Two days after the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history, survivors are mourning loved ones and recalling the bloody night in interviews with the media and in solemn events around the grief-struck city of Orlando.
Gunman Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 others after he opened fire at the Pulse nightclub, a gay hotspot in central Florida. The rampage lasted three hours before police shot him dead.
A number of survivors have recounted the bewilderment, even a sense of betrayal, at being caught up in unfathomable carnage and terror inside a venue they had presumed to be a welcoming refuge for Orlando's LGBT community.
Demetrice Naulings had gone to the nightclub on Saturday night with friend Eddie Justice, whom he considered more like a kid brother.
After shots rang out around 2am, Naulings and Justice fled toward a bathroom together to find shelter, but were separated in the panic.
Naulings, 34, remembered how Justice begged to keep him safe.
“When you tell your friend that you're gonna take care of him, and then to walk out of there and he's not with you, is something that's going to hurt and haunt,” he told Reuters.
Another account offered fresh insight into the potential motive for the attack. Mateen, a New York-born security guard of Afghan descent, appeared to have been nursing sympathies for a number of Islamist militant groups.
Patience Carter, another nightclub patron, said she heard Mateen pause during the shooting to place an emergency 911 call and pledge allegiance to the Islamic State group over his mobile telephone.
At that moment, she lay huddled in the club's blood-soaked bathroom, shot in the leg and pinned under other people around her.
After Mateen got off the phone, according to Carter, the gunman wondered aloud how many black people there were in the bathroom.
"He made a statement saying it wasn't about black people ... he said the reason why he was doing this is that he wanted America to stop bombing his country," Carter said.
Carter, 20, was one of dozens of people treated for injuries after the incident. Orlando medical officials said six people were still in critical condition, and authorities have warned the death toll could still rise.
Looking for a ‘safe zone’
Angel Santiago, 32, was visiting Orlando from Philadelphia. He told reporters that he went to Pulse about 12:30 am with a friend because they were looking for a "safe zone" in an otherwise unfamiliar city.
“For me being a gay man going to a club like Pulse, it's kind of like a safe haven, because you can't go to any old bar and be who you are, because there is hate everywhere,” Santiago said.
Orlando officials announced Wednesday that an assistance centre for victims’ families and survivors had opened at the World Stadium, previously known as the Citrus Bowl.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said the centre will provide grief counseling, legal information and funeral-arrangement assistance.
It will also help with translators and transportation needs.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP)
Date created : 2016-06-15