'I don't even know how I'm alive today' says Pulse survivor Angel Santiago Jr

FOX 35 News

- A survivor who hid in the handicapped stall as a gunman attacked a gay Florida nightclub says he had to drag himself out to safety and is just grateful to be alive.

From a bed Tuesday at Florida Hospital, Angel Santiago Jr. described to reporters how he survived the massacre. He says he got to club Pulse in Orlando about 12:30 a.m. Sunday. About 2 a.m., as the last drinks were served, he and the two friends he was with heard gunshots.

"I arrived at Pulse nightclub probably around 12:30, and I was there with two other friends, and we just were having a good time, dancing, talking and toward the end of the night we moved toward the rear bar," explained Santiago.  "Right around when they stopped serving alcohol, that's when we heard the first round of shots go off, so immediately my friend and I fell to the ground to take cover.  My official thoughts were maybe there was an altercation, that it was personal, so stay to the ground until it's over, but then we heard additional rounds going off."

Santiago said he and his friend ran to the bathroom in the rear of the bar.  "There was a bathroom on the left and the right. The bathroom had a large handicap stall, so we ran in there and when we arrived, there were already people hiding in the handicapped stall, so we continued to hear gun fire. We dropped to the ground in the handicapped stall."

Santiago said he hid, as best he could, taking cover under a sink.  "There wasn't much protection there, but I felt it was better than nothing," he added.

Santiago said there were approximately 15 to 20 in the bathroom stall, hiding from the gunman.  "We just continued to hear gun fire, and I just remember thinking, when is it going to stop?  Because if it was personal, usually that shouldn't last too long, so I kept hearing gun fire over and over and over again and it kept getting louder and closer, and  I  can actually start to smell, I  don't know,  I  guess, gun powder.  Kind of smells like when firecrackers go off."

He said everyone in the stall tried to be as quiet as possible.  "We didn't want to attract attention, but the gunfire kept getting closer and closer, and at one point, everyone was like, 'Shh, be quiet! Be quiet!' and that's when bullets start going through the stall wall towards us."

Santiago said he was struck by bullets on his left foot and right knee and was grazed by a third bullet. 

"My friend who was with me was hit as well, and his injuries were worse than mine, and overall there was just a lot of blood, a lot of people were hit." 

He said some fatalities appeared immediate.  After striking one bathroom, he said the gunman went to the adjacent bathroom. 

"We hear more gunfire and people screaming. At that point we're just trying to be as quiet as possible, because we didn't want to attract him back to us, so we were just laying down, trying to assess the situation."

Santiago said he called 911 a few times, trying to explain to the dispatcher what was happening over the sound of gunfire and screams.  He said it then got quiet and he waited until the police arrived.

"I heard police yelling, 'Drop it! Hands up!' ... but I don't know what was going on, so eventually kind of quieted down some more. I was bleeding, my friend, Jeff, was bleeding a lot. I was on the ground in a pool of blood.  I wasn't sure whose it was, but I felt like it was my friend's."

Santiago said he saw where his friend had been wounded.  "He was sweating, just looked overall really weak and in bad condition, and my thought process was, 'You know, do we stay here and wait for the shooter to come back or do we try to leave?  So I tried maneuvering, so I can exit underneath the stall."

Santiago said he chose to remain in the stall and wait it out.  At one point, he said he could hear police chatter in the distance. 

"When  I  finally saw an officer,  I  had my cell phone in my hand and started waving the light, so he could see me, and at that point the officers instructed me lift my hands, drop whatever I had in my hands, and they instructed me to drag myself toward them."

He says: "I don't even know how I'm alive today."
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