A Marine reportedly saved countless lives when he put himself in the line of fire to guide panicked patrons to safety during the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando Sunday that left 49 people dead.
War veteran Imran Yousuf was working as a bouncer at Pulse when Omar Mateen opened fire with an AR-15 assault rifle on the crowded nightclub.
As he made his rounds in the club after last call, the 24-year-old Hindu said he immediately recognized the sound of the military-style firearm when Mateen began shooting.
“The initial one was three or four (shots). That was a shock. Three or four shots go off and you could tell it was a high caliber,” he told CBS News.
Frightened patrons froze and then rushed into the back hallway, crowding the enclosed space and not moving any further, he said. Yousuf knew a door was beyond the group of panicked people, but it needed to be unlatched.
“And I’m screaming ‘Open the door! Open the door!’ And no one is moving because they are scared,” he recalled. “There was only one choice. Either we all stay there and we all die, or I could take the chance, and I jumped over to open that latch and we got everyone that we can out of there.”
Between 60 and 70 people poured out of the club after the door opened, he said.
“I wish I could have saved more to be honest,” Yousuf said, beginning to cry. “There are a lot of people that are dead… there are a lot of people that are dead.”
Forty-nine people were fatally shot and 53 others were wounded in the attack. The Marine, who served in Afghanistan, later learned that he also lost friends during the mass shooting, he said in a Facebook post. He shrugged off praise of his actions, saying that his training had simply kicked in at a time when it was needed most.
“While it might seem that my actions are heroic I decided that the others around me needed to be saved as well and so I just reacted,” he wrote on Facebook.
“I do appreciate the love and support and thank all of you from the bottom of my heart but please, this is not about me,” he continued. “We need to show our love and profound efforts to the families and friends who have lost someone and help them cope with what happened and turn our efforts to those who truly need it.”
Members of the Orlando Police Department are also being lauded for their actions in stopping Mateen.
Officer Adam Gruler was working extra duty at Pulse when he headed toward the shots and exchanged gunfire with Mateen to stop him.
Lieutenant Scott Smith and Sergeant Jeffrey Backhaus arrived on the scene soon after and the firing continued.
The shooting turned into a hostage situation when Mateen went deeper in the club, entering one of the bathrooms where clubgoers were hiding, officials said.
Mateen called 911 and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State before crisis negotiators stepped in and tried to talk to him, Orlando Police Chief John Mina said Monday.
After Mateen mentioned explosives and bombs, the SWAT team stormed the club using a controlled explosive and an armored BearCat vehicle to make a hole in the club’s exterior wall so club goers could get out.
About 30 hostages were rescued as SWAT team members went after Mateen, authorities said.
Officers Timothy Stanley, Kevin Easterling, Andrew Bishop, Ricardo Duenas and Michael Napolitano, Sergeant James Parker, Detective Raul Rivas and Lieutenant Jonathan Bigelow exchanged gunfire with Mateen before shooting and killing him, police said.
Napolitano suffered a laceration to his forehead where a bullet hit his Kevlar helmet. Police released a sobering image of the helmet with a bullet hole at its center.
(Orlando Police Department)
Mina praised the work his officers did Sunday, saying in a touching email: “On the darkest day of my 25 years at the Orlando Police Department, I wanted to take a moment to tell all of you how proud I am of the work you have done today and will do over the next days and weeks.
“We have trained again and again for this type of situation. It’s unfortunate that we had to put those skills to use today. But because of that training and your professionalism, we saved dozens of lives this morning… I know that you have all been affected today by the tragic actions of a lone terrorist who cut short the lives of so many. Our community, our City, and our Department will be grieving in the days, weeks and months to come.
But on a day like today – and every day – I couldn’t be more proud to be your Chief.”