What we learned next shook me in a way few things have over the course of my career. It wouldn't be made public until nearly two years later, during the trial of Mateen's wife as an accomplice to the murders (she was later acquitted), but federal investigators informed Ron that they believed Disney World had been Mateen's primary target. They'd found his phone at the scene of the shooting, and determined that it had been pinging off one of our cell towers earlier that night. They studied the CCTV footage and saw him, again, walking back and forth in front of the entrance near the House of Blues. There was a heavy metal concert there that night, which meant extra security—five armed police officers—and after a few minutes of casing the area, Mateen could be seen walking back to his car.
Security cameras picked up two weapons in Mateen's possession, a semiautomatic rifle and a semiautomatic pistol, hidden inside a child's stroller, along with a baby blanket that hadn't yet been taken out of its packaging. Investigators suspected that his plan was to cover his weapons with the blanket and wheel them up to the entrance before pulling them out.
Our head of Parks and Resorts, Bob Chapek, was also in Shanghai, and he and I consulted throughout the day as Ron passed on more news. We were still anxiously waiting to hear if any of our people had been at the nightclub, and now we were concerned that the news of our being a target would soon be leaked. It would be a big story and would take a difficult emotional toll on the community there. The bond you form in high-stress moments like this, when you're sharing information that you can't discuss with anyone else, is a powerful one. In every emergency I've encountered as CEO, I've been grateful for the competence and cool heads and humanity of the team around me. Bob's first move was to send the head of Walt Disney World, George Kalogridis, back to Orlando from Shanghai, to give his people on the ground more executive support.
The data on Mateen's phone showed that once he got back to his car, he typed in a search for nightclubs in Orlando. He drove to the first club that came up, but there was construction going on in front of the entrance, and traffic was backed up. The second result was Pulse, where he ultimately committed his massacre. As the details of the investigation trickled in, I felt horror and grief for the victims of the shooting, and at the same time a sickening "there but for the grace of God" relief that he'd been deterred by the security we had in place.
I'm often asked what aspect of the job most keeps me up at night. The honest answer is that I don't agonize over the work very much. I don't know if it's a quirk of brain chemistry, or a defense mechanism I developed in reaction to some family chaos in my youth, or the result of years of discipline—some combination of all of those things, I suppose—but I tend not to feel much anxiety when things go awry. And I tend to approach bad news as a problem that can be worked through and solved, something I have control over rather than something happening to me. But I'm also all too aware of the symbolic power of Disney as a target, and the one thing that weighs heavily on me is the knowledge that no matter how vigilant we are, we can't prepare for everything.
When the unexpected does happen, a kind of instinctive triage kicks in. You have to rely on your own internal "threat scale." There are drop-everything events, and there are others when you say to yourself, This is serious, I need to be engaged right now, but I also need to extricate myself and focus on other things and return to this later. Sometimes, even though you're "in charge," you need to be aware that in the moment you might have nothing to add, and so you don't wade in. You trust your people to do their jobs and focus your energies on some other pressing issue.
That's what I was telling myself in Shanghai, half a world away from Orlando. This was the most momentous thing the company had embarked on since Disney World opened in 1971. We had never invested so much in something, with so much potential—for success or failure—in our nearly hundred-year history. I had no choice but to compartmentalize, to focus on the last-minute details of the opening ceremonies, and trust in my team in Orlando and in the protocols we had in place.
We have a system that tracks employees whenever a disaster occurs. If there's a plane crash or a hurricane or a wildfire, I get reports on who's unaccounted for, who's had to evacuate their homes, who lost a friend or relative or pet, whose property was damaged. We have well over two hundred thousand employees around the world, so if something catastrophic happens, the odds aren't insignificant that one of our people has been touched by it. After the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, I learned within hours that vendors from an ad agency we work with were killed. In the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting in the fall of 2017, I got reports right away that more than sixty of our employees were at the outdoor concert that night. Fifty of them knew someone who was either killed or injured. Three had been shot themselves. And one, an employee at Disneyland, had been killed.
By Tuesday morning in Shanghai, we'd learned that two of our part-time employees were among those killed in the nightclub shooting. Several other employees were friends or relatives of victims. Our trauma and grief counselors went to work, contacting those affected and arranging mental health services.