It’s been one year since Omar Mateen, 29, walked into Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, just after 2 a.m. as they were serving last drinks.
It was Hispanic night at the popular LQGBTI nightclub and Manteen was about to commit the deadliest act of gun violence in America’s history.
He opened fire and killed 49 innocent people, taking the rest of the club hostage. The horror ended at 5:17 a.m., when Mateen was declared “down” by police.
The death toll was 50, including Mateen himself. Dozens were injured. Countless were left heartbroken.
As the world is gripped by memorial events and tributes to the victims and their families on the anniversary of the shooting, one survivor is speaking about her experience in the aftermath of the attack.
“Orlando is not going to define me,” Tiara Parker, a 21-year-old makeup artist from Philadelphia, told People.
Parker was shot as she huddled, terrified, with 20 other people in the nightclub’s restrooms. Her cousin, Akyra Murray, 18, was by her side and shot in the shoulder. Murray did not survive.
“It was really sad what happened to all of us that night and I wish there was a way to go back and replay it because I miss my cousin so much,” Parker said, one year on.
“It was a major setback for me and my family, but I am doing really well. I feel better, I look better … I feel good,” she said.
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Obviously, it hasn’t been easy.
First, there’s been the physical recovery: Shot in the stomach, Parker lay in the blood of other victims for four hours as the police negotiated with Mateen.
Then there are the nightmares and regret that continues to this day. Parker’s cousin initially escaped the nightclub after Mateen fired his first shots. But when Murray couldn’t find Parker on the street, she re-entered the club in desperation. It was a decision that would cost the 18-year-old her life.
Most wretchedly, however, has been how the attack has divided Parker’s family.
“It was a very stressful time and now my family has stopped talking to me,” she said. “[My aunt and uncle] have blamed me for this ever since I got out of the hospital when they found out Akyra didn’t make it.”
“They had to find someone to be mad at and instead of the man who did it, they’re mad at me.”
Undoubtedly, Parker’s is just one of the stories we will hear on the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting.
Here’s hoping that her story of survival, then and now, will be one shared by all whose lives were horribly changed in the early hours of June 13 last year.
“I’ve got to keep on pushing,” she said. “I will be going [to the memorials] to show my support, but otherwise, the anniversary is just another day.”