ORLANDO — Christopher Hansen went to Pulse Saturday evening because he was curious. “Being new to Orlando, I just wanted to see what the gay bars were like,” said Hansen. But hours after arriving, he would find himself crawling out the patio exit as the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history happened around him.
Hansen said he had been in the club for several hours, floating from room to room. Latin music played in one room while hop hop filled another. He want to the bar shortly before 2 a.m. to get a drink before last call when he started to hear gunshots. Like many in the club, he did not immediately realize the shots were not part of the music, but when the person next to him was shot and fell to the ground, Hansen hit the deck as well.
“My dad always told me drop and to zig zag, and to keep yourself out of harm,” Hansen said. Others trampled on him as Hansen moved out the door, and when he felt concrete below him, he knew he was out and that it was time to move.
Hansen would spend the next several hours slowly moving down Orange Avenue while police expanded a crime scene perimeter. Over that period, he would help triage people coming from the club, speaking to one woman to keep her conscious.
He was near the hospital around 4 p.m. when he heard an explosion. Police Chief John Mica confirmed today that police had set off an explosion, then followed with use of a Bearcat vehicle, to put a whole in the club’s wall and gain additional access for the SWAT Team. But when Hansen heard the boom, his first thought was that the attack had escalated further.
“I ducked and I said, ‘It’s not over, there are still people attacking us,’" he recalled. Police told Hansen to stay in restricted areas, even threatened arrest if he did not comply.
A week ago, Hansen was celebrating Gay Days at Walt Disney World, admiring how much the Orlando community embraced the LGBT community. Early Sunday, though, he was placing a call to his parents on a borrowed cell phone to let them know he had survived the shooting.
Asked how he’s coping, Hansen said he truly hasn’t started that process yet. “It’s still shocking,” he said. “I’m thankful I’m alive,” he said, but he has also retold his tale to media from around the world gathered in Orlando. “It’s very emotional to have to repeat it over and over again.”
He has spoken out about policy in the attack, suggesting it absurd that he could right now go buy an assault rifle, described by him as a “weapon of mass destruction,” but cannot donate blood for the “brothers and sisters” affected by the event. He’s also become an early target of conspiracy theorists already calling the Pulse massacre a “false flag.”
Right now, Hansen doesn’t believe that suspected shooter Omar Mateen, who was killed by police at the scene, was acting in concert with ISIS, even though he placed a call expressing allegiance to the group. “It was an individual hatred act,” Hansen said. He feels Mateen wanted to destroy the LGBT community, but instead has strengthened it.
“We’ll make it through his,” Hansen said as a message to the LGBT community. “It’s going to be tough and we just have to be strong, continue our prayers, continue to help each other out, talk amongst each other, and know there is help for everybody and they are out here to help us. We as a community will be looked at in a whole other sense of light, and it’s going to be amazing from here forward.”
Watch Hansen tell his story to local reporters, below.