Pulse survivor shares recovery with Times

The club shooting claimed many victims, including those who survived.

Minutes of terror inside Orlando's Pulse nightclub, turning into months of painful recovery.

“Hurry up, he's loading up!  He's loading up, hurry up,” whispers a 911 caller from inside the club.

Angel Santiago is one of the survivors. “I just went through this crazy, traumatic experience. People died around me,” he says.

The attack is still so chilling. The scars from the shooting are still healing. Now we’re getting a look at what the months since the June massacre have been like for Santiago, through the eyes of our 10News partners at the Tampa Bay Times.

“My life could have ended that night on the bathroom floor,” says Santiago.

Santiago survived the horror inside Pulse that 49 others did not. He was hiding from the gunman in a bathroom stall with more than a dozen clubgoers as bullets pierced the partition, hit his leg, shattered his heel and his life as he knew it.

“That sound kept replaying in my head. The visuals kept replaying in my head. Somehow, I was still here,” Santiago says.

“It's been an incredibly emotional journey for him for sure,” says Tampa Bay Times reporter Kathleen McGrory. Day by day, Santiago has shared his painful recovery and his fears with her.

“A gunman was shooting at them and bullets are flying through the partition," McGrory says. "That was certainly an emotionally challenging place for him to be, but it continued after that for him. It continued through his recovery when he was in the hospital and fearing he might not be able to walk again.

"It continued when he went home and was continuing to have nightmares where he was back in that bathroom stall, so it was a process that took many weeks,” McGrory tells 10News.

The used car salesman had to quit his job. He spent 25 days in the hospital, where eventually he joked with caregivers that he should stay and get a job as a nurse.

After his discharge, his injuries forced him to move in with his brother, who tried to keep the family afloat on one salary.

They shared heartwarming and heartbreaking surprises as they all tried to cope.

“I think it kind of dawned upon Angel and his brother Sam that Angel could've died," McGrory says. "Sam put his arm around his brother in a really touching moment. To see that interaction between them was beautiful. To have the opportunity to stick with one of the survivors and really learn how it has impacted his life was certainly an emotional thing for me to experience as well.

"I was thinking we are going to write about his emotional journey, but I certainly wasn't thinking that this tragedy was going to lead him to a social worker who was going to ask if they needed to go on food stamps,” McGrory says.

Now, Santiago’s been lifted out of the lowest time in his life with support from the community and $300,000 from the OneOrlando Fund.

“Going through what I experienced and surviving that, I think it's empowered me to further accept who I am,” says Santiago.

He’s also accepting who he’s becoming after being touched by this tragedy.

“His plan is indeed to start nursing school in January,” says McGrory. “I hope that Angel just finds a path that he is passionate about and is able to move forward,” says McGrory.

People donated nearly $30 million to OneOrlando, helping victims' families and survivors like Santiago.

The city of Orlando bought the site of the former club with plans for a memorial.

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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