June 13, 2016 – palmbeachpost.com- Janiel Gonzalez, 26, said he was sober and he remembers checking his watch just before walking up to the bar at Pulse nightclub.
“I was ordering a Red Bull at the bar. I decided not to drink alcohol last night. As I was signing my tab, out of nowhere’ — and Gonzalez mimics the bud-dudda sound of the rapid gunfire he heard.
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At first, he said, people thought it was a fireworks display for the music. “But it got louder and louder,’’ he said. “It wasn’t until everybody started smelling the ammunition everybody realized this is real life.’”
Dozens of people dived to the floor and started climbing over each other looking for an exit. Many cut themselves crawling on the floor over glass from smashed beer bottles that were tossed by panicked patrons in the early moments.
“I remember telling myself, ‘This is not how I die,’’’ Gonzalez, 26, said.
“When I dropped to the floor and saw people crying and covered in blood. The scent of the ammunition and bullets, I was like ‘This is real life. This is happening right now.’”
He said he never saw the gunman, who was in an adjacent room about 20 feet away. He said he thought the initial burst of gunfire lasted eight or nine minutes.
“He kept on shooting and shooting and shooting, rapid fire,’’ Gonzalez said, “and he’d change (clips), put in more ammunition — bud-dudda. I could smell the ammo in the air.’’
He said he heard another gun from a different direction, so he wonders if there were two gunmen.
“Everybody dropped to the floor. We were trying to look for an exit. But the main exit was right next to the entrance where the shooter was shooting,’’ he said.
“In a moment of desperation we were all crawling on the floor trying to find a place to exit. I looked to my right and I could see people going through some curtains. We were digging through the curtains and found a door.’’
But he said the door was blocked by a man. He wasn’t sure if it was a club security person or an accomplice to the gunmen.
“Fifty people were trying to jump over each other trying to exit the place. There was a guy holding the door and not letting us exit. He’s like ‘Stay inside, stay inside.’ As he is saying that, the shooter keeps getting closer and closer and the sound of the bullets is getting closer. Everyone starts to panic. People are getting trampled. Let us out, let us out!’’’
Gonzalez’ first thought was that it was a hate crime. “This guy is trying to prevent us from leaving. Maybe they’re working together,’’ he said.
Gonzalez said he feel lucky because he hung out on the left side of the club, while the gunman concentrated fire on the right side.
“When you enter the club, there’s a right wing and a left wing. The shooter entered and went straight to the right. He never came to the left (side), which is the hiphop room where the majority of my friends were. Everybody in the right (wing) room got injured.’’
“I’m pretty sure it was more than one person. I heard two guns going at the same time. It was very, very crazy.’’
Gonzalez and a friend finally knocked over a fence to escape. On his way outside, he said he lost a shoe and stepped on a nail and cut his foot.
“It was complete utter choas’’ as patrons finally got outside the club, running for cover in nearby stores and restaurants.
“People were running to hide in the Wendy’s. People running to hide in the Subway. I was hiding in the refrigerator of a Seven-11. The Seven-11 manager was like. “Get in the back.’’
Gonzalez said he got paranoid and, thinking it was a hate crime against gay men, hid in the women’s restroom for 25 minutes.
Finally, he made arrangements for a friend to pick him up outside. “I limped toward the hospital and a friend picked me up,’’ he said.
Gonzalez said he knows two friends were hurt and two others are still missing.
“Everybody came out with scrapes or huge gashes,’’ he said, because “everyone threw bottles down” on the floor when the gunfire erupted.
Gonzalez tried to help others, grabbing shirt sleeves and yanking people to the ground, saying “Get down, get down!”
“I tried to get as many people out the door as I could but it was very difficult,’’ he said.
He said his biggest “takeaway” from the tragedy is to know where the exits are in any venue you visit, whether a night club or a movie theater. “I feel like I could have saved a lot more people if we knew where the proper exits were.’’