Time stood still.
That's how Dr. Joshua Stephany, the chief medical examiner for Orange and Osceola counties, described walking into the Pulse nightclub after the attack on Sunday morning.
- Dr. Joshua Stephany only became chief medical examiner permanently on Tuesday
- Asked Mayor Dyer to get Gov. Scott to declare a state of emergency so he could get help
- Says calls of support came from all over
"Time stopped. That’s what was happening at the time of the incident,” said Stephany. The doctor described, for the first time, what he saw as he walked into Pulse nightclub Sunday morning: broken glasses, bills waiting to be paid.
That’s when he set out a plan.
“Getting all the deceased here [to his office], one, getting them all identified two, getting them all autopsied three,” he said, checking off on his fingers.
The doctor, just appointed Tuesday, has served as the interim Medical Examiner since last summer. Wednesday, he spoke with only a handful of reporters from the office along East Michigan Street in Orlando.
As he arrived on scene, Dr. Stephany said one of the first conversations he had was with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. He told Dyer to ask the governor to declare a state of emergency, so he could activate the Florida Emergency Mortuary Operations Response System, or FEMORS, to help.
He said the office, which covers both Orange and Osceola counties, typically deals with 7-15 autopsies per day. Despite the influx, they were never overwhelmed, thanks to the additional resources they brought in.
“That’s one fact I’m very proud of,” he said. "Normal business did not falter.”
That help included Dr. Jason Byrd from FEMORS, and two doctors from Sarasota.
“By noon we had our first people on the ground, by 3 o’clock we were able to start taking calls and amassing information,” said Dr. Byrd.
Eight phone lines were set up for family and friends to share identifying information about their loved ones. Instead of the usual four doctors, seven performed 50 autopsies. Calls of support came in from medical examiners across the state; they even received a call from San Francisco, which subsequently sent pizza to their office. He said that amount of support made their job go more smoothly.
By early Monday afternoon, everyone had been identified.
“At that point, our main job was to reunite these individuals with their loved ones,” said Dr. Stephany. “When you’re a family member, any time is too long.”
The doctor clarified erroneous reports of there not being ample space, telling us there are four coolers which can hold over 150 individuals. He also shared that they kept the shooter’s body separate from the victims, from transporting to storing, out of respect.
“I don’t want to see the victims as the person who took their life, and I don’t think any of my staff wanted to see that,” he said.
Stephany said he’s been so entrenched in his work the last few days, he hasn’t watched the news, or felt the full magnitude of the event in the community in which he lives. He knows it will hit them, later.
“I’ve cut off friends who tried texting me and ask me how I’m doing because I can’t answer them,” he said. “I think it’s the sheer number involved that will probably affect us.”