Witnesses recount horror, chaos after Orlando dance club massacre

·Reporter

Survivors of the Sunday morning massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando are sharing their harrowing experiences escaping from the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

The gunman, identified as 29-year-old Omar Mateen, fatally shot about 50 people and injured another 53 at the popular gay club before law enforcement officers stormed the building and killed him, authorities said.

As authorities investigated the incident on Sunday, several people who survived the shooting came forward to talk about how they ran for their lives and helped others to safety.

Joshua McGill, who was dancing at the club with his roommates, told ABC News that he did not know what was happening at first and was in “kind of a daze” because he did not see the shooter or gunshots.

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“It was just a loud sound, so we didn’t know what it could have been,” McGill said to the station.

He and his friends sneaked out the back door and climbed over a fence. But they knew they had to help when they saw someone covered in blood “stumbling through the parking lot,” he said.

An injured man is escorted out of the Pulse nightclub after a shooting rampage early Sunday morning in Orlando. (Photo: Steven Fernandez/AP)
An injured man is escorted out of the Pulse nightclub after a shooting rampage early Sunday morning in Orlando. (Photo: Steven Fernandez/AP)

McGill removed his shirt to make a tourniquet, a type of bandage used stop the flow of traumatic bleeding, for the bullet wounds on the man’s arms.

“I said a prayer for him, and I let him know that I’ll be there waiting for him as long as I can,” McGill told ABC News. He added that he has been in touch with the man’s friends.

Luis Burbano, another witness at the club, had a similar experience outside Pulse. He said he was getting ready to leave when gunfire erupted.

“The DJ was playing a typical set that incorporated gunshots, which we thought was part of the music,” Burbano told CNN. “Four shots, ‘pop-pop-pop-pop.’ But for some reason it was different. No one put two and two together until the fifth and sixth. Between 10 and 20, that’s when it started really getting real.”

During a 10-second break in the gunfire, Burbano said he and 20 to 30 people managed to “make a break for the door.”

As he fled, Burbano said he saw someone who had collapsed right in front of him.

“I grabbed him, not realizing that his forearm had split in two,” he said. “And then I realized he had a gash on his side as well.”

Burbano took off his shirt to create a makeshift bandage for the young man’s arm.

After they reached safety, he started talking to another wounded 20-something to keep him calm. Burbano learned the victim was visiting Orlando from Jacksonville for the weekend.

“Before you knew it, this guy was pacing, looking for a family member, back and forth, and he had a bullet sticking out,” he said.

Ray Rivera, a DJ at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, is consoled by a friend outside of the Orlando Police Department after a mass shooting early Sunday morning that left at least 50 people dead. (Photo: Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
Ray Rivera, a DJ at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, is consoled by a friend outside of the Orlando Police Department after a mass shooting early Sunday morning that left at least 50 people dead. (Photo: Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

Burbano took off his other shirt to help stem the flow of blood from the second man’s leg. He kept them both by his side until paramedics arrived.

“Once they took them off about 10 or 15 minutes later, then we were told to quickly evacuate and move farther up the street as far as we could.”

Several witnesses identified themselves and shared their stories on Pulse’s official Facebook account. Ricardo J. Negron Almodovar, for instance, said people on the dance floor dropped to the ground when the shooter opened fire and that some people managed to escape through the back exit and just kept running.

“Another customer kindly offered to take three of us to our homes. Forever indebted to him!” he wrote.

Almodovar said security does not check for weapons before patrons enter Pulse but that from his experience, the club is usually “nice and very safe.”

Another club-goer, Christopher Hansen, said the gunshots, which started just as he took the first sip from his drink, sounded like they could have been part of the song that was playing. It was not until he saw victims falling to the ground that he realized the gravity of the situation.

“I looked over and I saw bodies falling, people screaming. The person next to me was shot — the blood splattered. I fell down and crawled out. I was crawling, and people stomped on me,” he told NBC News. “When I crouched down, I was zigzagging just in case because you could still hear the bullets going off, so you have no idea whether they were outside, inside.”

Hansen, who recently moved to Orlando, said he was pleased with how quickly law enforcement responded to the shooting. Officers were already there by the time Hansen was leaving the building, he said.

“There were so many people responding. The whole community did,” he said.

Similar to McGill and Burbano, Hansen also rendered aid to someone else using an article of clothing. He said he used his bandana to help stop the blood flowing from someone’s leg.

Early Sunday afternoon, President Obama said the FBI is leading an open investigation into this “act of terror” in partnership with local law enforcement. He said the shooting was especially heartbreaking for members of the LGBT community.

“The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends to dance and to sing and to live,” Obama said. “The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub. It was a place of solidarity and empowerment, where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds and to advocate for their civil rights.”

The commander in chief also said the day was a sobering reminder that an attack on Americans — regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation — is an attack on all Americans and the nation’s fundamental values of equality and dignity.