Sunday, August 18, 2019

Alex Barr, Pulse Survivor

This post is from a personal account about the shooting that took place at the Pulse Nightclub on June 12, 2016. It contains difficult content, so please do not read on if you feel you may be effected. 

This article and sketch have been posted with the express written permission of the interviewee. Analog Artist Digital World takes the privacy and wishes of individuals very seriously.

Alex Barr, from Atlanta, Georgia, is a survivor of the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub. He was a friend of Darryl Roman Burt II (DJ), who was a victim that night. They first met in college, and in 2016, DJ had just graduated. His ceremony was to be at the Orange County Convention Center. They arrived in Orlando the Friday before with friends and DJ's family. They always supported each other. After the graduation there was a party with some of DJ's cohorts, that is when three more of their friends showed up, Fred, Antwine, and Javád.

When they got back to the hotel, it was late and the three friends wanted to party. Alex was tired, having partied the night before and he just wanted to recover. DJ felt the same way. They tried to convince their friends to go out the next day, to just chill. Somehow they ended up going to Pulse Nightclub. He had been to Pulse about 3 years before. This was his second time there, so it felt familiar to him. Alex was surprised there was no pat down at the door. It seemed like a lot of Latin music, but they were having a good time.

Alex remembered saying on Snapchat, "I don't want to be here." He turned to DJ and said, "You fine?" and he said, "Yea, Yea." They weren't supposed to stay long, at most 10 to 20 minutes since DJ's family was flying out the next morning at 5AM and he wanted to see them off. It was lively on the main dance floor. Alex, Antwine, and Fred were in the main dance floor and DJ and Javád went to the bar. Fred bumped into two people he knew. As they were exiting the main dance floor to get to the bar area, they sat for 5 or 10 minutes, getting ready to walk out.

The disc jockey said, "Last call for alcohol!" They were seated in chairs with their back up against the wall. They were trying to rush Fred, "Lets wrap it up, we have to go." DJ said, "Are you all OK? I'm going to get this last drink. I just want to be sure you are all alright." Alex said, "Yea, we're good, we'll be here." About two minutes after he left they heard POP, POP. That's when it began.

Alex, Antwine, Fred, and Javád were all in tune when they heard the sound of gunfire. Alex thought "Oh, somebody's fighting, someone may have shown off and pulled out a gun or something." They thought it was contained, because security was right there, there was a cop right at the door. But they heard POP, POP, POP, POP, the repetition of it. "OK it's time to go!" They got up to get Fred and DJ, and that is when they saw the traffic, the rush and the screaming coming. They got shuffled down the hallway. Fight or flight kicked in. At that point Alex lost sight of Fred and Javád. He remembered that DJ was at the bar and hoped he was in this group of people. He forgot that there were two other exits from the main dance floor.

As Alex moved down the hallway he blacked out, a blur. He found himself in the hallway bathroom tucked back behind the main sink. Adrenaline pumped and the cadence continued, he could feel and hear the gun, the bullets getting closer and closer. Some people went in the girl's restroom and Alex went into the men's. They barricaded themselves in the handicap stall. Alex heard Antwine pounding on the door shouting, "Let me in! Barr let me in, damn it!" So he let him in. Everyone got down, hyperventilating.

For a moment they thought they were fine. It stopped. The next thing they knew there were bullets and the smell of the gun powder. That is what he remembers the most, the smell, not the sound, and trying to contort himself to get as far away and out of sight of what he had seen, everyone who was hit. He was wrapped around a sink, a tiny sink. In that moment he discovered what his body could do to try and survive. Antwine was right there with him.

They could hear the gunman across the way in the other bathroom talking, chatter, but then executing afterwards. Clearly they would be next, the best they could do was act like they were already gone, hide under some of the bodies and try to keep those who were injured as quiet as possible.

