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In her own words: Pulse nightclub shooting survivor Patience Carter

Patience Carter, 20 of Philadelphia, breaks down in tears as Neil Finkler, Chief Medical Officer, comforts her as she recounts the events at the Pulse night club during a press conference with fellow survivor, Angel Santiago, 32, also from Philadelphia, on Tuesday at the Florida Hospital Orlando. [ZACK WITTMAN | Times]
Published Jun. 14, 2016

At a news conference Tuesday at Florida Hospital Orlando, 20-year-old Patience Carter hugged the medical team that treated her after she was shot multiple times during Sunday's massacre.

This is her account, in her own words.

Before I start to share my story, I want to recite a poem that I wrote in the middle of the night last night, which really shows everything that I'm feeling right now. And it's a part of my healing process: writing. So…

The guilt of feeling grateful to be alive is heavy.

Wanting to smile about surviving but not sure if the people around you are ready.

As the world mourns, the victims killed and viciously slain, I feel guilty about screaming about my legs in pain.

Because I could feel nothing like the other 49 who weren't so lucky to feel this pain of mine.

I never thought in a million years that this could happen.

I never thought in a million years that my eyes could witness something so tragic.

Looking at the souls leaving the bodies of individuals. Looking at the killer's machine gun throughout my right peripheral. Looking at the blood and debris covered on everyone's faces. Looking at the gunman's feet under the stall as he paces.

The guilt of feeling lucky to be alive is heavy.

It's like the weight of the ocean's walls crushing uncontrolled by levies. It's like being drug through the grass with a shattered leg and thrown on the back of a Chevy. It's like being rushed to the hospital and told you're gonna make it when you laid beside individuals whose lives were brutally taken.

The guilt of being alive is heavy.

How did me and my friends end up at Pulse nightclub? Well, we just got to Orlando, Florida, from Philadelphia the night before. So we just got there. This is my first time ever being in Florida, first time ever being in Orlando, first time ever being at Pulse nightclub.

How did we even get there? Akyra, who unfortunately is no longer here, Google mapped popular clubs in Orlando and Pulse was the first one to come up. It had five stars, and we were so excited. We were extremely excited.

So her mom and her dad drove us there. And we actually reached Pulse nightclub outside of it around 11:50. But because we needed to go get changed to get inside, we walked over to 7-11 together. So by the time we got to Pulse nightclub it was probably a little after 12.

And at the door, they checked our IDs to make sure that we were over 18. But the sweetest face greeted me right before I paid my $10. Her name was Amanda. She was one of the victims who unfortunately did not make it. She had glasses and her bang. I told her that her shoes were the cutest I've ever seen.

She let me be her plus-one so I didn't have to pay. So when we entered together, Amanda, Akyra and Tiara Parker, who's my best friend, we were all having a good time for a short period of time before Amanda actually disappeared. We don't even — we didn't remember what happened to her. She said she was going to the bathroom because there are three parts of Pulse nightclub as you all know now.

IN HIS OWN WORDS: Survivor Angel Colon speaks out

There's a patio that's outside. There's a middle section. And there's an indoor — another indoor part where most of the live entertainment takes place back there. And at first when we got in we were hanging out in the middle section with Amanda.

And then when she went to the bathroom, we waited for awhile. But we realized she didn't come back, so we just... we decided to go to the bathroom too because we had to go to the bathroom, and we didn't see her in there.

So we just decided to go in the indoor part after that — the back indoor part where the rest of the live entertainment was taking place. And we stayed there the rest of the night until the gunshots started.

And we were having the time of our lives. Akyra was the life of the party, literally. And everybody loved her. Everyone just adored her.

Tiara Parker was her cousin. We were just all having the night that we dreamed of of going out. Literally it was the best. It was the most beautiful bonding experience any three girls could have on their first night out on vacation.

And it wasn't until about 1:58 when I looked at Akyra's phone, and I turned to Tiara. I said, "So how are getting home?" Tiara told me, "Oh, we're gonna get an Uber." So she started to order the Uber. And a few seconds from her ordering the Uber and me asking that question, that's when we started hearing the gun shots going off in the middle section where we had left from.

At first we didn't know that there were gun shots. I... I didn't know. I was so confused. I was like, "Wow. A club would do all this just to get people to leave their club?" Like they would have like BB guns — I thought it was a BB gun at first, or the DJ playing some sort of sound of gunshots. I didn't think they were actually real gunshots.

