A man who survived the nightclub shooting in Orlando by “pretending to be dead” said on Tuesday he thought “I’m next, I’m dead” as the gunman aimed at his head. Two bullets fired by the attacker, Omar Mateen, hit his hand and hip.
Appearing in a wheelchair with the doctors and nurses who treated him, Angel Colon described hearing gunfire and falling to the floor, shot in the left leg. “I couldn’t walk at all. All I could do was lay down. People were running over me.”
Colon said he had a hopeful moment when the gunman, Omar Mateen, went into a bathroom - where he later took hostages - but then emerged, systematically making his way through the club, shooting people who were already down, apparently to ensure they were dead.
“I look over and he shoots the girl next to me and I was just there laying down and thinking, ‘I’m next, I’m dead,” Colon said.
Mateen shot him twice more, one bullet apparently aimed for Colon’s head striking his hand, and another hitting his hip, Colon recalled.
“I had no reaction, I was just prepared to stay there laying down so he wouldn’t know I was alive,” Colon said. When police drove Mateen back into a restroom, an officer dragged Colon to safety, he said.
Asked his thoughts on the shooter, Colon said: “This person had to be heartless. ... This person is just enjoying doing this.”
He thanked the hospital staff and said “I will love you guys forever.”
US law enforcement officials are investigating reports that Mateen may have been gay himself, but not openly so, two officials said on Tuesday, with one describing the massacre as a possible “self-hate crime.”
Mateen left behind a tangled trail of possible motives. He also called police during his rampage to voice allegiance to various militant Islamist groups.
Federal investigators have said Mateen was likely self-radicalised and there is no evidence that he received any instruction or aid from outside groups such as Islamic State.
Mateen, 29, was a US citizen born in New York to Afghan immigrant parents. Mateen’s wife attempted to talk him out of the attack, MSNBC reported on Tuesday, citing officials familiar with her comments to the FBI.
President Barack Obama has called the attack a case of “homegrown extremism.” He has also called it both a terrorist act and a hate crime - or one targeting a specific community.
The attack on the Pulse nightclub in the central Florida city was the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history, and the worst attack on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Soon after the attack, Mateen’s father indicated that his son had harboured strong anti-gay feelings. He recounted an incident when his son became angry when he saw two men kissing in downtown Miami while out with his wife and young son.