This story was reported by Gary Dymski, Víctor Manuel Ramos and Darran Simon. It was written by Simon.
As Angel Colon lay on the floor of the Pulse nightclub — mangled bodies nearby, the crackle of gunfire piercing the air, a mad gunman charging his way — he knew he was next to die.
Not far away, Omar Mateen, 29, was spraying the popular gay and lesbian club with bullets from his AR-15 assault rifle.
Across the club — filled with laughter, dancing and salsa and merengue a short time before — Colon said Mateen took aim and fired more rounds at the heap of bleeding clubgoers he’d already shot to make sure they were dead.
“I hear him come back. . . . I look over and he shoots the girl next to me. I think, I’m next. I’m dead,” Colon said Tuesday at the Orlando Regional Medical Center, where he was recovering from multiple gunshots. “He shoots at my head but it hits my hand. He shoots me again and it hits my hip.”
Colon could count himself among the fortunate survivors of the massacre early Sunday inside the Orlando, Florida, club, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history with 49 victims shot dead and 53 more wounded.
Colon and others described Tuesday the carnage inside the club: groups of mostly 20-something, screaming and terrified as they packed into a bathroom, or anyplace they could hide.
The doctors who treated the victims described an equally horrific scene as the wounded arrived.
A survivor told reporters she felt guilty for having lived.
Doctors said 44 patients came to the Orlando hospital. Colon and six others remain in intensive care while 20 others are recovering elsewhere in the facility.
The hospital overflowed with the wounded.
It was like “a war scene,” said Dr. Joseph Ibrahim, a trauma surgeon who ticked off a list of bullet wounds — to the chest, the abdomen and other extremities.
Outside the hospital, Minerva Perez, took a smoke break on the third day of her vigil by the room of her dear friend, Ilka Reyes.
Perez, a chef from the Kissimmee area and a regular in the Orlando gay club scene, said she lost five friends in the shooting.
She has missed work, hoping her support would help Reyes recover.
“Many of my friends left this world, and she’s hanging on,” Perez, 47, said of Reyes, struck eight times in the back as she ran.
Most of the bullets and possibly fragments are believed to still be lodged in Reyes’ back and near her ribs. Reyes, in her 20s, has undergone two surgeries so far, Perez said.
One bullet blew off part of a pinkie but Reyes, who has regained consciousness, has blinked or moved other fingers to communicate, Perez said.
Another survivor, Patience Carter, 20, of Philadelphia, read a poem to reporters.
“The guilt of feeling grateful to be alive is heavy,” she read.
Carter, a student at New York University who lost a friend in the rampage, described the final standoff as officers closed in and Mateen shot three people hiding in a bathroom.
Carter said someone shielded her from the gunfire as Mateen shot the others.
“I don’t know the name of that person. . . . If they’re somewhere watching, thank you, thank you for saving my life,” Carter said at Florida Hospital Orlando in an interview broadcast Tuesday on CNN.
Colon, originally from Puerto Rico and Boston, said he can’t walk, “but as long as I have a smile on my face and I have that love that I feel, I’m OK.”
Surrounded by his family and hospital staff, Colon described Mateen as “heartless, ruthless. . . . I heard that he was calm, just doing this thing.”
Colon said he was running away when Mateen first shot him in a leg. He couldn’t walk as he lay on the floor.
“All I could hear was gunshots, one after the other. People yelling for help,” he said.
Mateen had moved to the front of the club after he shot Colon again and started exchanging gunshots with police, Colon said. Mateen died in the gunfight.
An officer dragged Colon out, across bits of glass, to a Wendy’s restaurant parking lot across the street.
“I look over and there’s bodies everywhere,” Colon said, hesitant to speak publicly about what he witnessed.
“It’s all fresh to me,” he said, praising the hospital staff.
“I will love you guys forever,” he said.