The gunman didn't come across. He was talking, saying something about pledging allegiance and something about the flag. At that point they started texting families, "Goodbye." Alex sent one to his mother, brother, and sister giving them his last words. He was sure the shooter was going to come, peak over the stall, and finish the rest of them off. But he didn't. Alex told Antwine, "If God is real, this is the time, if these angels we were praying to exist, this is the time. I love you, its been a good ride, I guess this is it." Alex texted DJ who responded "I'm scared, I'm still in the building, don't make any noise." He let DJ know he was in the bathroom, but DJ didn't let him know where he was.

He stayed contorted around that sink for an hour. He was expecting to die. Yet he didn't. They began to whisper in the stall, and Javád's head popped up out of nowhere. Alex and Javád texted Fred and DJ. "Did you make it out? Are you OK? Where are you?" Fred sent a text back that said, "Yea I'm fine, I made it out." Then Alex texted Fred, "What about DJ?" Fred texted back, "Yea He's fine." The signals on their phone began to get spotty.

So it was just the three of them left, Alex, Antwine and Javád. DJ was good to go. Everyone was calling 911. Javád ended up on the phone with an investigator. They wanted pictures and a description of what was in the bathroom. How many were in the stall. There were 19 of them counting those who were expired outside the stall. Alex got advice on how to treat the injured from the emergency management person on his cell. She said she was a nurse. She said apply pressure. Their main goal was to keep people calm. They were respectful of the dead as well.

Another man, Angel, was able to crawl out and get to safety. The police yelled, "Get down! Show us your hands!" Angel yelled, "No it's me, I'm OK!" They were able to get him out. They were happy, but the rest of them were not going to take that risk. At this point the gunman knew they were in the opposite bathroom and that some were alive. It had been 4 hours.

The investigator on the phone with Javád was prepping him, but withholding some information, perhaps to avoid tipping off the shooter. They learned that the shooter said he had bombs and planned to blow the place up. After all this, they were still going to die in an explosion. Another hour went by. Eventually they got wind of a rescue plan. They were going to blast a hole in the wall, and warned everyone to get down. There was a BOOM in another part of the building and then another BOOM. Later Alex learned that this was to distract the shooter so he didn't know where they planned to get people out.

Then there was a huge blast against the cement wall of their bathroom and cement flew everywhere. A pipe burst with water spraying. They yelled for them to stop and they did. A machine was used to hit and hammer the wall. They called out, "You need to stop you're crushing us, there is nothing but cement falling on us." The head of a swat member looked in and yelled, Get out, Get out!" He had a gun pointed at them. They were still in shock. Those that were more mobile were hiked up and taken out.

They ran. All that could be seen were flashing lights, and people screaming, "Keep your hands up, get down, Keep your hands up!" There were a bunch of guns pointed at them because the police could not be sure they weren't the shooter. The questioning began and Alex began to ask his own questions. "Where was DJ?" He looked around and tried to call. Well, DJ texted earlier. "Why wasn't he texting now?" There were stories of people rushed to the hospital. Maybe DJ was in the hospital.

That is when Alex learned about Fred. Fred attempted to run with the crowd towards the restrooms. He exited the bathroom and tried to make a run for it and was hit critically in the arm. He had to have about 15 surgeries and was, at the time of this interview, at 85% with the use of his arm and hand.

No one could account for DJ but they remained hopeful they would get news later. They had to stay until the sun came up and then were bused to the police station for additional questions. They were soaking wet from the burst pipes and blood. In the main lobby of the station they were separated into two groups depending on which restroom they had been in. They were asked for personal information. The detectives leading the effort were very professional and sympathetic, which helped put everyone at ease. An officer drove them back to their hotel where they showered, but could not rest. They watched the news.

The next day they got Antwine's car but didn't have the keys for DJ's car. They went to every hospital in Orlando looking for him. His mom, dad, and grandmother went to the Orlando Regional Medical Center where family members waited for news. They tried to be as proactive as possible. He had to be OK because of Fred's text. Maybe DJ was one of the John Does? That evening, Alex saw DJ's name scroll across the TV screen in the hotel room. He sat there for a moment, numb unable to react and then lost it. DJ had just graduated, a huge milestone for him, and now he was gone. His last words to Alex were, "Are you OK?"

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