Orlando shooting survivors mourn dead friends, recall traumatic night

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Orlando Survivor Describes Terror Inside Club

ORLANDO, Fla., June 14 (Reuters) - Best friends Demetrice Naulings and Eddie Justice often walked together hand in hand, as if they were a couple, although Naulings says he always thought of Justice as being more like his kid brother.

The last time they clasped hands was shortly after 2 a.m. on Sunday inside Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where the worst mass shooting in U.S. history was beginning to unfold.

Justice, 30, begged Naulings, 34, to take care of him as the two fled a bathroom in the nightclub amid a hail of bullets fired by a lone gunman, Omar Mateen, in what became a three-hour rampage ending with the suspect slain by police. But somewhere in the melee, the best friends lost their grip on each other.

Survivors share their stories:

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Orlando Survivors Share Their Stories
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Orlando shooting survivors mourn dead friends, recall traumatic night
Gunshot survivor Angel Santiago looks over at fellow victim Patience Carter as she recounts her story at a news conference at Florida Hospital Orlando on the shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, June 14, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young
Gunshot survivor Patience Carter (front) recounts her story as fellow survivor Angel Santiago and Dr. Brian Vickaryous look on during a news conference at Florida Hospital Orlando on the shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, June 14, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young
Gunshot survivor Patience Carter (2nd L) is comforted by Dr. Neil Finkler as fellow survivor Angel Santiago (R) looks on at a news conference at Florida Hospital Orlando on the shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, U.S., June 14, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young
Gunshot survivor Angel Santiago recounts his story at a news conference at Florida Hospital Orlando on the shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, June 14, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young
Gunshot survivor Angel Santiago recounts his story with fellow victim Patience Carter at a news conference at Florida Hospital Orlando on the shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, June 14, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young
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"When you tell your friend that you're gonna take care of him, and then to walk out of there and he's not with you, is something that's going to hurt and haunt," Naulings told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.

"You remember that face that he gave you, that face that said: 'Don't let go. If you make it, make sure I make it too.'"

Two days after the shooting left 49 of Mateen's victims dead and 53 others wounded, survivors recalled the night's trauma in conversations and media events around Orlando as law enforcement officials investigated the crime.

A number of survivors recounted the bewilderment, even a sense of betrayal, at being caught up in unfathomable carnage and terror inside a venue they had presumed to be a welcoming refuge for Orlando's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

One account offered fresh insight into possible motivations of the gunman, a New York-born security guard of Afghan descent who authorities say appeared to have been nursing sympathies for a number of Islamist militant groups.

Vigils held around the world:

