ORLANDO: It was a Saturday night at the Pulse nightclub, which could mean only one thing: a raucous, high-spirited celebration that would not end until well after daybreak.
Strobe lights were flashing and music blaring at the popular lounge, home to one of the hottest party scenes in Florida — and where around 50 people were killed and 53 injured in a mass shooting on Sunday.
Just a few days earlier, Orlando’s vibrant LGBT community had marked the annual Gay Days celebration, one of the biggest events anywhere in the United States dedicated to gay pride. The partying was to go on at Pulse, a popular dance club and bar known for its drag shows.
“Tonight 21 and up is FREEEEEEEE before 11pm,” Kenya Michaels, a well-known Puerto Rican drag queen who was slated to perform at the club, posted on Facebook earlier on Saturday.
“Come see me show time at 12 am at Pulse Orlando Doors open at 9 pm. My sister Jasmine international is performing with me,” posted Michaels — who escaped the shooting unharmed.
Scores of people turned out for the show: A contest of dancing, lip-synching drag queens took the floor one by one, showing their best dance moves, sashaying in high heels, as patrons laughed, nursed their cocktails, tossed dollar bills onto the stage.
One dancer with swiveling hips and a Beyonce-like mane slinked around the stage, as video footage posted online on Periscope captured the revelry.
Crowd of patrons thronged the area just off-stage, raised bottles of alcohols and drank shots, amid a crescendo of laughter.
Then, barely discernible under the cheers and the throbbing music, were the sounds of what one reveller said sounded like drumbeats punctuating the soundtrack.
Patron Christopher Hanson said at first he thought the loud, rhythmic sounds were part of the music “until you heard too many shots. It was like, bang, bang, bang, bang.”
At some point, it dawned on him that the “loud banging noises” were actually “gunshots going off,” Hanson said.
“I didn’t see any of the actual shooters,” he told CNN.
“I just saw bodies going down and I was ordering a drink at the bar. I fell down. I crawled out. People were trying to escape out the back. “I just know that when I hit the ground, I was crawling and I hit my elbows andmy knees. When I got across the street, there were people -- blood everywhere.”