Recounting night of bloody terror and words of mass murderer

Tiara Parker of West Philadelphia survived the mass shooting in Orlando that killed her cousin

Tiara Parker of West Philadelphia survived the mass shooting in Orlando that killed her cousin

Tiara Parker pulled out her phone to call an Uber.

It was around 2 a.m. Sunday morning and she, her cousin, Akyra Murray, and Parker’s best friend, Patience Carter, were hanging out by the pole dancers in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

After singing and dancing all night, the Philadelphia trio was ready to go back to the condo the family had rented.

“And next thing I knew, the shots start going off in the club,” said Parker, 20, who works as a health educator for Philadelphia nonprofit.

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Though some reports described the initial gunshots as being inaudible over the loud music, Parker said she clearly heard them and knew what they were. During the firing, pieces of the wall were falling, she said.

Watching this, she froze.

“My cousin and my best friend ran out, but when they realized I wasn’t with them, they came back looking for me. They found me. In the middle of the dance floor. And they grab me. ‘We got to get out of here,’ they said. But we end up piling up in the bathroom. Fifteen-twenty other people in one stall.”

Then gunman Omar Mateen walked into the bathroom. Parker and others pushed against the bathroom stall door, which had a broken lock. Over the sound of gunshots, some behind the stall communicated with Mateen.

“He was like, ‘Are there any black people in there?’ We were like, ‘Yeah, six or seven of us in the stalls.’ He’s like, ‘I don’t have any problems with you guys.’ He’s like, ‘I know what you guys been through, your ancestors been through with slavery, all kind of stuff, old stuff.’

“He said, ‘Did you hear about the South Carolina shooting in the church,’ or something. I didn’t remember that. I just said yes. Whatever to please him and keep him happy. I just said whatever he wanted to hear,” she said.

‘Mom, can you please come get us’

Mateen was shooting at others then the firing stopped. He said out loud that his gun was jammed. From behind the stall door, Parker thought this was an opportunity to come out and try to stop him. But he regained control of his jammed gun and kept shooting.

“My cousin got shot in her arm. And my best friend got shot in both of her legs. And I got shot in my side,” she said.

After Mateen left the bathroom, Parker said she had enough strength to text her mother.

“‘Mom, can you please come get us now,” said Parker’s mom Celeste Williams, recalling the text.”It was like a pllleeaassseee really long, and a nooowwww really long.”

As Williams rushed off to the club, Parker was going in and out of consciousness sandwiched in a bloodied stack of people crammed in a stall.

“We didn’t know what to do at this point. We was in the bathroom for hours laying in other peoples’ blood,” Parker said.

Mateen walked back in.

“I looked in his face. But I guess he thought I died with my eyes open,” Parker said.

She was playing dead, and remembers gazing straight in his eyes, fear coursing through her.

“But, in my mind, I’m like, ‘He’s gonna shoot me in my face because he sees that my eyes are open.’ But I was able to see him. And he looked angry, but then he looked so excited to be in there shooting people,” Parker said.

Akyrah slips away

At some point after that, she felt something change in her cousin, Murray, who was on top of her.

“I felt her body weight give in on me,” Parker said. “I knew something wasn’t right. I figured my cousin died on top of me, but hoped maybe she just passed out like I kept doing.” 

Meanwhile, her mom, Williams, arrived but the club had been cordoned off with police tape. She couldn’t get answers from anyone. She was in a state of panic.

“I turned around and I told my nephew I was going to stop calling, because I said,’ What if she is trying to hide somewhere, and I keep calling her phone? So I just stop calling her phone,” she said.

Mateen was, in fact, screaming about a phone ringing in the bathroom, according to Parker.

“You can clearly hear him getting upset,” she said. “But the phone was actually on the outside of the bathroom. You could see it outside of the bathroom. But I guess when he realized he could see it, he stopped complaining about the phone.”

The next thing Parker remembers is one of the bathroom walls bursting open. Authorities had exploded a wall then used an armored vehicle truck to punch through the wall. During the blast, porcelain from the sink flew and slashed her arm

She watched Mateen go down after police shot and killed him, around 5 a.m.

She then was helped out the club by authorities. She kept asking about her cousin, Akyra Murray, who had been lying on top of her in the stall.

Murray, who had just graduated from West Catholic Preparatory High School, was among the 49 who were killed by Mateen in what was the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

Parker, who was struck on the left side of her stomach, has been released from the hospital. Carter, who was shot in both of her legs, is still hospitalized but is recovering. 

Williams said she and the rest of their family will be staying in Orlando for some time. Recovering from the horrific event is going to be a journey for everyone, she said.

“All we did is come here and have our vacation, and to just have our family time that we do every year. It’s gonna be rough,” she said. “We’re gonna need some counseling. We would have never thought in a million years that our children would be laying hostage and shot.”

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