"They were good people," Eddie says of his friends Juan and Drew, who lost their lives that night.
By
Stephanie Marie Anderson

18 Dec 2016 - 4:20 PM  UPDATED 20 Dec 2016 - 2:08 PM

1. Angel Santiago

Originally from Philadelphia, he moved to Orlando in late October 2015. Visiting Pulse with his friend Jeff, Angel recalled that it was "right around 2 o'clock" that they heard the initial shots. They dropped to the ground at first, but ran to the bathrooms as soon as they realised they were being shot at.

Hiding in the handicapped stall with "at least 15 of us, if not more", Angel recalls the situation:

“We were all very quiet, everyone’s ‘shh, shh, shh’, and that’s when, in our bathroom, the shots started coming at us, through the stall wall," he says, noting that everyone was "just screaming".

Angel was shot twice, once in his left foot, and once through his right knee. Jeff had been shot in his collar bone. Seeing that his friend was bleeding, Angel says that he then decided to try to go for help.

“Little by little, I was on my stomach at that point, I just started pushing myself out, and I go out into the little hallway that leads to the bathrooms, and I’m just very slowly, being as quiet as I could be, just dragging myself so I can see something, and eventually, I do see a police officer or a SWAT, I guess," he recounts.

"They’re like ‘HANDS UP, HANDS UP, DROP WHATEVER YOU HAVE, HANDS UP’ and I’m putting my hands up, just trying to keep my balance, and they’re telling me to stand up, and I yell out ‘I can’t stand up, I’ve been shot’ and they’re like ‘well you gotta drag yourself to us, come out,’ and I got like halfway toward them, two of the SWAT guys came to me, and like, very, very fast dragged me out of the club," he says.

Angel was taken to the hospital, given a blood transfusion, and stabilised quickly. He later found out that despite originally being in a critical condition, Angel's friend Jeff was also taken to the hospital and stabilised.

2. Eddie Meltzer

Eddie Meltzer was at Pulse the night of the attacks. After leaving a friend's 21st birthday minutes before the shooter opened fire, Eddie survived, but lost his friends Juan Guerrero, and Andrew Leinonen.

“We got there late, and I decided I was just not in the mood, I wanted to leave. I went outside, and literally five minutes later, as I come to find out, the shootings started," he recounts, remembering the "frenzy" as he tried to get in contact with his friends.

Meeting with his friends' parents later in the night, he describes the horrific scene at the hospital. 

“I’ve been in hospitals before, and you could hear the sound of grieving parents," he says. "It is the most horrible sound in the world. It is hell. That’s when I realised what was going on."

Eddie tells us about Juan and Drew, saying that "they were good people".

"I remember Drew talking all the time about what his future plans were, you know, and that was very nice. He was going to open a salon, and eventually branch out. These were humble people, just looking for a dream."

RECOMMENDED
Couple who hoped to marry will be farewelled together after Orlando shooting
"They were honestly so in love. They were soul mates."

3. Demii and Sexia

Demii and Sexia were due to attend a birthday celebration at Pulse that night, but were running late, so they’d made plans to catch up with their friends at the after party, instead.

“Everybody that was in the birthday party is literally gone,” says Demii, adding “If we would've made it early enough, we would've been caught in the middle of it.

For Demii and Sexia, the struggle is amplified not only by the loss of so many friends, but by isolation from their families, who did not reach out in the wake of the massacre.

“Not everybody is lucky to have a family that embraces you,” says Demii, who says she’s “shunned” by her family, adding that her “lifestyle, to them is a sin”.

4. Nancy Rosado

Nancy Rosado is the Vice President of the nonprofit Misión Boricua and works with both LGBTQ and Latinx communities. She had been planning to go to Pulse that night to campaign and register clubgoers to vote in the U.S. Presidential election. By a twist of fate, they didn’t end up going, and she got the news the next morning when a friend called to tell her what had happened.

Going straight to the centre, she says: “Everybody was there. People were bringing food. It was phenomenal. The gay and lesbian community turned out in bucketloads, and straight people were there bringing us stuff, and I made the observation real quick how warm it was there".

But the scene at the hospital was different.

"It hit me," she says, recalling that the "people at the centre didn't look like me."

Despite the centre being full of LGBT+ people, Nancy says that she saw her "other family" - the Latinx community - when she got to the hospital, noting, "they look like me. They sound like me."

"It was very hard to hear the names as they read them off as those who were being treated at the hospital. And they mangled those names brutally," she recalls, adding that many grieving families were confused and still did not know the fate of their loved ones, even after the names had been called.

"It hurt to the core that in 2016, you didn't think to have someone Hispanic read those names, someone Latino," she says.

For Nancy, the massacre has made her realise how much work there still is to be done.

"When you have to stand in a puddle of someone's blood to fight for your people, you realise how marginalised you really are," she says. "No matter how much you've worked and tried to convince the city, convince the county to do A, B, or C for your people, this is when you realise no, you are nothing, nothing in their eyes. You're... You're being taken care of by default. And that's hurtful. For me, it is. It's very, very hurtful. I only pray we get better from this." 

Miss Gaycation's Orlando special? You can catch up now, on SBS On Demand: