Before it was mayhem, it was business as usual at the Pulse nightclub, when Angel Colon and three friends visited to dance and drink. As they were saying their goodbyes in the early hours of Sunday morning, a lone gunman entered and began shooting, hitting Colon three times in the leg.
“It was a great night,” Colon, 26, told reporters here Tuesday morning, describing the moments just before the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
“We stopped and we started running,” he said during a news conference at the Orlando Regional Medical Center.
Colon fell to the floor, being trampled over by panicked patrons and shattering the bones in his left leg, not seeing the assailant shooting at him from behind until the man police identified as Omar Mateen came back through the gay nightclub to ensure his victims were dead.
“He’s shooting everyone who’s already dead on the floor making sure they were dead,” Colon said, recalling how he played dead as the shooter passed around him.
"I’m just laying down, I’m thinking, ' I’m dead,’” Colon said. “I don’t know how, but by the glory of God he shoots toward my head but it hits my hand. He shoots again and he hits my hip.”
As Mateen barricaded himself in the bathroom while more police arrived, an unidentified club patron grabbed Colon and dragged him through the grim scene out of the bar across the street, from where he was transported the three blocks to the hospital.
“He’s dragging me out while I’m getting cut on my behind, on my back, on my legs,” Colon said. “I don’t feel pain, but I just feel all this blood on me.”
"I look over and there are bodies everywhere.”
Doctors at the level one trauma center described being inundated with patients in the minutes after the first shots rang out. “They were being dropped off in truck-loads and ambulance loads,” Dr. Kathryn Bondani said. The emergency room exhausted its supplies, forcing a run to store-rooms and nearby hospitals as more patients arrived, and bloody towels were cleared away in seconds to make room for additional patients. The wounded arrived in waves, about 20, including Colon, after Mateen first opened fire, and roughly the same number about two hours later after police killed the shooter in a hail of gunfire after a rescue operation.
“This was the largest disaster that we probably could have imagined,” Dr. Michael Cheatham said.
Forty-four patients were brought to the hospital, and nine died within minutes, among the 49 killed in the shooting. Six more remain in critical condition, five are in guarded condition and 16 are regarded as stable, doctors said.
Doctors described using the same techniques perfected on overseas battlefields to treat the many gunshot wounds, crediting the hospital's proximity to the crime scene with saving many lives. But the extended standoff, they said, prevented them from saving more lives.
“This was somewhat of a surreal experience,” Dr. Will Havron said . “We were just given patient after patient after patient. " One OR would fill, we would proceed with operative intervention, and then literally walk to the next OR."