National News

The Lives Lost or Changed Forever in the Pulse Nightclub Attack

Posted June 12, 2018 8:03 p.m. EDT

On June 12, 2016, a gunman laid siege to a popular gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 and wounding dozens more in a mass shooting that horrified the nation.

The second anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre was commemorated Tuesday with moments of silence but also renewed calls for tougher gun legislation and a “die in” protest near President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in South Florida.

That gun control message was underlined by a new presence at the Pulse memorial services in Orlando and in Palm Beach: students and parents from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, the Florida school where 17 people were killed in February.

Here is a look back at the lives that were lost or forever changed in the horror of the Pulse attack.

The Victims

A salon manager. An Army reserve captain. A student. An accountant. An entrepreneur. They had gone out on a Saturday night for the simplest of reasons: to have fun. The youngest was 18; just three were over 40. The dead were mostly young, mostly Latino and mostly gay — though some were none of those and a fair number were straight men and women enjoying an evening of Latin music.

One of the victims, Amanda Alvear, was dancing and enjoying music on a crowded dance floor at Pulse before shots rang out. Alvear caught the first moments when gunshots rang out on Snapchat.

Another, Angel L. Candelario-Padro, had moved to Orlando just three months before attending “Latin night” at the Pulse nightclub that Saturday. Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25, had been living in Orlando for three years, chasing his dream of becoming a dancer and choreographer.

The Survivors

That night, dozens of revelers poured into the street escaping from the packed club. Joel Figueroa, 19, of Orlando, was with his friend, Stanley, dancing when the first shots rang out.

“The only thing I could think of was to duck,” he said soon after the shooting, still obviously shaken.

Patience Carter, was hiding in a bathroom stall with two friends when she said the gunman asked whether there were any black people in the bathroom. The gunman would engage in a standoff with police that ended three hours later.

“The guilt of feeling lucky to be alive is heavy,” said Carter, who was shot in the legs and saw her friend Akyra Murray killed. “I was begging God to take the soul out of my body because I didn’t want to feel any more pain, I didn’t want any more shots.”

Angel Colon was hit three times in the leg as he raced for the door. He fell and was trampled by fleeing patrons as he tried to get back up. His left leg was shattered.

An Officer Haunted by What He Saw

In the weeks that followed the shooting, Officer Omar Delgado was haunted by visions that sneaked in as he tried to sleep.

They were of his first look inside the Pulse nightclub. Dozens of people were motionless on the blood-soaked dance floor, and the Eatonville police officer had just burst through the club’s patio door for a rescue.

“I yelled: ‘Hey, come on, get up! Let’s go! We have cover for you. Police! We’re here,'” Delgado said.

Nobody budged.

It took a moment for Delgado, 44, to realize that the “signal 43” he had responded to — Orange County police code for “Rush! Officer needs help” — was not an officer down, but a massacre of civilians.

Delgado, who had been working the night shift in a small town 8 miles north of Orlando, was in the second wave of police who responded after the initial shooting. He wound up spending hours inside, saving a few people and watching over the many dead.

“I thought they were playing dead so they would not get hit,” he said. “It wasn’t until I got my flashlight and scanned the room and saw so much blood from where all these bodies were lying. I looked to my left, to a guy who I guess got the worst end of it, and that’s when it hit me: ‘Wow, these people are all dead.'”

One Year Later

One year after the attack, we spoke to survivors like Leonel Melendez, who made it out of that night with his life and a long list of medical complications. Melendez was deaf in his left ear, and a hearing aid turbocharged his right one. But that was not all. His vision was faulty. His right foot and his left elbow were stitched up. His left kneecap was far from supple. And the thick U-shaped scar on the back of his head, where his hair won’t grow back, was a permanent reminder of the sharp turn his life took on June 12, 2016.

That was the day Melendez lay in a puddle of blood on the floor of Pulse, while the gunman randomly riddled clubgoers with bullets from an assault rifle and a pistol. As Latin music blared, Melendez was shot four times. One of the bullets slammed into the back of his head, a moment that turned him into a “1 percenter.”

“That’s what the doctors call me,” said Melendez, a Nicaraguan immigrant and 39-year-old divorced father, summing up the odds of surviving the trauma that put him in a coma for nearly three weeks.

The Gay Community Was Shaken, but Resilient

In the days after the attack, which happened during pride month, gay, lesbian and transgender activists spoke out about the frequent amount of violence perpetuated against members of the community.

Particularly awful was that the massacre had transformed what was once seen as a haven — a gay bar — into a death chamber.

“It is a horror, a total horror,” said Mary L. Bonauto, the civil rights lawyer who successfully argued the Supreme Court case on the right to same-sex marriage. “I am profoundly sad.”