But the fear inside me made me drop to the floor anyways. So I'm scrambling on the floor. Tiara and Akyra run towards the bar, and I'm scooting backwards not realizing that I'm about to go out the door, and it was actually the exit there.

And I saw Akyra get up and run over to me, and I look up, and we're actually outside. Me and Akyra actually made it outside while the gunshots were still going on.

And I said, "Well where's Tiara? Where's Tiara?"

IN HIS OWN WORDS: Survivor Angel Santiago speaks out

So... And the part of the poem where I feel so guilty about surviving is because if I would've told Akyra to stay outside and just wait and I tried to go back and get Tiara because she didn't make it. Me and Tiara did make it, and I feel really guilty about that. And I was speaking to her mom and she told me not to feel guilty. You know, God has his plan. But I told her, "Let's go get Tiara. We gotta get Tiara."

So when we went inside, we got trapped in there. So we saw Tiara, but everybody was rushing into the bathroom stall. Everyone was rushing to the bathroom stall. The gunshots were still going off rapidly. And it's still not real to me. It's still not real to me. I'm just like, "Why are they doing all of this?" And I was even Snapchatting in the bathroom stall once we got in there. We ran into the bathroom. Me, Tiara and Akyra were like actually the last ones to actually get into the bathroom stall, the handicap one, the biggest one.

And the guy... It was an African American male who ended up closing and locking the door who I believe got shot from doing that in the process.

And the gunman entered the bathroom and was shooting his machine gun. So we're all like scrambling around in the bathroom screaming at the top of our lungs when he was in there for the first time.

And then, you know, people were getting hit by bullets. Blood is everywhere, and then there was a moment where he stopped shooting in the bathroom, and that's when everyone looked around, and that's when I first realized that my leg was shot. There was several other people shot and bleeding in the bathroom.

That's when Akyra, who didn't make it, realized she was shot in her arm. And I'm not sure if that was when Tiara also got shot in her side, but we were all pretty bad. And at that point we knew that this wasn't... this wasn't a game. This was very real, and this is something that was really happening to us right now.

And it was shock. We just went from having the time of our lives to the worst night of our lives all within a matter of minutes.

So the gunman had stopped shooting for awhile. I don't know where he went, but I was lying in the bathroom floor. I was right underneath the stall wall. So the stall wall was like right above my face because I was trying to get most of my body into the second stall because there was a lot of people, and my leg was injured at the — I got shot in my leg, and it was actually pinned under the person who was laying right next to me, so it was very painful.

And we laid there for hours and hours hoping that someone came and got us and hoping that the police would come through at that point in time and just like save us all.

But throughout that period of hours, the gunman was in there with us, and he actually made a call to 911 from in there. Everybody could hear it who was in the bathroom who survived could hear him talking to 911 saying that the reason why he's doing this is because he wants America to stop bombing his country. And from that conversation, from 911, he pledged his allegiance to ISIS and he started speaking and I believe after he got off the phone with 911, he started speaking in Arabic. And now that I know to be Arabic. At first I didn't know like what the language was.

And... and after that, he even spoke to us directly in the bathroom. He said, "Are there any black people in here?" I was too afraid to answer, but there was an African American male in the stall where most of my body was, the majority of my body was, had answered. And he said, "Yes. There are about six or seven of us."

And the gunman responded back to him saying that, "You know, I don't have a problem with black people. This is about my country. You guys suffered enough." And he just... He made a statement saying that it wasn't about black people, this isn't the reason why he was doing this.

But through the conversation with 911, he said that the reason why he was doing this was because he wanted America to stop bombing his country. So the motive was very clear to us who were laying in our own blood and other people's blood who were injured, who were shot, that we knew what his motive was, and he wasn't going to stop killing people until he was killed, until he felt like his message got out there.

And he made several other comments like while we were in the bathroom.

And just quickly to retract for a second, when he first came in the bathroom, there were like pellets. It felt, what felt like BB gun pellets is what I got... gave me the impression that it was a BB gun is because there were wall fragments hitting my legs, but that was really just the machine gun that he had blaring around the entire room.

And it actually got jammed. He was like, "Damn!" Like it jammed. So with my face under the stall looking I could see him put down his machine gun and try to... and you could hear him trying to click and fix his handgun.

So time goes on and people's phones are going off. People are obviously calling. And there was actually a... Before he came back in you know Akyra was on her phone talking to her mom asking, and that's when everybody was asking for people to come and get us and help and you know save us basically. And you know people were on the phone with 911.

