By CRISTINA JANNEY
As Angel Colon lay shot, bleeding and trampled on the floor of the Pulse night club in Orlando, Fla., he could hear the shots — Pop! Pop! Pop! He thought, “I am going to die here. I’m going to bleed out. I’m going to die here.”
Colon is a survivor of what at that time was the worst modern mass shooting in the United States. He related his story to a group of mostly students at Fort Hays State University on Tuesday night. The event changed his life forever. However, despite an agonizing physical recovery and struggles with post traumatic stress disorder, he said that change has been positive.
The day of the shooting, Colon’s boss let him off early from work, so he rounded up some friends to go out for the evening. He invited his sister, who had just come back for a deployment overseas, but to his disappointed, she said she didn’t want to go.
Colon said he was having an awesome time at the night club. He saw many of friends from Orlando at the club and made the rounds talking with as many people as he could.
He picked up a last drink during last call and headed to the dance floor to say his goodbyes to his friends.
“I heard a big pop, super loud, something that I had never heard before and super close to me. I didn’t know what happened. I dropped my drink,” he said.
The pops continued. He turned around and started running but did not make it far. He took a few steps and was shot. He fell face forward, and in all the chaos, he was trampled by other people trying to escape.
“At that moment, I heard my left femur just snap in half— a pain I never felt before, a pain that I thought I never was going to feel. So loud that I could hear it over the gun shots, over the music, and I just fell back down to the floor,” he said.
At that moment, Colon couldn’t move. He couldn’t drag himself to safety.
“As I covered my head, I could feel bodies dropping on top of me. Chaos. People screaming. Shots are going on. I could smell the gunpowder. I could feel the heat,” he said. “At that instant, a lady fell to my right. I could see that she was panicking. I grabbed her hand and told her, ‘It is going to be fine. It is going to be fine. Just stay still. It is going to be fine. It’s going to be over. It’s going to be over.’
Her son was on the floor too. They had decided to go out together.
“He yelled at me, and I told him she was fine,” Colon said.
During those few minutes, one of the son’s friends dragged him out of the club, leaving his mom behind.
“I felt it was my job to now take care of her,” he said. “And the shots continued. It slowly stopped, and I could hear the shooter outside. I decided to lift my head up and look around. I couldn’t believe what happened. I couldn’t believe I could hear the shots going on outside. I see bodies. No one is really moving. There is blood everywhere. I’m numb. I can’t move.”
The woman next to Colon was panicking. He told her to relax.
“They’re going to get us out of here. They are going to get us out of here,” he told her.
“I heard some footsteps coming in, and I told her to, ‘Be quiet! Be quiet!’ I decided to put my head back down. I put my hands over my head, and I stopped breathing, and I hear the shots start. But this time it was slow. I could hear, ‘Pop! Pop!’ It is getting closer and closer every time. Not noticing that he is now shooting at the bodies on the floor, making sure that we are all dead. And the shots are getting closer and closer.
“As the shots got closer, the lady next to me was panicking more and more, and I told her, ‘Calm down, calm down. Act you’re dead. Pretend like you’re dead.’ The shots got closer and closer and then I hear the shot really loud, ‘Pop! Pop!’ And my eyes are open and I see the lady’s body jump up and down. A few seconds later, I looked into her eyes and her eyes are closed. I couldn’t believe what was happening right in front of my face. This lady just died.
“Now I am thinking I’m next. I’m next. What am I going to do? I’m next.”
He said he could feel the shooter’s presence behind him.
“I heard a loud, ‘Pop! Pop!’ I felt a big heat in my midsection. I couldn’t believe I just got shot again.”
Colon laid as still as he could and did his best to pretend that he was dead. He could hear the shooter continue to shoot people on the floor. Colon was close to the door, but he couldn’t drag himself out. He could hear shots in the other room now.
“A few minutes go by, and I think that I am going to die here. I’m going to bleed out. I’m going to die here.”
At that moment the police entered the club and started yelling to see if anyone was alive. Colon used all his strength to throw his hands up, and Corporal Omar Delgado came running to his aid. Colon begged the officer to get him out of the night club.
Because of the bodies and debris on the floor, Corporal Delgado could not carry Colon to safety. He had to drag him. There was broken glass and bottles all over the floor.
“I started to feel pain, and I see that it is the glass, and it is ripping through my wounds,” he said.
Colon continued to beg for the officer to get him out of the night club, because he could still hear shots and was panicking the shooter was coming back. Even as Colon was taken across the street to paramedics, he could still hear the shots.
Once Colon arrived at the hospital, he thought he was safe, but the nurses suddenly all ran out of the room and left him and the other victims alone. The hospital staff had been alerted to an active shooter in the hospital. Colon couldn’t move, but other victims were climbing out of their beds, trying to hide.
“I thought I made it out of the club, but I am going to die here. I’m going to die here,” he said.
After a few minutes, the alert was determined to be a false alarm. He was finally taken into surgery at 11 a.m. Colon had bullet fragments in his right hip, a shattered femur and bullet fragments on his left side. He had to have a metal rod inserted into his left side. He still uses a cane.
Colon naturally thought, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?”
Colon described his life before Pulse as “messy.” He partied and didn’t take a lot of time to spend with his family, but when his family came into his room after his surgery, he said, “That is the day a smile came back to my face.”
He didn’t want the shooter to succeed in his attempt to spread hate. If this event caused him and the other survivors to be miserable the rest of their lives, the shooter had won.
“This is a second chance at life I have. I need to do something to make this better,” he said.
Colon kept focusing on three words — love, hope and positivity.
“As the days went by, I thought, ‘How can I show the love? How can I spur love?’ ” he said. “I saw this word happening every day after June 12 in my community. The love we had from our community, our state, our country was amazing. It was a love that I never have felt before, a kind of love that can’t be broken, a kind of love that heals pain. I thought to myself that I can use this.”
Colon saw the hope in the tens of thousands of pints of blood that were donated following the Pulse shooting. He knew he want to show positivity, but that was more than just smiling — it had to be action. He spoke at a press conference two days after the shooting and tried to show the world there was hope and that he could be positive after the tragedy.
But most of all he learned forgiveness, not only for the shooter, but for himself and the life he had been living.
“Forgiveness was something that I really fought with while I was in the hospital, something that I didn’t think I could do. Something that was building up inside was anger,” he said. “But I wanted to feel happy again. I wanted to know what it would take to get back to normal. Forgiveness was the one word that hope, love and positivity created in me. I will never forget it, but I can forgive, because I wanted a purpose and that is what I am doing today is spreading all the love, hope and positivity.”
Colon’s visit was sponsored by the Fort Hays State University Center for Civic Leadership, Office of Inclusion and Diversity Excellence and Gay Straight Alliance.