‘How Did I Walk Away Alive?’ Orlando Shooting Through A Survivor’s Eyes

'How Did I Walk Away Alive?' Orlando Shooting Through A Survivor's Eyes

People embrace and weep for the deceased outside the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando, Florida on June 13, 2016. (Washington Post photo by Marvin Joseph)

ORLANDO:  Jeannette McCoy was in a funk after a bad breakup and wanted to cheer herself up with a night out.

So she rounded up a group of friends, put on a crop top and heels and headed to Pulse nightclub here, where an evening intended to return her to good spirits instead ended in horror.

“I just wanted to smile,” the 37-year-old said of her plans to go to the club.

McCoy, a personal trainer, sipped on a cherry vodka and soda – her bodybuilding coach gave her permission to have a drink – and spent most of the night dancing to Latin music. The club announced last call and her friend Yvens Carrenard was ready to wind down the night. McCoy had just finished dancing with a close friend, Angel Colon. Then they all heard the sound of gunshots.

“Boom, boom, boom, boom,” she said.

Her back was toward the entrance where Omar Mateen walked into the club, firing a gun. McCoy was hit with debris. Bullets were whizzing past her. She crouched and tried to turn around, viewing the carnage.

“I’m seeing people getting hit, being killed in front of me,” she said. “I see the barrel, I see the gun, and you’re seeing the flicker of the bullets coming out.”

Mateen, she said, was silent and methodical.

“He didn’t say anything. He was just shooting. . . . He came in with the intent of evil,” she said. “It was him trying to kill every single person in that club.”

Debris continued to pelt her. People were stumbling and falling and all she heard were screams and gunshots. She wanted to find her friends.

“Nobody was being spared,” she said.

McCoy said she immediately knew that the gunman was targeting gay men and women.

“You knew it was some kind of hate crime. You had a sense that this man was in there trying to kill every single one of us,” she said.

Carrenard, who was leaning against a wall when the shooting started, bolted toward a small door by the bar. He and five other people crouched inside, including a man who was shot in the leg.

McCoy, on the dance floor, saw Mateen walking toward her, getting close to where she and her friends had been standing in a circle.

“The people around me were getting shot. In my mind I kept thinking, ‘I’m going to get shot, but regardless of whether I get shot I have to get out,’ ” she said.

McCoy ducked and ran, jumping over or moving past about 20 people who were lying on the floor of the club. She made it outside to the patio.

She wasn’t sure if she had been shot. She quickly realized she hadn’t been. She saw that a man had been shot in the leg. She ripped off her crop top and used it as a tourniquet. A woman who had been shot in the arm was clearly in shock. McCoy applied pressure to the wound and told the woman that the bullet didn’t hit any organs. Phones were ringing and text message notifications chiming with people trying to find friends or reassure loved ones that they were all right. Patrons tore down a wooden wall that enclosed the patio so that people could escape.

McCoy learned Colon was shot. He was standing directly in front of her when the shooting started.

“The only reason I’m not dead is because the bullet he took in his back probably would have been in my back,” she said.

Kyle Moore went into the club to pay his tab and escaped to the patio, where his friend Dorian Wayne was standing. The men said they heard two sets of shots, and people started running between them.

The men said the police responded quickly, arriving within minutes, and that the shooting lasted about an hour. Authorities said Mateen called 911 and the scene turned into a hostage negotiation.

As McCoy waited for word of her friends outside, she grew furious at the Orlando police.

“I was flipping out on the cops,” she said, telling them to go inside and rescue people who had been shot.

Carrenard and Colon remained inside the club. Carrenard and the others climbed up a ladder inside a small room and hid there.

He was thinking: “I can’t die tonight. Not like this.”

He called 911 and told the dispatcher where they were hiding. The shooting continued.

“I could hear people screaming for help. I could hear people moaning,” Carrenard said. He said Mateen returned and resumed firing.

“He came back around to shoot people again, and then you didn’t hear people no more,” he said.

Colon had been shot three times in the initial flurry of gunfire. Mateen later shot him twice more as he lay on the floor of the club, McCoy said.

Outside, Wayne and Moore stood on a sidewalk and texted with a friend who was trapped in a bathroom.

“Our friend in the bathroom said Mateen had a racial thing,” Moore said. “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.”

The mother of a man who was trapped in the bathroom came to the scene and was texting with her son.

Sometime between 4:30 and 5 a.m., Moore and Wayne’s friend said Mateen heard the police tell hostages to back away from the wall, because they were going to breach it. The friend texted and asked the men to tell police to hurry up, because Mateen returned to the bathroom to kill more people – including the woman he’d spared earlier – after hearing the police would be there soon.

They couldn’t bear to tell the mother they’d been speaking to that night. “I didn’t want to tell her,” Moore said. He couldn’t find the words.

The men heard the “controlled explosion” go off. They said its timing was the only thing that saved their friend. He made it out.

Carrenard heard the police yell “SWAT team” and order people to come out with their hands up. The group slowly opened the door, saw the police and put their hands up.

“I was looking at the bodies when I was walking out because I didn’t want any of the bodies to be my friends,” he said.

All of McCoy’s friends survived.

“I told Angel, I said, ‘You’re my Angel because in my mind I was going to get shot,’ ” she said through tears. He remains in the hospital.

McCoy said she was supposed to get her concealed-weapons permit on Saturday. She is not sure whether she could have brought the gun into the club but said if she had had it, she would have tried to shoot Mateen.

The hours since the shooting have been a nightmare for McCoy. Never one to be afraid, she made sure all the doors and windows in her house were locked Sunday night. She couldn’t sleep. Monday night, a group of friends came to her home to keep her company. She has her .40 handgun in a safe but doesn’t have any bullets for it now.

McCoy’s car is still at the club’s valet. She almost walked home Sunday morning but found a ride. She was wearing only a bra and a pair of pants. She arrived home about 6 a.m. Exhausted, she jumped in the shower.

“I’m looking at blood on me and it’s not my blood. It’s the blood of victims. To see that it took me a minute just to clean it off because I was thinking, ‘Whose could it be? Are they alive?’ ” she said through tears.

“You have somebody else’s blood on you and you just stare at the blood. You just stare at it. This is someone else’s blood. It’s not mine. Why isn’t it mine? How did I walk away alive?”

© 2015 The Washington Post

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed)


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