“I had a system down; every time he changed a clip, I ran.”
-Passion Wilson Suarez on the shooting at Pulse
Passion Wilson-Suarez has the thousand-yard stare as she recalls last Saturday night, . She went with a group of friends to Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando, for Demi, 19, who’d never been to a gay club before. Demi, a member of the LGBT community, said between the time they arrived, around 12:50 a.m., and 2:06 a.m., she was enjoying her first-time experience.
“I seen all the cute little gay guys everywhere … I was like, ‘These are my people!'”
Demi says she’ll never go to another nightclub again, and definitely won’t go to another gay nightclub again. That night, her first night in what was supposed to be a haven for people like her, was Omar Mateen’s last night on earth, and he took whoever he could kill with him. That night, Mateen decided to walk into that same club with a Glock 17 and a Sig Sauer MCX gas-powered semi-automatic Swiss-made firearm and mow down the crowd inside.
Just after 2 a.m., Demi said she heard two gunshots. She ran into a nearby bathroom to hide with Haley, a friend.
“I just keep hearing gunshots, back-to-back. I’m looking at Haley, like, what are we gonna do?”
Passion hadn’t followed them, so Demi decided: “We gotta go get Passion.”
As they ran out, Demi said she saw a man who was shot and couldn’t walk; two girls were trying to drag him out.
Passion had entered survival mode. At 2:06 a.m. she was trying to text the father of her child when the battery on her phone died. The timing couldn’t have been worse. She and her friends were finishing up the last of their beers when she said she heard two gunshots.
“The first two rounds definitely were a handgun. It was like, POW POW, and then –” Passion makes a trilling noise, mimicking the sound of rapid gunfire. She thinks Mateen walked in shooting the Glock and switched to the assault rifle.
“After that the bullets didn’t stop,” she said.
The room was dark, as clubs usually are, and Passion frantically felt her way along the walls, looking for an exit. She was trying to run and hide.
“People were screaming — the gunshots do not stop — they’d stop for two seconds and continue. We smelled gun powder, like firecrackers.”
Passion made her way to the stage by the DJ booth in the main room and wrapped herself in the curtain to hide.
Meanwhile, people who were trying to get out of one of the exits couldn’t get out — some are saying that someone was on the outside holding one of the exit doors shut. (This echoed the story told by the Parliament House employee.)
I asked Passion if she caught a glimpse of the shooter.
“My dad always told me don’t look back,” Passion says while she smokes a cigarette. Her father, who is now deceased, was a firefighter for 30 years, and had talked to Passion about what to do if someone starts shooting before. “He said it slows you down.”
She untangled herself from the curtain to scan the room for her friends when a black hand shot out of the dark and grabbed her upper arm.
“He said, ‘Mami let’s go. Mami, run, run, run, we gotta get outta here fast, he’s coming back.'”
Passion and the stranger leaped down from the stage and landed on bodies. “I didn’t know if they were dead or alive. We didn’t see the floor. It was just bodies everywhere.” The stranger yanked her along by her arm towards the door.
“At this point there’s a black girl at the exit door saying, ‘They’re just firecrackers, they’re just firecrackers!’ and is laughing. She’s smiling and like, ‘It’s nothing!'”
Later Passion and Haley talked about that girl, a smiling, laughing girl standing in the middle of ongoing carnage telling everyone firecrackers were going off, not firearms.
“I was like, where did she come from? Did you not hear all the bullets that just went off?”
Passion never saw the person who yanked her out of the club that night, and when she asked Haley, who ran out after her, if she saw someone behind her, she said no.
“I just summed it up to be an angel. I didn’t look back, but my arm has been sore all week from where he was pulling me.”
Outside, Passion heard shots again, and crouched down behind the valet stand. She saw the first of many police cruisers pull up across from her; the officer inside motioned for her to stay down, stay down. Then he kicked open his car door and started firing his gun toward the club and yelling for bystanders to run for their lives.
At that point, one of Passion’s friends leaned around the valet podium. “She put her head behind and she was like, ‘Are you okay, ni**a?’ And I was like, I don’t know, but my leg hurts real bad. And she’s like ‘F*ck that sh*t, run, yo. Run, run. We gotta get the f*ck outta here.’ She says, ‘one, two, go,’ and we just start running. I felt a little bit guilty — this is the only time I looked back — all I saw was people climbing over (the patio wall), just climbing over and people helping them. I just kept running.”
All the girls made it out of the club and to the car. Passion, finally away from the immediate danger, was vomiting and retching. She drove home as fast as she could, and when she looked at the clock as she pulled into her driveway, it was only 2:17 a.m.
“It was the fastest decision-making I’ve had to do in my life.”
In retrospect, Passion is grateful that she’d only had a couple beers that night. “Imagine if you were in the bathroom holding someone’s hair back or something, and the shooting started…”
Passion has been going to counseling this week. She says she has survivor’s guilt, and PTSD.
“All those people I could have stayed and helped. It makes me feel like, hopeless.”
Passion Wilson-Suarez lives in Orlando with her 3-year-old son, Ace. Now she checks for the location of the exits every time she goes to a public place. Her refrigerator broke this week too, so if someone wants to help her out, email me, and I’ll help you get in touch with her.