ORLANDO, Florida — In the midst of horror and tragedy, heroes emerge from the crowd.
That was the case early Sunday morning, June 12th when the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history took place in Orlando, leaving 49 dead and 53 wounded.
Out of this senseless act of violence, heroes rose to the call.
Heroes who put themselves in harm’s way to save others.
Heroes who were enjoying their night before chaos erupted.
Here are their stories.
Joshua McGill and his friends fled the Pulse nightclub after hearing multiple loud bangs. McGill hid behind a car in a parking lot when he noticed a man with multiple gunshot wounds to his arms and back.
The man was Rodney Sumter Jr., a 27 year-old bartender at the club. McGill, a nursing student, pulled Sumter behind the car and used his shirt to make a tourniquet on Sumter’s arms. Then he helped the man to a safe area and used the victim’s shirt to stop the bleeding on his back.
“I told him ‘Everything would be OK,'” the 26 year-old told CNN’s Don Lemon. “‘I got you, just calm down. I need to cut off as much blood as I can.'”
McGill rode with Sumter to the hospital to keep pressure on the wounds and help him stay calm and alert.
“‘I promise you, God’s got this. You’ll be OK,'” he recalled saying. “I was mainly scared. I was like ‘God, don’t make me break my promise.'”
McGill later learned Sumter was in stable condition.
Saturday night was Christopher Hansen’s first time at Pulse. He was at the nightclub by himself and was zigzagging out of the club when he came across a young woman who was shot in the arm.
“I’m not going to leave these victims behind,” he told CNN’s New Day. “I wanted to make sure she was alert. I was not leaving her until she was assisted.”
Hansen also helped a club bartender and made sure she was safe while she searched for her girlfriend in the crowd.
Ray Rivera, a.k.a DJ Infinite, was the DJ at the nightclub on the patio. He told CNN’s Erin Burnett that it was around 2 a.m. and he was spinning some mellow reggae music to signal it was almost time for guests to leave. Then he heard a noise.
“So I kind of bring the music down a little bit,” he said, “And I heard it again and I turned the music all the way off. And I hear it again and that’s when everybody came barreling out to get out and was, you know, jumping over fences and stuff.”
He said a man and woman took cover beneath his DJ booth.
“The guy, he took off, and the girl was down there panicking, so I kind of told her she needed to be quiet. And as soon as there was a break in the shots, I kind of just pushed her and said, ‘Come on, let’s go.’ And we ran out the door and the cops were having us go around the corner where there were no bullets or anything.”
Edward Sotomayor Jr.
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34, was one of the first victims identified in the mass shooting at Pulse.
He died trying to shield his boyfriend from a hail of bullets. Nicknamed “Tophat Eddie” for the black top hat he always wore, Sotomayor was a brand manager for the LGBTQ online travel agency ALandCHUCK.travel.
Friends flooded social media with their memories of Sotomayor.
Glimpses of kindness in the face of tragedy
This is not the first time that a horrendous act of violence has shaken us, and it won’t be the last.
But every time we reel from such tragedies, the little acts of everyday people renew our faith in humanity.
We saw that once again in Orlando, just hours after the Pulse nightclub attack over the weekend.
People stood in solidarity, not just at vigils of which there were many, but also through small but meaningful gestures all across the city.
The simplest acts of kindness, Mahatma Gandhi once said, are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.
Here are some of the ways Orlando responded:
They donated blood
In a powerful show of support, more than 5,300 donated blood through the OneBlood network on Sunday — breaking a single day record. And a day later, the lines around their blood donation centers have not dwindled. The network said it’s booked with blood donation appointments until Wednesday, and are asking donors to return in the coming days because the need will still exist.
Among those donating blood was Muslim-American Mahmoud ElAwadi, who did so while fasting for Ramadan. “Our blood all looks the same,” he said.
They handed out water
Throughout the city on a hot day, Orlando residents took it upon themselves to buy bottles of water and hand them out to police, blood donors and reporters. Near the Pulse club, volunteers in tricycles distributed free water to offers.
Outside a blood bank location, retired Orlando Magic basketball player Bo Outlaw carried a cooler full of waters for donors and volunteers.
They opened up their houses of worship
In support of those seeking food and shelter,
Sikhs in Orlando opened two temples to provide a place of comfort for anyone who needed it. Sikhs have often borne the backlash after any attack carried out by a radical Muslim. (They’re often mistaken for Muslims because of their turban.)
They raised money
Mosques heeded a call by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to raise money for victims’ families and did so through LaunchGood, a Muslim-led crowdfunding site. Meanwhile, a GoFundMe campaign by Equality Florida, the largest LGBT rights group in the state, has pulled in more than $1.3 million.
They shipped supplies
Those who couldn’t be out in person ordered supplies for blood banks through Amazon Prime’s same-day delivery, and urged others to do the same.
They made a difference
Hashtags like #OrlandoUnited, #PulseShooting and #GaysBreakTheInternet on Twitter continue to pool together words and acts of solidarity. In fact, the response has been so overwhelming that the city of Orlando has residents to put a pause on vigils, saying they put a strain on the city’s resources.