As the nation mourns the victims of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history on its one year anniversary, a Philadelphia woman who survived the attack reflected on her emotional and physical recovery since the massacre.
“Spiritually I just feel more uplifted now,” Patience Carter said. “I feel like I’m not in a dark place anymore.”
Carter, 21, was on vacation in Orlando, Florida with her friend Akyra Murray, an 18-year-old star point guard on West Catholic Preparatory High School’s basketball team. The two women, along with Murray’s cousin were in Club Pulse, a gay nightclub in downtown Orlando, during the early morning hours of June 12, 2016 when Omar Mateen, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, walked in and opened fire.
Mateen killed 49 people, including Murray, who was the youngest victim of the shooting. Carter told NBC10 both she and Murray had initially gotten out of the club when the shots first rang out but went back inside to look for her cousin.
“Akyra is brave,” Carter said. “A hero.”
Carter said they became trapped in a women’s bathroom as Mateen wandered around shooting and talking on the phone to police.
A bullet shattered Carter’s right femur and entered her left leg. She was lying in the bathroom for hours bleeding while Murray had been shot dead. Officers later blasted their way into the club and a SWAT team member lifted Carter from the floor. Carter said she grabbed Murray's cellphone on the way out, hoping she'd have the chance to return it to her friend at the hospital. She never did.
Despite her injuries, Carter was strong enough to share her story with reporters from a hospital bed only days after the shooting.
“We were all having the night we dreamed of, going out on the first night of vacation," Carter said last year. "We just went from having the time of our lives to the worst night of our lives all within a matter of minutes."
Carter also wrote a poem about the guilt she felt for surviving the massacre when 49 other people, including her friend, didn’t.
“The guilt of feeling grateful to be alive is heavy,” she wrote. “Wanting to smile about surviving but not sure the people around you are ready.”
A year later, Carter went into more detail about her difficult journey since that fateful night.
“I remember just getting so frustrated with the reality of understanding why this pain is here and just having to get to class every day I would feel that pain every day,” she told NBC10 Monday. “So it would remind me of everything that I went through every single day.”
Carter, who attends NYU, still has scars from the shooting and still feels pain whenever she walks upstairs. Yet the wounds she suffered weren’t just physical.
“When I was just getting back home it was really bad,” she said. “I woke up screaming. I would hear gunshots in my head but now I feel like I’m in a place where I can walk into a bathroom that resembles the one I literally almost died in and I’m okay.”
For a while Carter stayed away from church.
“For months after I didn’t go back because I honestly felt fearful of the fact that God basically showed up so much that I was scared,” she said. “I was scared of it.”
Carter also said it’s been difficult feeling optimistic again in the midst of other deadly attacks around the world.
“You’re thinking, so many people died,” she said. “You just want it to end somewhere you just want it to stop. And then seeing Paris happen directly after that, then seeing Manchester happening most recently and it’s like, when is it ever going to end?”
Carter continues to turn to writing to help her deal with the pain. She’s currently writing a book about her experience and continues to figure out what she wants to do professionally in the future.
“I’m trying hard every day to really figure that out,” she said. “What my purpose is and how I can use my voice effectively to actually see some sort of change happening.”
As she continues to work through her struggles, she’s now ready to take the next steps in her journey.
“I just felt like it was time,” she said. “I have so much to be thankful for. I really, really do.”