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Family members wait for word from police after arriving down the street from a shooting involving multiple fatalities at Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, June 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Phelan M. Ebenhack—AP

David Ward was awakened by the horror with the initial gunshots early Sunday morning in his condo overlooking the rear of the Pulse nightclub.

“Pop, Pop,” he described the initial shots as sounding like the backfiring of a gasoline engine.

Inside the club, those dancing and drinking thought they were illicit fireworks set off to the hip-hop music. Within seconds, it was clear it was something else entirely.

It was the gunman, Omar Mateen, opening fire on innocents at the LGBT nightclub.

Dozens of shots rained out quickly. The dance floor became a sea of bodies. The dead. The dying. The scrambling to get out. Hundreds fled out the doors, running as fast as they could to get away.

“A number of them turned back around when they realized that their friends that they came with weren’t with them,” said Ward, who shot the video below.

An off-duty police officer stationed at the club opened exchanged fire with Mateen near the entrance. More officers arrived within and traded fire, as Mateen retreated to a bathroom with several hostages. He used a cell phone to call 911 to pledge his allegiance to the Islamic State, law enforcement officials said. 15-20 people were trapped in an adjacent restroom, unable to leave. Talking to hostage negotiators Mateen was calm and collected, Orlando police Chief John Mina said, as he threatened to detonate explosives and kill his hostages. Believing the loss of more life was imminent, police ordered a rescue operation.

A SWAT team used explosives and an up-armored vehicle to breach a rear wall of the club. “It shook the building. It was a pretty big concussion,” said Ward. More than a dozen people trapped inside the club climbed through the hole. So did Mateen, exiting with a pair of weapons, apparently bent on causing more harm. In an intense barrage,
officers killed Mateen.

“The amount of fire was just unbelievable,” Ward told TIME.

Officers and EMTs moved in quickly to remove the wounded, unsure if there were explosives set to detonate.

“They were dragging people out on tarps from the scene as fast as they could across the street to the beds of pickup trucks and took off for the hospital,” Ward said.

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