Pulse Nightclub Shooting: Hero Cop Omar Delgado Struggles to Cope
Omar Delgado, one of the first responders to the Pulse Nightclub massacre, lives with constant reminders of one of the worst mass shootings in modern U.S. history.
It takes only the unmistakable, bouncing ringtone of an iPhone to send Omar Delgaldo right back to hell.
Two years ago, inside the darkened Pulse nightclub, thick with blood and the smell of cordite, the Eatonville police officer could hear hundreds of cell phones ringing unanswered. Their owners were either dead or seriously wounded.
Today, as the anniversary nears of the infamous shooting spree that left 49 people dead, Delgado still freezes every time he hears the ubiquitous sound, and catapults back in time.
"It takes me back there literally," he told InsideEdition.com. "It takes me a few minutes to realize, 'OK, I'm not there anymore.'
"It's a horrible way of living."
But live he does, working with a therapist to heal his psyche and dabbling in photography to create an artistic outlet that feeds his damaged soul.
"I think the reason why I picked up photography was, it's something that I can control," the 45-year-old former cop said. "What I see in the viewfinder is what I can capture."
What he sees in his head is entirely different.
"That night is still so vivid in my head that I can't get it out," he said. "That's something that disappoints me. That it's been almost two years and I'm still in this situation."
His situation also includes his firing last year from the Eatonville Police Department. The corporal was let go in December, according to city officials, because he told a woman he was "emotionally disturbed" during a traffic stop and ordered her to not look at him. The woman later filed a complaint about him.
"I shouldn't have been there," he says now. "I was heavily medicated." He went back to patrol duty after the massacre, but after several months, he went on desk duty. He just wasn't ready, he said, to be back on the street.
"I have sleepless nights and I have nightmares," Delgado said. "A lot of people don't know what it sounds like to hear an assault rifle [up] close ... then hearing people yelling and screaming, 'Help! Help!' Or they're in pain because they just got shot several times. And without you even knowing where the shooter was."
The best he could do inside the chaos at Pulse was to help some of the injured to safety. He received a lot of media attention for dragging clubgoer Angel Colon outside after the man was shot six times.
"He was my hero," Colon told a local reporter after learning Delgado was being fired. "He saved my life and for them to just do what they're doing to him in front of my face is a slap to my face as well. He did his job that night on June 12, so they should have his back 100 percent, totally, and just be there for whatever he needs."
What happened that night scarred the lives of many in Orlando, a town heretofore known best as the home of Disney World. Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old security guard, walked into the gay nightclub at last call and began shooting. More than 300 people were inside, and as shots rang out, some called loved ones and friends as they ran or cowered in fear.
Nearly four hours later, after a tense firefight and standoff with police and SWAT teams, Orlando police announced on Twitter the shooter was dead. More than 50 people were injured in what became, at the time, the deadliest single-shooter attack in U.S. history.
Mateen, in calls to police, said he was acting on behalf of ISIS and demanded the U.S. stop bombing Syria and Iraq.
Delgado was in his patrol car when heard the early morning radio call go out, "Active shooter inside Club Pulse, with multiple casualties down."
He thought he would go and offer logistical help, perhaps direct traffic. When he pulled up, he saw a couple of officers on the corner. He asked what was up, and they repeated what they knew, which was much the same as what Delgado had heard on his radio.
Then came the nonstop barrage of assault weapon fire. "We didn't look at each other, we didn't say what we were going to do. We just ran inside," Delgado recalled.
"It took my eyes a little bit to adjust," in the dark club. "There were a bunch of bodies lying down ... I began yelling 'Get up! Get up! Get up! The police are here. Follow my voice and come this way.
"They didn't get up."
With gunfire all around him, Delgado said he was trapped inside for a long time. After pulling some people out, there wasn't much else he was able to do, he said.
His mind and body were on overdrive. The smells were nauseating. "You can start smelling the gun powder, you can start smelling the blood, you can start smelling the liquor. You can smell death in there. That just kept coming and coming."
When it was all over, and the smoke cleared and the blood was washed away, Delgado was still in a crimson haze. He couldn't know then that it would take years to get past the trauma he had just lived through.
He thought he'd go back to work and everything would go back to normal.
That hasn't happened yet.
"There is no time frame, but you never want to lose hope," he said.
His life is forever changed.
"I realized that when I walked through that door on June 12, I was a different person. And I knew it. I could literally see it happening in front of my face [and] I couldn't do anything about it."
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