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Orlando shooting survivors share what lies ahead for Las Vegas

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Orlando shooting survivors shared what lies ahead for Las Vegas as the community continues to recover. (Photo: Associated Press) Orlando shooting survivors shared what lies ahead for Las Vegas as the community continues to recover. (Photo: Associated Press)
ORLANDO, FL (FOX5) -

It’s unknown how the Las Vegas community will put Oct. 1’s mass shooting behind it. The people of Orlando, Florida know the feeling, after a man with terror connections killed 49 people who were mostly members of the LGBT community.

The survivors and first responders in Orlando developed unexpected bonds. After the 1 October shooting, they shared what challenges lie ahead, and gave their advice to Nevadans embarking on the same journey.  

Survivors in Orlando witnessed one of the worst shootings in modern history on June 12, 2016. A grandmother was out for the evening with her son at the popular Pulse nightclub. A SWAT commander was on the scene. An emergency room nurse’s training took over even as rumors of a gunman inside the hospital swirled.

“When we heard the shots (in videos of 1 October). At that moment ... took me back to Pulse,” the nightclub’s owner Barbara Poma said.

Pulse nightclub has remained closed. A memorial has surrounded the building where people have continued to pay respects, leaving flowers, photos and messages for the 49 killed.

"To sum up the messages in one word …  It's love. Just love that love conquers hate,” Poma said.

Even though the attack targeted a LGBT club, Terry de Carlo said one of the keys to recovering was that didn't matter it was gay club. Everybody viewed it as an attack on all of Orlando, he said.

“I'm talking gay, straight, black, white, red, yellow. I've never seen Baptist, Christian, Muslim; I've never seen a community come together so cohesive in a matter of hours than I did that morning,” the gay rights advocate de Carlo said.

"I'm a strong individual, we are strong individuals. If it don't break us, it just makes us, right?” Orlando survivor India Godman said.

Godman knows something about not breaking. She was working as a paralegal on the 97th floor of the World Trade Center's south tower on Sept. 11.

Fifteen years later, she and her friend Adrian Lopez were inside Pulse along with her son when gunfire erupted. Their message to 1 October survivors: counseling is key to moving forward.

"You're able to express it, you're able to cry, you're able to scream, you're able to curse, you want to hit the pillow. Whatever you have to do to get it out, don't hold back," Godman said.

"You're still going to think, 'What if?' Walking down the street, 'What if? The what ifs are going to be running in their mind for a very long time. So it's going to be a process of 'I'm going to be okay, I made it out, it wasn't my time, and it's not going to be yet,’” Adrian Lopez said.    

Survivors, first responders and mental health workers explained how their community has been recovering.

"The process is going to take time, there is no easy timeline that anyone can follow and say this is the day that I'm going to be completely free of this,” counselor David Cavalleri said.

"Time freezes. You can lay your head down tonight and wake up in the morning and you think its 9:00 a.m. but it's really 2 in the afternoon. Or you can just on through your week and you remember it's Monday but it's really Saturday,” Pulse survivor Chris Hansen said.

"I overextended. I was trying to do to much and I ended up with a heart attack after Pulse, this past April,” de Carlo said.

"When I walked in there, there were people everywhere, patients in the hallway. You could tell there was something different about what was happening," emergency room nurse Steven McMichen said.

Steve McMichen was called to the ER at Orlando Health, just a few blocks from pulse. They took in 44 victims. Any with vital signs survived.

The message to Las Vegas first responders is the same they got the morning in Orlando after Pulse.

"One of the very first phone calls that I got was actually from the chief medical officer at Aurora, Colorado. They were five years out after the theater shooting at the time of the Pulse tragedy. And they said we are still going through this.  You need to be aware of that,” Dr. Michael Cheatham, an Orlando health trauma surgeon said.

In the wake of Pulse, Orlando firefighters said the job is no longer just about fighting fires. They now arrive at emergencies with bulletproof vests.

"This is an evolving age for us as fire services, first responders, and law enforcement,” Orlando Fire Department District Chief Bryan Davis said.

Davis was the commander at the scene of Pulse. He shared a message for valley firefighters and paramedics.

"You get wrapped up in the adrenaline of the moment for the first couple of weeks and then after that, you start coming down off of that high and that's really where the pressure starts to mount because you're going to get a large amount of scrutiny over everything you did,” Davis said.

They have flags and banners reading "Orlando United." People there said it isn't just a slogan cooked up to make them feel better, but an operating philosophy for any city scarred by a mass shooting or terrorism. 

"Whether it was the LBGTQ community or the African American community or the Hispanic community or the Muslim community, we had great relationships before that. So, I think that allowed us to get through Pulse, I don't want to say unscathed but it allowed us to recover a lot quicker than some other cities might,” Mark Canty, the Deputy Chief with the Orlando Police Department said.

"The city will move on. Your city will grow from this. Our city sure has and just know that there are people who have gone through what they have gone through that are here. They care and can help,” de Carlo said.

Pulse survivors said people in the valley need to be prepared to be re-traumatized by the next mass shooting just as they were on Oct. 1. They also reminded survivors to pay it forward when it happens.

"I send my love to Vegas. Orlando strong, we're trying to reach out to you guys. Anything that we can, just hold your hand, cry with you, be a listening ear, that's what we want to do. It's going to get a little better. When you shut your eyes, try not to think of those dreadful moments,” Godman said.

After the Pulse shooting, Orlando health workers brought the national "Stop the bleed program" to their city. It's a monthly training course to teach citizens how to stop serious bleeding in victims. Doctors there said just buying a few extra minutes for bleeding victims can mean all the difference. 

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