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5 Years Later, 1 Pulse Shooting Survivor Remembers The Tragic Night

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Saturday barely ended. It was 2:02 a.m. Sunday morning when a gunman opened fire on this date in Orlando, Fla.

ORLANDO TORRES: My name is Orlando Torres, and I'm one of the Pulse nightclub survivors of the shooting of June 12, 2016.

SIMON: Forty-nine people were murdered that night. Fifty-three more were injured. Orlando Torres survived by hiding in a bathroom.

TORRES: When he had shot and somebody crawled underneath, knocked me and my friend off the toilet bowl, he walked around. I felt them touching my right rear pants pocket. And, of course, my heart rate started beating. And I said, this is it. I expected my whole back to be riddled with bullets. Thank God, I didn't twitch a move. I just let him touch me and acted like if I was dead. And thank God he left me alone.

SIMON: Orlando Torres described the events of that night to our member station in Orlando, WMFE, including the moment that officers made it into the restroom and found him on the floor, stricken and unmoving with fear.

TORRES: They were, like, trying to motivate me by saying, soldier, soldier, push yourself up. I remember those words clearly. And I'm like, no, I can't. So they grabbed my right arm and pulled me up from the floor.

SIMON: Orlando Torres later learned the officer that called him soldier had served overseas. And in all the mayhem and trauma, he'd fallen back on his military training. The attack at Pulse was the deadliest mass shooting in American history for just a little over a year. Then a gunman killed 58 people in Las Vegas. For Orlando Torres, today is a day to mourn friends who he lost, as he told us on a shaky Zoom call.

TORRES: Yeah, and that is one that stands out, one that I helped out when he came from Puerto Rico. I walked up to him, and I kissed him hello, as us - you know, gay guys - we kiss each other on the cheeks. And I proceeded into the restroom. And a few minutes later, that's when the gunshots rang out. When I ended up in the hospital, you know, during the afternoon hours, they were posting up some of the pictures of the victims. And I saw my friend, unfortunately, and I saw he was one of the victims.

SIMON: Orlando Torres later participated in a project to honor those who died. Survivors marked themselves with memories. Mr. Torres chose these words to write on his hands.

TORRES: It said, I kissed you hello, but I never kissed you goodbye.

SIMON: Today, Orlando Torres works as a driver for ride-hailing services and wants people to ask him about what happened in their city five years ago.

TORRES: The passengers that I've had throughout the years after that, you know, sometimes, similar conversations - they come on. What happens in today's life? And I express them what I've been through. And I always express to them to look at your exits. If you're at McDonald's or if you're at Dunkin Donuts, if you're at Walmart just look at your exits because these things that I've gone through, I hope that - God forbid nobody has to with that. But an idea of survival, you know, to buy time or to save their life.

SIMON: Mr. Torres, may I ask if you go out now, these days?

TORRES: I still go out to the nightclub scene. And people say, how do you do that knowing the fear that you went through? And I said, well, I'm a little more observant. I'm observing every person to make sure their pockets are not bulged out with some type of weapon in there. You know, as I've always said, you know, everybody in life has a date, a number when we're all going to expire. As I can see, you know, my life flashed here four times in that restroom, but it seemed like it wasn't my time. So, you know, our motto that I live for, that someone came up with - keep dancing, Orlando.

SIMON: Orlando Torres of Orlando, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.