As the dust begins to settle following Sunday’s mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, one of the many people held hostage is sharing her terrifying account of the events that transpired — her fight for survival.
While hiding in a single bathroom stall with about 20 other party goers, Tiara Parker, was shot and wounded by gunman Omar Saddiqui Mateen, reports People. In an attempt to survive, Parker revealed she pretended to play dead, hoping Mateen wouldn’t take aim at her once more. Sadly, Parker’s cousin, Philly native, Akyra Murray, 18, who was celebrating her recent high school graduation, wasn’t so fortunate. She was shot and killed inside the stall.
“There was blood all over the floor,” Parker told People. “We were so scared. Everybody was so injured and so hurt and in so much pain.” She went on to say those surrounding her immediately began to reach out to loved ones via text. While Parker was suffering herself, it wasn’t her wounds but her cousin and best friend’s pain and cries for help that gave her the strength to push past her wounds.
According to Tiara, Mateen began talking to the hostages about race, religion and violence against his people. “[This] is nothing personal,” she recalled him saying. “I’m just trying to send a message to my country.”
As time passed excruciatingly slow, Parker added that she grew more concerned of her cousin losing blood. “I said, ‘Don’t give up, you ain’t going nowhere. You’re getting out of here,” she remembered.
As for how she survived the massacre, Parker recalled the terrifying moment she looked the gunman straight in the eye, while playing dead. “I just laid flat, my face in blood and all. I just laid there,” she said. Per Parker, during that moment, Mateen knelt down beside her, making eye contact to ensure she was dead: “Right then and there I knew my life was over. I wasn’t accepting [death] but I was going to have to. It was a forced thing. I was going to have to accept it because there is no way I was getting out of there.”
Hours later, when police finally entered the building, Parker and the remaining hostages were evacuated and treated at a local hospital. But it was the moment before their rescue, Parker said will haunt her forever. “[Akyra] was trying to stay [awake] but I think she took her last breath in my lap. I was trying to get her out of there but she didn’t make it. I had her in my lap, I couldn’t carry her fully but I was trying,” she recalled.
“It was a nightmare,” Parker continued. “I just want to go back to sleep and wake up and be like, ‘Oh, okay everything is good.” Adding, “It feels like a nightmare but then I realize it’s reality.”
According to Beulah Osueke, head girls basketball coach at West Catholic Prep in Philadelphia, “Akyra was a respectful and self-determined young woman who served as a natural leader to her teammates and all that observed her from afar. She graduated 3rd in her senior class and led our team in scoring for the past two seasons. What she displayed in academic and athletic excellence, she also displayed with her shining personality,” she said. “Losing Akyra is heartbreaking, we are currently in the process of healing as a community. This is a very difficult day, not just for the Murray family but for the West Catholic family and all that were touched by Akyra’s warmth and magnetic embrace. There is no possible way to prepare for a moment like this. We ask that you please respect the privacy of the team and Akyra’s family during our moment of sorrow.”
On Sunday, June 12, just after 2 a.m. local time, Mateen opened fire at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, killing 49 people and injuring 53 more. Mateen was fatally shot around 5 a.m. in an exchange of gunfire with authorities, as they moved in to rescue the hostages. Very little is known about what caused him to carryout what is now the deadliest mass shooting in American history.