ORLANDO, June 12, 2016 (Xinhua) -- Photo provided by Orlando Police Department shows policemen gather outside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, the United States, June 12, 2016. About 20 people were killed and 42 others wounded early Sunday morning in a shooting incident at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida said local police. (Xinhua/Orlando Police Department)
ORLANDO, the United States, June 13 (Xinhua) -- Twenty-eight-year-old Ivory McNeil was in the Pulse nightclub on the fateful Sunday morning when Omar Mateen, who was just one year older than McNeil, opened fire with an assault rifle at the crowd, leaving 50 people dead and at least 53 injured.
McNeil survived the deadliest mass shooting to date in U.S. history. On Sunday night, at a vigil held by Lake Eola in downtown Orlando, McNeil gave Xinhua an eye-witness account of the tragedy.
McNeil and his friends were walking into the main room of the nightclub early Sunday when the shooting started.
"People were dancing, and all of a sudden you just hear gunshots," said McNeil.
They soon realized that a shooting was taking place, and spread out to take cover. McNeil ended up hiding alone at the patio at the back of the club, behind some lawn furniture.
"The gunshots were very loud, it just kept coming and coming and coming, and there was a moment it stopped and I almost came out of hiding, and it just started again," he said.
Obviously traumatized, McNeil spoke with his voice shaking, choking and sobbing intermittently.
"I can't get the gunshot noise out of my head. I can't bring myself to watch the videos. If I hear the noise it just brings so much emotion to me," he said, trying hard to suppress his feelings.
"We saw people fall. There was panic everywhere. Everyone is running. There was blood everywhere," said McNeil.
WAITING FOR POLICE
Not until McNeil and his friends saw so much blood did they realize how serious the situation was.
"We thought it was just an issue with someone's boyfriend or something like that, but when the shots just kept coming, we were like 'what is going on? '" he said.
McNeil and others who were in hiding waited desperately for the police to come, but it seemed to take too long.
"People were calling 911, calling their families, texting them. I've texted people I haven't texted in years," said McNeil.
McNeil said after he had been in hiding for almost 20 minutes, the police finally appeared.
"I was one of the last that had come out from the patio," said McNeil, adding that it took him forever to come out of his cover even though the police told him the shooter was gone.
"IT'S NEVER GOING TO BE THE SAME"
McNeil hasn't slept since the shooting.
"It doesn't seem real to us, and we don't even know who's gone and who's with us," said McNeil.
He said many of his friends believed that the time and place the shooter had chosen were a deliberate hate attack against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
Dubbed Pride Month, June was widely celebrated among the LGBT communities. The nightclub Pulse was one of Orlando's most well-known venues that hosts nightly LGBT-themed performances as well as a monthly program of LGBT-related educational events.
"I think they are targeting us as a country, but this is their mark because I think this is our pride month, that they thought to make an example out of us," said McNeil.
"They took a piece of our community away from us," he said.
McNeil believed the community will need a lot of time to heal from this traumatic event. He originally planned to go to New York to attend the annual LGBT Pride Parade, but does not want to go after the shooting.
"It's never going to be the same," he said.