NEW YORK (AA) – Three days after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, harrowing stories are beginning to emerge Tuesday from the medical staff that saw a lot of the victims.
The Regional Medical Center in Orlando, Florida, only blocks from the Pulse nightclub where 49 people were killed and dozens injured Sunday, is still caring for 27 patients. Six remain in critical condition, trauma surgeon Michael Cheatham told reporters during a press conference at the hospital.
“It was the largest disaster we could have possibly imagined,” Cheatham said while surrounded by survivors and medical staff.
Although no patients have succumbed to injuries since the initial nine who were taken to the facility early Sunday, Cheatham said he “wouldn’t be surprised if the death toll rises.”
Dr. Joseph Ibrahim said he saw the “full gamut of injuries” at the trauma bay, gunshot wounds -- many from close proximity -- ranging from small to “very large”.
Angel Colon was at the club saying goodbye when the shooting began.
“And out of nowhere, we just hear a big shotgun,” he said.
It just kept going, said Colon, who was s shot three times in his left leg and taken to the hospital after being pulled out of the club, through broken glass, by a police officer.
“I wish I could remember his name or his face because to this day I’m grateful for him,” he said.
The shooter, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, moved throughout the club before returning to the area near Colon while “shooting everyone that’s dead on the floor, making sure they are dead,” he said.
“I can hear the shotguns get closer, and he shoots the girl next to me. And I’m just lying down, thinking, ‘I’m next, I’m dead.’
“I don’t know how but by the glory of God, he shoots toward my head but it hits my hand, and then he shoots me again and it hits the side of my hip.”
Mateen continued to shoot for 10 minutes, Colon said, before he heard the shooter being engaged by police officers.
Dr. Kathryn Bondani was in the trauma bay when patients began to arrive.
After the first wave of “relatively stable” patients, the next few critical victims threatened to overwhelm the facility.
“They were being dropped off in truckloads and ambulance loads,” she said.
Chadwick Smith, a trauma surgeon, said the patients came one after another and he quickly realized he needed backup. He said they arrived in two waves -- an initial wave of 25, followed by another one a couple of hours later that was interrupted by the standoff between police and the shooter.
Colon said Mateen was “heartless” and said he was “enjoying doing this.” He claimed hearing other survivors saying the killer was laughing as he went through the club, “calm, doing his thing.”
He took time to thank the hospital personnel who helped in his recovery. “I will love you guys forever for doing that for me,” Colon said. “The way you guys have taken care of us, this hospital is amazing,” he added.