"We went from having the time of our lives to the worst night of our lives in a matter of minutes." That's how Orlando shooting survivor Patience Carter described the chaos that erupted when a gunman opened fire at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando on Sunday, June 12, killing 49 people.
The 20-year-old spoke to reporters from a wheelchair during a press conference at Florida Hospital Orlando on Tuesday, June 14, revealing that she had been on vacation in Orlando with her best friend's family when she and her friend, Tiara Parker, 20, and Parker's cousin, Akyra Murray, 18, decided to go to Pulse.
After a fun night together, they had just called an Uber when Omar Mateen began shooting, killing 49 people and injuring 53.
Carter dropped to the ground and crawled toward the door, making it outside with Murray before they realized that Parker was missing. They rushed back inside amid the gunshots, found her and took shelter in a bathroom with other clubgoers.
They had hidden in a stall when Mateen walked into the bathroom and started shooting. Carter was shot in both legs, Parker in the side and Murray was bleeding profusely from a wound to her arm. As she lay on the floor, Carter looked into the stalls next to her and saw bodies "piled on top of each other on the toilet seat."
Mateen made a 911 call from the bathroom. "He said the reason why he was doing this is he wanted America to stop bombing his country," Carter said. (Although he was born in the U.S., Mateen's parents are from Afghanistan.)
After he ended the call, Carter says Mateen asked, "Are there any black people in here?"
She was too scared to speak, but another black person hiding in the bathroom answered him.
"I don't have a problem with black people," Mateen reportedly replied. "This is about my country. You guys suffered enough."
The Philadelphia native said Mateen had multiple conversations with the remaining people in the bathroom until the police opened fire, blowing open the bathroom wall, and the room started flooding with water from burst pipes.
She said she "made peace with God within myself," and prayed for her pain to stop. "I said, 'God, if this is how I have to go, please take me, I just don't want any more shots,'" she told reporters. "I didn't want to feel any more pain."
After a while SWAT officers shouted warnings to move away from the walls so they could blow them open, and Carter said Mateen shot and killed another three people, including a stranger who was shielding her.
"If it wasn't for that person shielding me, it would've been me shot and I wouldn't be sitting here today," she said.
Parker and Carter were found by police and transported to the hospital in separate ambulances. Murray, who had graduated high school a week earlier in Philadelphia, was the youngest of the 49 people killed by Mateen. She was celebrating her graduation with her parents and 4-year-old sister in Florida, where her brother, Alex, attends college.
Carter said she feels guilty about not telling the teen to stay outside before she went back in to find Parker, but Murray's mother "told me to not feel guilty, God has his plan."
At the press conference, Carter was in tears as she read a poem she wrote about surviving the shooting. "The guilt of feeling lucky to be alive is heavy," she said as she read the lines she'd written the previous night.
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