ORLANDO, Fla. — The Pulse Nightclub shooting rocked the Orlando community, June 12, 2016.
A gunman began firing indiscriminately inside the club, 49 people were killed, 53 others injured. Five years later, the pain is apparent for survivors, victims families, and the Central Florida community.
Zachary Bowers was 19-years-old when he found himself inside the club that night. It was only his second time there.
The club was an Orlando mainstay, and a safe haven for people in the LGBTQ community.
He was there with several friends, when 2:00 AM came around and so did last call.
But before closing time, bullets began to fly, at first the gunfire blended with the loud music. Bowers immediately hit the floor.
“It just continued, I mean relentlessly and at that point you could smell the gunpowder. You could hear the screams, bullets started ripping through the walls and smashing liquor bottles, utter chaos.” Bowers said he was crawling toward an exit.
As he searched for a way out, his mind was racing. He thought about his family, and the secret he had been hiding his entire life. Bowers was not openly gay at the time, he feared he would lose his life and take his secret with him.
“My thoughts were this is it, this is how I go. This is where I die, and nobody knows. Nobody knows where I am. My family and friends don’t even know where I am at. My Family and friends don’t even know I am gay and they would see my face on the news the next morning.” Bowers said.
When he finally reached an exit the area was packed with panicked people trying to get out.
“I remember the lights came on outside and the music cut off, you could see the sheer terror on everyone’s face, and that is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.” Bowers then ran for blocks, as he ran he heard the repeated gunfire, which would last for hours beyond his escape. He and many other survivors were taken to the Orlando Police Department to give statements to the FBI.
The mass shooting, at the time was the largest in U.S. history.
The trauma following the shooting lingered, Bowers like many avoiding large crowds, fireworks triggered the thoughts of gunfire from that night.
It would be several days before Bowers told his family what happened.
He told his parents over lunch that he not only survived the mass shooting but that he was gay.
“They have been nothing but supportive loving parents, and I regret not telling them sooner. I regret not telling them years before this.” Bowers said.
He is now living in an openly gay relationship with his partner.
While five years have passed, the pain and darkness of that day lingers for survivors, but Bowers agreed to share his story to encourage others to share and live in their truth and to always remember the 49.
“My heart is with them, not just today but everyday.” Bowers said.
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