'I Can Still Hear The Gunshots': Orlando Shooting Survivors Recall Their Night of Horror
On June 12, one man left the LGBT nightclub Pulse just minutes before the gunfire started. Another was shot six times and left to die until a first responder dragged him to safety. Now, these four stories reveal how so many are grappling with the nightmare of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, which ended with 49 dead and 53 wounded: “I can’t get those images out of my head”
Angel Colon, 26, survivor
Gravely injured, he made it out of Pulse alive
I was shot six times. The first three shots were in my right leg, then my left hip, my right hand and my butt. I thought I was going to die.
I was lying on the club floor, and I didn’t know if I was going to bleed to death or be shot again. The lady beside me had been shot too. I told her, “It’s going to be OK. Just hold my hand.” We held each other, but we could hear gunshots again. He got closer. I was holding her hand tight and I didn’t let go. Then I felt gunshots, one at a time, go into her back. I can still hear the gunshots and feel their heat. I thought I was next.
A cop called out to see if anyone was still alive and then pulled me out of there. I couldn’t move from my waist down. Another cop helped him carry me the rest of the way; I was losing a lot of blood. As soon as my cop dropped me off, he went right back in to rescue someone else.
I was awake in the ambulance. My head was throbbing. I got to the hospital around 3:30 a.m. I was waiting around for probably an hour. It was so chaotic because all of the victims were coming at once. They sewed me up a little before surgery because I was bleeding so much. My body was numb. They took care of all of my wounds and gashes and my broken femur bone. They put a rod in my hip with some screws. I remember waking up from the surgery, with a sense of relief that I was OK.
I did a press conference in the hospital [on June 14]. I was really nervous. I got in there and all I could see were cameras. The hospital asked me to do it: The nurses thought I would be the best [survivor] to talk, so I said I would -- I couldn’t let the nurses down. They have all been so awesome; They love me and they have saved me. But it was hard talking about it, especially in front of so many people. It’s still kind of fresh.
Today I saw something about the shooting on the TV and I got nauseous. I was like, “All right, change the channel.” Sometimes it makes me want to throw up. Social media has been really weird. It’s weird seeing how many messages I’m getting. I was a trend on Twitter. It’s very overwhelming, really.
Meeting the officer [who saved my life] was pure happiness. I loved it. It was so great to meet him. I told him, “I love you. Please give me a hug!” It was so awesome, I nearly cried. I just kept wanting more hugs from him. I told him once I get a car, I’m going to visit him all the time. I told him he was like my brother now; he’s always going to be a part of my life.
I keep thinking about the lady I was holding and seeing her get shot. Her son called me yesterday. He was happy because she didn’t die alone and she was with someone showing her love. That hit me really hard.
At night I get scared, but I know I am safe here. I don’t know how I will feel when I get out of rehab -- probably in about five or six months from now -- when I will go outside and see the world again. I don’t know how I will feel. But for now, I can still hear those people screaming and the gunshots. I hope at some point that noise will leave.
I still can’t believe that I was a part of this big massacre. It’s seriously unbelievable. When I lifted my head and I looked around at the club, I just kept thinking, “This cannot be happening.” But it happened and I got out of it. I’m still in shock.
—AS TOLD TO DANIELLE BACHER
Omar Delgado, 44, first responder
The police officer saved lives that night
Eatonville, where I work, is maybe 10, 15 minutes away from Orlando. That night a distress call went out and when I arrived at the scene, between 2 and 2:15 a.m., it was frantic. Picture a worst-case scenario: a lot of chaos, a lot of screaming, a lot of yelling, crying. People covered in blood.
An officer outside said, “There’s an active shooter...” I don’t think he even got to finish his sentence when we heard shots and all ran inside. I immediately noticed bodies on the ground and yelled, “Is anybody alive? Can you come toward my voice?” It took me a minute before it hit me: Nobody was getting up.'
Minutes later, we noticed somebody moving. Another officer grabbed that individual. I grabbed my flashlight, scanned the room and saw -- I can’t tell you if it was Angel [Colon] or not -- an individual moving, covered in blood. There was glass everywhere: Imagine so many bottles shattered that when you walk, you just hear glass. So when me and another officer dragged him toward the patio, I knew I was cutting him just by pulling. Then another team of officers put him on a truck. We helped out three or four people like that.
I don't know if it was the second, third body we were pulling out when we heard a burst of shots. We had to take cover: We didn't know if he was shooting at us or if he could see us; we just heard the loud firing of the weapon. Once the firing stopped, we finished pulling out that last person.
I didn't get out of there until almost eight in the morning. What happened didn't hit me until I was driving home. When I got home, I sat in my car in shock.
I hadn’t been watching the news until a co-worker called me at home [on June 14] and said, “Do you remember the guy you dragged and were cutting up with glass? He’s on TV.” Angel’s press conference was on every channel. He started telling the story of how I went up to him and dragged him out. He couldn't tell who I was and said, "I really wish I could find out who [the officer] was -- I want to thank him." It was like, "Oh my God!" Before that, I’d sat in my bedroom and wondered if anybody we pulled out made it. It wasn’t like I could find out their names so I could check on them later. No, it was pull and pull and pull.
Meeting Angel was a wonderful experience. His sisters hugged me and didn’t want to let me go. It’s not every day you get thanked for saving a person: People I’ve dealt with before in accidents go on with their lives.
Angel said, “Oh, you’re a hero.” I don’t see myself as a hero. Anybody would have done it. When someone needs help, you help.
