to the public by the City of Orlando. It was only released as Exhibit 100 in the trial in 2018, two years after the shooting.


The Fraudulent Misrepresentation of the Pulse Nightclub and its Second Floor

After the shooting, in 2016, Pulse owners Rosario Poma and Barbara Poma were in talks with the City of Orlando to purchase the property for a public memorial.

The Pomas originally wanted $4M for the property they paid $925,000.00 for in 2005 (according to the Orange County Property Appraiser). The City contentiously offered the Pomas $2.25M, which was above the $1.68M that the property was appraised for and more than double its market value.

This appraisal was done by Clayton, Roper, and Marshall and submitted to the City, which we received through a public records request. You can read the appraisal in its entirety below:

Pulse Appraisal
Download PDF • 3.32MB

In the appraisal, the appraiser states that he never inspected the building himself, but instead based the appraisal on information given to him by Rosario Poma and photos of the interior from the internet.

We can see, through the property comparisons used by the appraiser, that the appraised value was based on Rosario Poma's misrepresentation of the Pulse Nightclub property, which did not have a true second-story or permitted/compliant office space. The building, however, did sustain an incredible amount of damage in the aftermath of the shooting.

For comps, the appraiser used buildings that had complete and legitimate offices and a full second floor that was built to code. You can tell just by looking at the photos provided in the appraisal that these properties were nothing like the Pulse Nightclub. Furthermore, the appraiser also mostly used buildings centrally located downtown, not in the South Downtown neighborhood, which was located in a different real estate market (especially in 2016).

The appraisal was also based on "general assumptions" that the building was in "full compliance with applicable federal, state, and local environmental regulations and laws" and that "all applicable zoning and use restrictions have been complied with." The appraisers did not look at the public records that showed Pulse was in violation of multiple codes and regulations, as well as rife with unpermitted modifications to the building.

Thus, the appraisal was extremely problematic, likely over-valued the property, and was based on fraudulent misrepresentations of the Pulse Nightclub property.

The Pomas declined the City's generous offer and proceeded to try to build a privately owned and operated $100M memorial museum campus, which was canceled in 2023 shortly after Barbara Poma was forced out of the nonprofit she started. During her time there, she pocketed $762,104.00 in salary alone.

The Pomas also received insurance money after the shooting, which played a role in the OnePULSE Foundation not purchasing the Pulse Nightclub property from the owners in 2023. The Foundation's new CEO, Deborah Bowie, stated: “The OnePULSE Foundation Board of Trustees found it no longer appropriate to pay the Pomas for the nightclub property after recently discovering that insurance proceeds paid off debt for the nightclub and asked for a full donation from them and their business partner, Michael Panaggio."

It is also worth noting that Michael Panaggio appeared as a business partner two years after the shooting and was not part of the initial negotiations to purchase the property in 2016. In 2018, Panaggio was added to one of the two LLCs that currently own Pulse (1299 SIA, LLC), which the Pomas created. The transfer of the Pulse Nightclub property to two new LLCs for $100 on November 12, 2016, was also added to an ongoing civil lawsuit brought by shooting victims/survivors who alleged it was an illegal attempt to shield assets from victims.

Not only should the illegal second floor, rampant with code violations, undergo criminal investigation, but also the Pomas' financial dealings and negligence in maintaining a code-compliant building overall. The illegal fence that ensnared victims, alongside the walled-over windows and other obstructions to egress on the night of the shooting, impeded escape and rescue efforts, perpetuating trauma that still afflicts survivors to this day.

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