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Survivors recount the horror and confusion of Orlando gay club shooting

By Anthony Lorenzo

Survivor testimonies detailing the horrific events of Saturday 11th at Pulse nightclub are beginning to emerge as a picture of the timeline of events becomes more clear.

The shooting, which took the lives of 50 people and injured as many more, took place in the dark and noise of the club in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Robbed of the two senses most likely to alert people to danger, sight and hearing, the victims had little chance of escape; most people were initially unaware there was anything to escape.

An as yet unnamed clubgoer told freelance reporter Richard Luscombe, for the Guardian: “You’re sitting there having a great time at a club and you hear what sounds like fireworks and balloons popping, and you assume it’s part of the show.

“And then you hear people start screaming, the sound doesn’t stop and people start falling, you realise it’s not a show any more.

“People were screaming and falling and the shots wouldn’t stop. You realise it’s not the celebration you thought it was.”

Sunday's atrocity at Pulse nightclub claimed the lives of 49 people.

A nightclub is the perfect place to cause havoc; drinking, heavy bass, loud music and dark ambience made it incredibly difficult for anyone to ascertain what was happening. People were shot in one area, while others remained unaware until the gunman, Omar Mateen, closed in on new victims.

By the time the music had stopped, it was too late for over a hundred people, fifty of whom lay dead. Such was the disbelief at what was occurring, one man believed a woman had spilled wine down her top. Only later was it apparent the red stains were blood.

Survivor Carson Wells told Luscombe: “It felt like it was part of the DJ mix that was playing, just part of the music.

“When I realised it wasn’t I just ran out back. I didn’t look back.” Friends of his were shot, fortunately non-fatally, but Wells managed to escape uninjured.

Those who managed to escape physical injury will no doubt have to contend with a panoply of mental injuries, included shock, post traumatic stress and survivor’s guilt. No one at the club is free of the horror’s effects, whether shot or not.

Despite the natural inclination to get to a place of safety, tales of heroism on the part of victims have peppered the dark story with flashes of light.

Edward Sotomayor Jr was shot in the back and killed as he pushed his boyfriend out of the door to safety. Stanley Almodovar was shot in the abdomen three times as he pushed others out of the direction of the gunfire. His heroism cost him his life.


DJ Ray Rivera survived by sheltering in the DJ booth. He made space for two other clubbers, and helped them to safety once the shooting had stopped.

Mass panic ensued once what was happening was established. Bodies were strewn around the floor, there were pools of blood everywhere, and the music stopped.

The truth of the situation was incontrovertible: people were being murdered. A witness, known singularly as Burbano, shed light on the desperate panic that enveloped those trapped:

““By the time it got to 20 to 30 rounds we were already trying to exit the side exit way behind the stage. It was very narrow. There was about 20 to 30 people trying to push themselves through a very small door and there was a huge gaping hole in the fence that looked like people had punched it and kicked it down.”

Panic is known to be deadly in circumstances where large numbers of people are in close proximity. The old adage ‘never shout fire in a crowded theatre’ is particularly relevant. It is not yet clear whether all of the dead and injured succumbed to bullets, or whether there was a crush or stampede in the race to reach safety. Burbano added:

“People were pushing and shoving each other to get out. It was like cows at a slaughterhouse.”

The calamitous night reached its conclusion after attempts to negotiate with Mateen were abandoned by the SWAT team. Mateen came out shooting after the team knocked through a wall using an armoured Bearcat vehicle. He was shot dead by police, leaving the clubbers, the families, the LGBT community and the wider world to contemplate the worst shooting massacre in US history.

More stories:
Orlando gay club shooting: The victims
Mother’s heartbreaking exchange with Orlando victim in his final moments