Survivor Describes Looking Gunman Straight in the Eye While Playing Dead – as She Tried to Save Her Cousin
Parker and her friends were among the first people shot by the gunman
One of the many people held hostage in the bathroom of Orlando’s Pulse nightclub during Sunday morning’s mass shooting is sharing her harrowing account of survival.
Tiara Parker, was shot and wounded by the gunman, Omar Mateen, while hiding in a single bathroom stall with approximately 20 others, she tells PEOPLE. In order to survive, she pretended she was dead in the hopes that the shooter wouldn’t shoot her again.
But Tiara’s cousin, 18-year-old Akyra Murray, who was celebrating her recent high school graduation with Tiara, was shot and killed inside the stall. Overall, 49 innocent people were killed and 53 were injured in the shooting, making it the deadliest mass shooting in United States history.
Tiara tells PEOPLE she and her friends ran for cover in the club’s bathroom. But the shooter found the large group packed inside the stall, and Tiara and Akyra were among the first people to be shot.
“There was blood all over the floor,” Tiara remembers. “We were so scared. Everybody was so injured and so hurt and in so much pain.”
Tiara says people inside the stall began texting and calling their loved ones.
Although she herself was suffering from her gunshot wounds, Tiara says she was more concerned with her younger cousin and best friend, both of whom were bleeding heavily and crying for help.
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According to Tiara, the shooter began talking to the hostages about race, religion and violence against his people.
“[This] is nothing personal,” she remembers him saying. “I’m just trying to send a message to my country.”
Tiara says time passed excruciatingly slowly in the bathroom. During this time, she says she was cognizant of her cousin losing blood.
“I said, ‘Don’t give up, you ain’t going nowhere. You’re getting out of here,” Tiara recalls.
Tiara tried to play dead so the shooter wouldn’t fire on her more.
“I just laid flat, my face in blood and all. I just laid there,” she says.
‘I Was Going to Have to Accept Death Because There Is No Way I Was Getting Out of There’
While Tiara lay face down, the shooter knelt down beside her and made eye contact with her to make sure she was dead. Tiara didn t move, hoping that he believed she had died with her eyes open.
“Right then and there I knew my life was over. I wasn’t accepting [death] but I was going to have to. It was a forced thing. I was going to have to accept it because there is no way I was getting out of there.”
Tiara could tell that people around her were dying, and everyone stayed silent. Tiara says she and her friends used a system similar to Morse code to communicate with each other that they were alive, tapping each other lightly on the leg, arm or back every few minutes.
When police finally entered the building hours later, Tiara heard the blasts of explosions. Moments before she and the rest of the hostages were evacuated, Akyra died in her lap, she says.
“[Akyra] was trying to stay [awake] but I think she took her last breath in my lap. I was trying to get her out of there but she didn’t make it. I had her in my lap, I couldn’t carry her fully but I was trying,” Tiara says tearfully.
The subsequent hours were a blur for Tiara. She was taken and treated at a local hospital where she reconnected with her family. She was finally able to take a shower Monday morning, washing the blood out of her hair.
“It was a nightmare,” she says. “I just want to go back to sleep and wake up and be like, ‘Oh, okay everything is good.”
She adds, “It feels like a nightmare but then I realize it’s reality.”