As the others climb the six-foot wooden fence blocking the service entrance at the main bar, someone manages to unlock the gate, freeing a group of patrons who immediately scurry towards the barricade police are setting up. A woman is frantically trying to find someone who speaks Spanish. Ricardo Negron-Almodovar, a 27-year-old Puerto Rican immigrant, calms her down and hurries her toward safety. The ordeal had just begun.
“There was a moment when the shooting paused. I didn’t have time to think; I stood up and ran out the entrance right next to me,” recalls Negron-Almodovar.
“When we got outside onto the patio, there was a fence in front of us, which some people were jumping over. It was only at the moment that I really began think about what just happened and started to fear for my life.”
Negron-Almodovar moved to Orlando from Puerto Rico only a year before the tragic shooting at Pulse Nightclub, which claimed the lives of 49 people. With a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Teaching, as well as a Juris Doctor from Pontifical Catholic University, he set off to Florida to begin a service year with AmeriCorps, serving the Florida Immigrant Coalition as an Immigration Associate and English Coach for the immigrant community.
The night of the massacre started off as any other, he says. He had just got off work and headed straight to the club, which hosted a weekly Latin Night.
“They would have a drag show every Saturday and that week, there were special performers from New York. The club was almost packed by the time I got there. It was always like that. There were lots of regular faces; you might not have known everyone by name but you would recognize their faces.”
Negron-Almodovar says that it wasn’t until the club was about to close that the shooter returned on his fatal mission.
“People were starting to leave. I was at the bar settling my tab. At first, I thought the gunshots were part of the music. When I heard people screaming, I became confused and dropped to the floor covering my head. I never saw him.”
Currently, he works as the Program Director for the Hispanic Federation: Proyecto Somos Orlando, which advocates for the needs of those impacted by the tragedy, and for the well-being of the LGBTQ+ and Latinx communities of Florida.
While he has become a pillar of strength for the victims of Pulse and their families, he too struggles to come to terms with the incident.
“I don’t get nightmares, but I sometimes feel a deep sadness. I have also developed a sense of not being safe always. I try to go out, but I have become hyper-alert, and you end up not enjoying it.”
He sees a counselor on a regular basis and is hopeful about his recovery process.