But when he came back into the bathroom after that first round of machine gun shots went off, that's when he wanted everybody to get off their phones. He didn't want to hear anybody on their phones. He didn't want to hear any text message sounds. He didn't want to hear any phones ringing, so every time a phone rung or every time a text message went off, he would say, "Where is it? Give it up. Where is it?" And it was a point in time where there was somebody's phone who was going off. It wasn't even inside the stall. It wasn't even inside the stall. The phone was outside. And because he was still saying, "Where is it? Give it up. Give it up." I just tossed my phone out because I didn't even... nobody was responding, so we're assuming that the person whose phone it was was either already shot, dead or they just didn't know it was their phone that was outside of the stall.

But the last shots that went off that he did inside the bathroom while we were held hostage was right before the police bust through our bathroom that we were inside of.

So there were three explosive sounds that went off right before the police actually rescued us from inside the bathroom. And at first we thought that they were the other gunman that he's communicating with that were exploding themselves because it was a point in time in the bathroom after the phone call he made with 911 and I believe after his statement that he made about not having a problem with black people but it being for his country. It seemed — it sounded as if he was communicating with other people who were involved with it. He made a statement that the police ... if the police come in they're gonna attack, but it's okay, we got the snipers outside. Whoever he spoke to and, you know, some police officers said maybe he was just deranged, maybe he was talking to himself, but I honestly feel like I don't feel like he was able to pull that off all by himself, that one man all by himself. And because he said it out his face that he had snipers outside. And the first shots that you heard, they were so many shots going off. That's why it sounded like it was a part of the music, couldn't believe that this was actually gunshots happening — so many at one time.

So right before the wall, like, right before the SWAT, or, the PD bust through the wall, he actually started backing into the bathroom stall itself that myself, Tiara Parker and Akyra, who didn't make it, was inside of.

And I could see his feet like scooting back, scooting back, scooting back as he heard the police outside. And the last thing that I heard before the police said, you know, "Move away from the walls," because obviously they were about to bust through again, he said, "Hey you," to someone on the floor inside the bathroom and shot them, shot another person, and then shot another person, who happened to be directly behind me, who I'm told through the eyes of Tiara that shielded me with their own body to make sure that I wasn't hit. And I don't know who that person is, I don't know the name of that person but if I could -- if they're somewhere watching from... Thank you. Thank you for saving my life literally. If it wasn't for that person shielding me, it would've been me shot, and I wouldn't be sitting here today to talk about it.

So after he ... rang off those last three shots: "Hey you." Bow bow bow. They bust through the wall, and they started engaging in gun fire after they told him, "Put your weapon down! Put your weapon down!" So they engaged in gun fire, they got him, they shot him dead. And from that point — because the wall had exploded, the pipes, there was water starting to rise. I was getting really scared because I was thinking, "If I don't get... If they don't get to me soon or something I might drown sitting in here in this water, this pile of bloody water."

But I was able to get the debris off my face, and I was able to push myself from underneath the stall wall and come out the other side where the handicap bathroom was, the handicap stall was.

And I was able to sit up and pull my leg from underneath the person who just was killed beside me. And I was asking Tiara Parker, I said, "Tiara, are you shot?" And she said, "Yeah," she got shot in her side. I said, "What's wrong with Akyra? What's wrong with Akyra?" Akyra was laying over Tiara's lap, lifeless. But according to the African American male who was luckily unharmed who was not shot at all, he checked Akyra's pulse at the time and said that she still had a pulse, she's still breathing.

So that was the last thing Tiara basically said to me like, "She's breathing. She's breathing."

So when the SWAT members started coming in, we told them like, "Beware. There's snipers outside. He said there's snipers outside." And they were asking us, "Well is anymore bombers inside?" We're like, "No, no, no. It's just us. Like he was the last one, he was the last one."

So we were all raising our hands up and a SWAT team member picked me up. I put most of my weight on him to try to keep the weight off of my leg, and I actually saw Akyra's phone right before I got out the wall, and I picked it up because I truly believe like after I was told she was breathing that her pulse was still going, that I would be able to give that phone back to her...

(LONG PAUSE)

... once we got back, once we got back into the hospital.

So they pulled me out the wall, I couldn't walk, so the SWAT team member had to drag me by my arms through the grass with my leg. It's bad. It's pretty bad. But they were able to get it back together. The bullet had shattered my femur bone in my right leg and the bullet had went through my left leg, so I didn't even know I was shot in my left leg until they cut my clothes off in the ambulance and told me like you have another bullet wound under your left thigh.

So... I'm still here.

-- compiled by Kathryn Varn, Times Staff Writer

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