Fort Myers native drew map of nightclub during Orlando massacre

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FORT MYERS, Fla. – Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, was a second home — a sanctuary for LGBT individuals like Fort Myers native Justin Pham.

“I can honestly say I loved it, you know? It was a place where I could be myself. It was a place where there’s nothing but good vibes, just great people, you know just — it was a great time all over,” Pham said.

Pham never imagined his familiarity with the club would be needed in one of the most frightening moments of his life.

He had moved to Orlando and began working at Pulse in August. On Sunday, he went to the bar to reconnect with three friends: 32-year-old Christopher Andrew Leinonen, who went by Drew, and married couple 39-year-old Luis Daniel Conde and 37-year-old Juan P. Rivera Velazquez.

“Juan and Luis they were almost like parents — role models — to me and they they always looked at me as their son,” Pham said. “As for Juan and Luis, you know they’re last words to me were, they both gave me a hug and told me to be safe.”

Pham left the club. The pictures he took with Conde and Velazquez would have been the end of a great night. There was no way he could prepare for the amount of horror and bloodshed that would ensue.

“I found out about the shooting about 15 minutes later after it happened. In my head it just seemed so unreal,” he said.

The Pulse employee returned to the club and, like many loved ones, Pham had no way of knowing whether his friends were safe.

“Knowing that there’s people that I know that were inside — I felt so helpless, you know , that I couldn’t really do anything, except, you know, try to help the police to try to get in. And that’s what I did,” Pham said.

With his knowledge of the nightclub, Pham was able to draw out a map he believes helped police.

“I drew them out a map of the entrances and exits and where the dressing rooms were and where the bathrooms were and everything. I feel like that’s what helped them get in and save the rest of the hostages and victims that were involved from this tragic accident,” Pham said.

Forty-nine people were gunned down in Pulse Sunday. The youngest, Akyra Monet Murray, was 18 years old and a recent high school graduate. The oldest was 50-year-old Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez. The gunman, Omar Mateen, was killed by authorities who were able to storm the club. Pham’s three friends were among the victims.

“Pulse was like a second home to me. So it’s just — the thought of someone walking into my home and kind of just invading everything and, you know, killing all these innocent people. It was really hard to take in,” Pham said. “The the night was going so great and I could have never expected anything like that to happen, you know.”

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