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Orlando massacre vigils and tributes around the World
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Orlando shooting survivors mourn dead friends, recall traumatic night
People gather in front of the US Embassy in Copenhagen to remember the victims at the nightclub Pulse in Orlando Florida on June 13, 2016. / AFP / Scanpix / Jens Astrup / Denmark OUT (Photo credit should read JENS ASTRUP/AFP/Getty Images)
April Ross looks at a makeshift memorial outside the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts for the mass shooting victims at the Pulse nightclub June 13, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The American gunman who launched a murderous assault on a gay nightclub in Orlando was radicalized by Islamist propaganda, officials said Monday, as they grappled with the worst terror attack on US soil since 9/11. The Islamic State group claimed slain shooter Omar Mateen was acting as 'one of the soldiers of the caliphate in America' when he attacked the Pulse club in the Florida resort city, an assault that ended when police stormed the venue. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
People lay flowers and light candles to commemorate victims of a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando in front of the US embassy in Warsaw on June 13, 2016. / AFP / AFP PHOTO / WOJTEK RADWANSKI (Photo credit should read WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
People commemorate victims of a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando in front of the US embassy in Warsaw on June 13, 2016. / AFP / AFP PHOTO / WOJTEK RADWANSKI (Photo credit should read WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JUNE 13, 2016: Placards and flowers brought at the US Embassy in Moscow to pay tribute to the Orlando nightclub shooting victims. Alexander Shcherbak/TASS (Photo by Alexander Shcherbak\TASS via Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JUNE 13: Flowers are placed on a rainbow flag to remember victims of the shooting at an Orlando nightclub on June 13, 2016 in Seoul, South Korea. Omar Mateen, who had recently pledged allegiance to ISIS, died after killing 49 people early morning on June 12 at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The massacre was the deadliest mass shooting in the United States. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
People hold candles as they share a minute of silence during a vigil for the victims of the Orlando shooting in Florida, in Hong Kong on June 13, 2016. Law enforcement authorities have lowered the death toll from the weekend massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando to 49, the deadliest mass shooting in American history, explaining that the shooter had been counted in the original tally. / AFP / ANTHONY WALLACE (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - JUNE 13: People hold a rainbow flag during a vigil for the attack at the gay club in Orlando, on Monday, June 13, in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo by Dario Pignatelli/Getty Images)
Australians gather to place candles and flags in Sydney on June 13, 2016, in solidarity with the global gay community after a gunman opened fire in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing over 50 people. The Sydney Harbour Bridge was lit with the colours of the rainbow on June 13 as hundreds of Australians gathered to stand in solidarity with the global gay community after the worst mass shooting in modern US history. / AFP / WILLIAM WEST (Photo credit should read WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 13: Members of the public look on during a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, at Frank Kitts Park on June 13, 2016 in Wellington, New Zealand. Omar Mateen allegedly killed more than 50 people and injured 53 others in what is the deadliest mass shootings in the country's history. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Josh Mercer wears a T-shirt Monday, June 13, 2016, in honor of two of his friends who were killed during a fatal shooting at Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
People gather for a candlelight vigil in remembrance for mass shooting victims in Orlando, from San Diego, California, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Mourners gather under a LGBT pride flag flying at half-mast for a candlelight vigil in remembrance for mass shooting victims in Orlando, from San Diego, California, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A rainbow flag is held up during a vigil after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in front of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Men stand together during a vigil after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in front of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
People hold a vigil after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in front of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A rainbow flag is held up with the name of the gay nightclub where the worst mass shooting in U.S. history occured in Orlando,Florida, during a vigil in front of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies are seen behind a girl riding in a bus at the 46th annual Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade in West Hollywood, California, after a gunman opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/David McNew
People pay their respects to the Orlando massacre victims during a vigil in the Queens borough of New York, U.S., June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Two women hold each other at a vigil outside The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, considered by some as the center of New York State's gay rights movement, following the shooting massacre at Orlando's Pulse nightclub, in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich
A man carries a gay pride flag at a vigil outside The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, considered by some as the center of New York State's gay rights movement, following the shooting massacre at Orlando's Pulse nightclub, in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich
A man lays flowers at a memorial outside The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, considered by some as the center of New York State's gay rights movement, following the shooting massacre at Orlando's Pulse nightclub, in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich
People take part in a vigil for the victims of a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, U.S., in Sao Paulo, Brazil, June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Nacho Doce
Orlando residents Arissa Suarez (L) and Malcom Crawson attend a vigil at Lake Eola Park for victims of a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, U.S June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Steve Nesius
A Boston Police Officer stands behind flowers left at a Pride Month block party, the same day as the mass shooting at Orlando's Pulse nightclub, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
People attend a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Orlando attack against a gay night club, held in San Francisco, California, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach
People march down Market Street during a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Orlando attack against a gay night club, held in San Francisco, California, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach
People hold up signs in solidarity at a candlelight vigil in remembrance for mass shooting victims in Orlando, from San Diego, California, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A candlelight vigil in remembrance for mass shooting victims in Orlando is held in San Diego, California, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A rainbow flag is held up during a vigil after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in front of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A couple puts their arms around each other outside the White House where the U.S. flag flies at half-staff at sundown as people gather for a vigil on Pennsylvania Avenue later in the day of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida in Washington June 12, 2016. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 13: The Michael Fowler Centre is lit up in the colours of the rainbow flag after a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, at Frank Kitts Park on June 13, 2016 in Wellington, New Zealand. Omar Mateen allegedly killed more than 50 people and injured 53 others in what is the deadliest mass shootings in the country's history. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 12: Candles sit on the edge of Lake Eola, June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The shooting at Pulse Nightclub, which killed 50 people and injured 53, is the worst mass-shooting event in American history. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Brett Morian, from Daytona Beach, hugs an attendee during the candlelight vigil at Ember in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday, June 12, 2016. (Joshua Lim/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
People sit by the water with candles during a vigil in a park following a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, U.S. June 12, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Flags fly at half-staff around the Washington Monument at daybreak in Washington with the US Capitol in the background Monday, June 13, 2016. President Barack Obama ordered flags lowered to half-staff to honor the victims of the Orlando nightclub shootings. (AP Photo/J. David Ake.)
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Patience Carter, 20, said she heard Mateen pause during the shooting to place an emergency 911 call and pledge allegiance to Islamic State over his cellphone. At that moment, she lay huddled in the club's blood-soaked bathroom, shot in the leg and pinned under other people around her, she told reporters at Florida Hospital Orlando on Tuesday.

After Mateen got off the phone, according to Carter, he wondered aloud how many black people there were in the bathroom.

"He made a statement saying it wasn't about black people ... he said the reason why he was doing this is that he wanted America to stop bombing his country," Carter said.

'SAFE HAVEN'

Carter said she had arrived in Orlando the previous night from Philadelphia, on her first trip to Florida. A friend found Pulse through a Google search for popular nightclubs, but two hours after arriving at the club, they ended up cowering on the bathroom floor, desperate to survive.

Angel Santiago, 32, also from Philadelphia, told reporters at the same news conference that he went to Pulse about 12:30 a.m. on Sunday with a friend because they were looking for a "safe zone" in an otherwise unfamiliar city.

"For me being a gay man going to a club like Pulse, it's kind of like a safe haven, because you can't go to any old bar and be who you are, because there is hate everywhere," Santiago said.

Nearly 24 hours after he escaped the club, Naulings would learn that Justice was not among the shooting survivors. In death, Naulings said, his best friend had become an immortal piece of American LGBT history.

"Your children, my children, my grandkids, my nieces' and nephews' grandkids, they will remember Orlando. They will remember that Saturday night at Pulse," Naulings said. (Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy in Washington; Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Cooney)

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