As an officer, you know you’ve got to deal with evil. You’ve got to deal with seeing one or two or maybe three bodies in a gunfight or a car accident. That’s livable, to a degree. When you see 25 bodies massacred -- that doesn’t sit with anybody, I don’t care how much training you’ve had. I can’t get those images out of my head.
—AS TOLD TO DANIELLE BACHER
Jacobi Ceballo, 27, eyewitness
He swears he saw the shooter earlier that night
My friends and I got to Pulse at 9:40 p.m. -- we were some of the first people there. After an hour or so, I met another friend in front of the club and noticed a van -- and a guy in that van, on the phone, driving around the building, being really suspicious. That’s when I started to notice something wasn’t right. That was almost 11.
My friend and I went for a drive, then went back in the club -- I was actually in a dance competition. A little bit after the performance was over, I went to the hip-hop room and made a Snapchat video. This was 45 minutes before the massacre started. I met these two girls and we were dancing, having a good time. Tragically, one of the girls, Akyra Murray, died that night.
At about 1:30, my friends wanted to go because they were tired. Leaving, I noticed [the same] suspicious man walking on the opposite side of the club. I told my friend I felt like something bad was going to happen -- like a fight was going to go down. We get back to the car and my friend forgot to close his tab, so he went back. After five or 10 minutes, we got nervous and called him. He finally came out. We left the parking lot and the mass shooting started.
I didn’t know until later that the shooting occurred, when I got this gruesome text from a friend: “Please tell me you’re alive -- I just saw the Snapchat video you created at 1:20 and then I turned on the news.”
I went back to the crime scene the next day, trying to find out information about the victims. Thinking about those people cramped up, dead and dying -- oh my God, it’s horrific.
I’m pretty confident [the shooter was] the guy I saw. Five or six other people have matching stories -- seeing someone super-suspicious with a hat, pacing around the perimeter. Thinking about it now, my eyes get watery and I want to cry. I feel guilty, like maybe I could’ve said something.
I haven’t been able to eat. I’ve been getting very little sleep. I was crying for the past three days, but I stopped because my eyes are puffy and red; I feel like I can’t cry anymore. Every time I think about that night and look at these victims’ faces, it breaks me. One of the first people I spoke to that night -- a bouncer named Kimberly [Morris] -- was a victim. Where [shooter Omar Mateen] kept the hostages, I was there, 45 minutes prior to the shooting.
I’m very traumatized. I’m thinking about going to therapy. It’s going to take some time for me to stop thinking about this, honestly.
—AS TOLD TO BILLY JENSEN
Ginelle Morales, 34, friend and bandmate of victim
She sang with Shane Tomlinson, 33, the night he died
I met Shane in October 2013, when he called me to audition. We had great chemistry off the bat. We performed at least twice a week, sometimes four times, at private and club gigs. I spent a lot of time with Shane. A lot. We shared hotel rooms. He prayed with me over the phone many times when I was going through stuff. He was like a brother.
Our group The Frequency Band was his baby. He sang, he managed us, he was our leader. He always maintained an image: We had photo shoots once a month because he wanted the band to look good. He was a clown when he wanted to be, but when it came to business, he wanted his productions to be golden. He loved Janet Jackson, Beyoncé, Brandy, Jazmine Sullivan, Lisa Fischer, Michael Jackson and held himself to their standards. When we did weddings, the clients freaking loved him. He was one of those guys you couldn’t take your eyes off of -- he commanded the crowd. He had a million-dollar smile.
That Saturday [June 11] we had a gig at [Orlando lounge] Blue Martini. He was so freaked out because Christina Grimmie got shot the night before: “Girl, that hit too close to home -- this is what we do. Where was the security?” He was upset.
Sometimes I would hang out after shows, but that night I was tired. I literally said, “Bye, boo, I’ll call you tomorrow.” Gave him a kiss. Walked away. You don’t think that’s the last time you’re going to see that person alive. You don’t even think that.
I know it sounds kind of stupid, but I wish we took a picture together that night.
My father called on Sunday morning: “Have you heard about that mass shooting?” I was like, “Really? That’s crazy.” Then a friend from Miami called to ask if I’d heard from Shane. It all happened so fast, figuring out who last had seen him: One of our bass players stayed out with him until 12:30, then another girl was with him until 1, but she had no idea where he went after that. I thought he probably went home. Then a friend texted me: “Giselle, the last text I got from Shane was at 1:58 a.m.” The news said the shooter came in just after 2, but I thought there was no way Shane went to Pulse. We didn’t know he ever went there.
But then someone posted on Shane’s Facebook page, “Hey man! I saw you at Pulse last night. Is everything OK?” When we saw that, we lost it. We freaked out. We called all the hospitals. We gave his name and picture. They said there were a lot of John Does coming in injured. We figured he was probably unconscious and lost his wallet and that's why they didn't have his name. It was frustrating because if Shane was alive and well, he would be on the phone texting somebody -- social media king. But I didn’t want to believe the worst. I refused.
Almost 24 hours passed and we hadn’t heard from him. Then we found out from his parents that he was on the [victims] list. I was in the gym and I broke down crying. People were consoling me, complete strangers in the gym.
As a band, we are moving forward. He put his heart and soul into this, so we want to live up to the legacy that he created. When we wake up, we have to remind ourselves that he's not here. There’s nobody like him.
—AS TOLD TO CAMILLE DODERO
This article originally appeared in the July 2 issue of Billboard.