The terrorist attack in Orlando took more lives than in any other massacre in US history [see update], assuming the 9/11 attacks exist in a category of their own. The death toll of 49 lives lost could have been much worse had it not been for the quick thinking of a man used to being under fire. Imran Yousuf, a Marine who saw combat in Afghanistan and was working at Pulse as a bouncer, immediately understood the situation and acted quickly to get people out through a nearby exit. He may have saved more lives than the terrorist took, CBS News reports:
“The initial one was three or four (shots). That was a shock. Three of four shots go off and you could tell it was a high caliber,” he said. “Everyone froze. I’m here in the back and I saw people start pouring into the back hallway, and they just sardine pack everyone.”
Yousuf knew just beyond that pack of panicked people — was a door — and safety. But someone had to unlatch it.
“And I’m screaming ‘Open the door! Open the door!’ And no one is moving because they are scared,” he explained. “There was only one choice. Either we all stay there and we all die, or I could take the chance, and I jumped over to open that latch a we got everyone that we can out of there.”
How many people went through the door?
“Probably over 60, 70. As soon as people found that door was open they kept pouring out and after that we just ran,” he explained.
More news about individual heroism in Pulse have begun pouring out. Not all of them turned out to have happy endings. Stanley Almodovar died while trying to confront Mateen and come to his girlfriend’s rescue, according to other witness testimony:
“He followed (Mateen) and tried to stop him. He said, ‘Where are you going?’ He was a hero. He tried to save other people,” Ramos, 51, said through tears yesterday as she and daughter Natalie Santiago, 14, drove the 35 miles from their home in Clermont, Fla., to the scene of Sunday morning’s massacre in Orlando to light a candle in Stanley’s memory.
Almodovar, a pharmacy technician, would have celebrated his 24th birthday June 25.
Almodovar’s family said he was shot three times in the chest, stomach and side when he confronted the heavily armed killer while rushing to the aid of a girlfriend.
The courage it takes to stand up to evil in that situation is almost unimaginable. Rest in peace, Stanley. We should be thankful for his example, and for the quick action of Yousuf in getting those paralyzed with fear to safety even while knowing it would make him a target. Pray for the victims, and pray for survivors such as Yousuf and the young woman who tried to save Almodovar’s life while calling his mother for him.
Update: Got some very good feedback on this statement on Twitter. It’s phrased inartfully, and is really just incorrect. Despite the oft-repeated media citation of Orlando as the “worst massacre in US history,” it’s not true even apart from 9/11. The Oklahoma City bombing killed over three times as many people in 1995, for instance. If one counts government actions, then the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre killed six times as many people, or the 1992 Waco standoff in which 73 people lost their lives. My apologies for the error, and thanks to the keen-eyed historians on Twitter who brought it to my attention.