The survivors of the Sunday morning Islamist massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida have begun telling their stories of hiding in bathrooms, pretending to be dead, and praying to survive.
Many of those who survived the attack on the LGBT venue were shot and are recovering from serious injuries. Others fortunate enough to escape serious harm have told their stories of helping others they found laying on the floor, struggling to tend to their wounds.
At a press conference Tuesday, Angel Colón, who was shot three times and had his leg broken after being trampled by fleeing clubgoers, said he did not understand how he survived the assault. He watched the woman next to him be shot and killed and says he thought, “I’m dead.”
“I don’t know how, but by the glory of God he shoots towards my head, but it hits my hand and then he shoots me again and it hits the side of my hip,” he told reporters. “I had no reaction, I was just prepared to stay there laying down so he won’t know that I’m alive… he’s doing this for another 5-10 minutes, shooting all over the place.”
Jeannette McCoy, a friend of Colón’s who had come with him to Pulse for a night out, escaped barely scathed and was relieved to find that Colón had survived. She believes she survived because Colón took a bullet meant for her, she tells the Washington Post: “The only reason I’m not dead is because the bullet he took in his back probably would have been in my back.”
McCoy says she and Colón were about to leave Pulse when 29-year-old Omar Mateen walked in and began shooting. McCoy ran. “I’m seeing people getting hit, being killed in front of me. I see the barrel, I see the gun, and you’re seeing the flicker of the bullets coming out,” she said. She described Mateen as quiet and “trying to kill every single person in that club.”
She managed to get outside, where she found bodies draped on the floor, alive but bleeding profusely. She took off her shirt and used it to stop the blood flowing for a man’s leg. She is planning to get her concealed-weapons permit on Saturday.
Some survivors have yet to speak to media, instead opting for telling their stories online. Dorian Wayne wrote his story on Facebook, describing a scene in which “people were being hit left and right.”
“I can’t get that image out of my head of just me running for my life and calling out on Jesus,” he writes. “There were so many gun shots until my ears became numb to the sound. A total massacre. I can’t get it out of my head. Bullets and bodies. Bullets and bodies.”
Norman Casiano told ABC News he ran into the bathroom when he heard the gunshots. He says another 30 or so people had hidden there, and he himself was shot twice before the event was over. Casiano watched one of the victims die in front of him. “I’ll remember this forever. He [the victim] just looked me in the eye and he’s like, ‘I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. At that moment, the shooter came in,” he says.
Mateen laughed as he shot the victim dead.
“Something I’m never, ever going to be able to remove from my head. It’s imprinted forever. It’s just very intense how someone could be doing what he’s doing and laugh at the same time.”
Casiano believes he survived because Mateen thought he was already dead. When he tried to walk out after Mateen was already dead, police shot at him, fearing another attacker. “I started screaming and yelling, ‘I’m a victim. I’m a victim,'” he said, and he was rescued.
Kyle Moore, another survivor who hid in the bathroom, said a friend later noted that Mateen had a conversation about race with one of the women trapped inside. “Our friend in the bathroom said Mateen had a racial thing,” Moore told the Washington Post. “He was saying, ‘I don’t have a problem with black people.’ ” Their friend said one woman in the bathroom initially escaped being shot by saying, “I’m black! Don’t shoot me.”
Tiara Parker may have been that woman. She told Fox 29 in Philadelphia that Mateen told her he did not have a problem with black people. “I could hear him talking and he said. ‘I don’t have a problem with black people. It’s nothing personal. I’m just tired of your people killing my in Iraq,'” she claims. She also says Mateen “said he had enough bombs to take out a city block,” a claim that turned out to be false.
A worker of Mateen’s at the security firm G4S told reporters that Mateen was extremely racist against black people. Daniel Gilroy says Mateen would routinely rant about wanting to commit acts of violence. “He was always angry, sweating, just angry at the world,” he said, adding he had explicitly expressed a desire to “kill all black people.”
“We were all held hostage in the bathroom. For hours, I am laying in blood. I got people’s body fragments on me. Somebody’s face was blown off,” Tiana Parker said. Mateen killed her 18-year-old cousin Akyra Murray.