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A year after Pulse shooting, survivor reflects on recovery

June 11, 2017 at 4:28 PM EDT
In the early morning of June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen opened fire at Pulse, a popular gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It was the worst mass shooting of civilians in American history, leaving 49 people dead and dozens injured. NewsHour Weekend’s Ivette Feliciano spoke with one of the survivors of the attack about her harrowing experience inside the club and how she’s recovering one year later.

By Ivette Feliciano, Sam Weber, and Michael D. Regan

IVETTE FELICIANO: On vacation in Orlando last June 12th, 20-year-old Patience Carter, on the left, her friend Tiara Parker, and Parker’s cousin, Akyra Murray, decided to go out to the Pulse night club.

PATIENCE CARTER: It was so much fun, and we were talking to each other throughout that night, like we are definitely coming back here, this is a spot for vacation. We were so set on coming back again, and then the gunshots started.

IVETTE FELICIANO: Shortly after 2 AM, Omar Mateen entered the club armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a handgun and began firing.

PATIENCE CARTER: We didn’t know if it was gunshots, we didn’t know if it was part of the music. All we were doing was feeling the reactions of other people. And everybody was chaotic. And at this point, people are just kind of just running back and forth, not really knowing what to do. I dropped to the floor because I don’t know what to do.

IVETTE FELICIANO: Carter, Parker, and Murray ended up hiding together in the club’s bathroom. Within minutes, Mateen would follow.

PATIENCE CARTER: We were the last few to get into the bathroom stall that we were in. And there was already about maybe, what, 17-20 people in that stall already. So we closed the door, and then we just sat down on the floor. So you could still hear people screaming in other parts of the club. And then there was a period of silence. He walks in, you could hear his footsteps, and then he starts shooting into our bathroom. When his gun got jammed, that’s when the shooting stopped.

IVETTE FELICIANO: Carter had been shot in both legs. She laid on the bathroom and tried to stay quiet. At 2:35 am, she heard Mateen call the police and pledge allegiance to ISIS.

OMAR MATEEN 911 CALL: You have to tell America to stop bombing Syria and Iraq. They’re killing a lot of innocent people.”

PATIENCE CARTER: That’s when it kind of confirmed for me that we weren’t going to get out of here, because he had a motive, he was there for a reason, and he was trying to prove something. So at that point I pretty much just gave up.

IVETTE FELICIANO: You thought you were never going to get out of there?

PATIENCE CARTER: I absolutely thought I was never going to get out. Honestly, yeah. I lost hope very, very quickly. So I just started making peace with God.

IVETTE FELICIANO: Two-and-half hours later, police plowed through the bathroom wall in an armored vehicle. Right before that, Carter says, Mateen came into the bathroom stall where she was hiding.

PATIENCE CARTER: He has his handgun in his hand. At this point, my face is turning to the other stall, because I really just didn’t want to get shot in the face. And I heard him say “Hey, you.” He shot someone. He shot another person. And then right before the police came in, he shot the
person that was directly behind me. That’s when the wall came down, so the police came through the wall. All the debris was pretty much all over my face, but I could see through this one peephole throughout all the debris, I saw the lights, just the sparks from them exchanging gunfire with one another. And then there was silence.

IVETTE FELICIANO: Carter spent six days in an Orlando hospital, undergoing surgery on her leg. Her friend Tiara Parker, shot in the stomach, survived. Parker’s cousin, Akyra Murray, did not.

IVETTE FELICIANO: Carter returned to New York University and has just completed her junior year. She’s largely recovered from her physical injuries, but not her emotional scars.

PATIENCE CARTER: At the beginning of this school year, I was limping to class. I was literally doing this and getting to class. And now I’m just walking straight by the end of this school year. Emotionally, I think, it’s like every day is a different kind of struggle. Some days I’m really up, and I’m so happy, life is great, I’m excited about this thing that happened, this thing that happened. And then some days I just find myself falling into this dark place that I don’t want to go back to. I was in a really dark place in the hospital, and sometimes I feel myself going back there.

IVETTE FELICIANO: Carter is writing a book about surviving the Pulse nightclub attack. News of other terrorist attacks, like the one after a pop concert in Manchester, England, last month, hits her particularly hard.

PATIENCE CARTER: We’re all, you know, at risk of being, just like, having our lives devastated
at some point. So I just really hope we don’t forget about the people and the families that are being affected by these situations that happen. Because they’re real people.