Orlando shooting survivors mourn dead friends, recall traumatic night
By Julia Harte and Bernie Woodall
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.
"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. Continuación...