They Shared Their Heartbreaking Stories In This Emotional Pulse Shooting Photo Diary
The “Dear World” project has captured the stories of those closest to the tragic Pulse nightclub shooting.
— Dear World (@dearworld) June 12, 2017
On June 12, 2016, the Pulse nightclub shooting resulted in 49 lives being tragically cut short. Over the last year, photographer Daymon Gardner, working with the the “Dear World” project, has worked to ensure that the voices of the victims will never be silenced. In their beautiful photo essay, survivors — including EMTs, doctors, police, friends and family members — shared the powerful stories of how that night forever changed their lives.
Orlando Torres, a survivor, shared the last time he saw his friend Anthony alive.
“‘Hey, how you doing, Anthony?’ We hugged, I gave him a kiss. Hope you enjoy your night and have a good night. I went to the bathroom. Within minutes, I started hearing all those gunshots. I said hello, but I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. That’s what gets me.”
As the shooting started, many people, like Angel Santiago, tried to find safety inside the club.
“We were waiting for it to pass but it didn’t pass. It kept going and going and kept getting closer and closer and suddenly I realized there’s nowhere for me to go. I’m trapped. There’s no way I can get out. I was shot through the knee and through the foot so I couldn’t walk. I pushed my body underneath the stall, down the hallway and had to drag myself to the door. I thought I was gonna die.”
Rodney Sumter was serving drinks as bartender at Pulse when the shooting began.
“I remember getting hit in the arm. It felt like, you know how in middle school you fall asleep in class and you hit your elbow and you hit your funny bone? It felt like somebody shot my funny bone. It damn near blew my arm completely off. We knew that the police were outside but there wasn’t anybody to come save us at that point.”
Alison Clarke, from the Orlando Police Department, described how the night unfolded.
“I stopped at the intersection just north of the club. As we were running down the middle of Orange Avenue, a flood of survivors came running. They were panicked, crying. Teams started bringing victims from across the street. We just kicked in, setting up triage, started loading people up in any vehicle that we could find.”
Like many family members, Mina Justice, mother of Eddie Justice, shared the heartbreaking story of the last time she talked to her son.
“2:06 a.m., I got a text. ‘I love you Mom.’ And I was like, ‘What is this boy doing?’ Then, the phone rang. It was him. ‘Call the police.’ So I’m on my work phone calling the dispatcher. ‘Mom, tell them to hurry up, I’m in the bathroom. He’s coming.’ I feel stupid, I really do, because I said, ‘Get off the phone so he won’t hear you. Text me.’ So he got off the phone.”
Others never got the chance to hear their child’s voice one last time.
For several hours, Dimarie Rodriguez, mother of Jean Carlos Nieves Rodriguez, had no idea if her son was dead or alive.
“I call my son’s roommate, ‘Go to his room and look at his bed.’ The bed was the same as it was when I saw it at 2:00 am., 3:00 am. I got scared. This is serious. I call a girlfriend, ‘Look at the media, police, the hospitals, the jails, please look for him. I don’t know where he is.’ And when she calls me back she says, ‘Listen, leave there. (sniffles) Come look for your son.'”
Jaimee Hahan was working at the hospital when the first victims started arriving.
“Someone said, ‘We’re getting some shootings.’ Okay. We do that all the time, I’m thinking. ‘There’s 20.’ I said, ’20? You mean somebody was shot 20 times?’ They said, ‘No. 20 patients.’ I was still just trying to process that. About five seconds later that the first one came in the door and the next one came in the door and they just never stopped. Just didn’t stop and it was devastating injuries.”
For police officer Omar Delgado, who helped secure the nightclub, the memories of the aftermath haunt him.
Officer Delgado explained that as he helped secure the nightclub, the sounds of cellphones ringing kept “catching him off guard.” Those calling were friends and family trying to reach the victims, who were laying on the ground, in pools of blood.
“Now phones just start ringing all over the place. The one that gets me is the one iPhone that was kind of next to my feet that just kept going and going and going. I’m looking at the wall, I’m looking at the opening and I looked down, I looked back up, looked down, looked back up. I knew what it was. It was a phone but it just kept catching me off guard. I would see the caller ID, the picture. I was like, ‘I know this person’s never going to be able to pick up this phone again.'”
Recovery, as survivor Marissa Delgado explains, isn’t defined by a length of time or an anniversary.
“How does it feel a year later or how is your recovery?” What recovery? You think I’m supposed to recover because it’s been a year? No booboo it just doesn’t happen like that. One of the common questions that I really do hate, Oh, how is your healing process? What? It takes longer than that.
This is only a small sample of the stories and portraits from the Pulse nightclub series. Please check out “Dear World’s” entire collection here.