A 14-day exchange program for criminology honors students visiting the University of Central Florida from the University of Gloucestershire delivered a study abroad experience no one could have imagined: the Pulse Nightclub Massacre.
Billed as an “experience of a lifetime” by UCF program founder Professor Ross Wolf, the exchange allows students classroom time and a chance to ride with officers from Orlando Police Department and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
The students were scheduled to ride on June 10 and June 11, according to Wolf.
Several of those students were riding with officers the night when the call for help at Pulse rang out.
About half of the 19 visiting students were assigned to shadow officers that night.
The students were placed at a safe distance, according to Wolf, but fate put one visiting coed who asked not to be identified in a split-second moment to react.
“One of the witnesses collapsed," she said. “And it became clear that several of them had gunshot wounds and hadn’t realized until they’d run away and arrived at a safe place.”
The student said she has lifeguard and first aid training and her instincts kicked in.
“Some of them had very severe gunshot wounds and a group of us decided to carry the most seriously injured to the waiting ambulances,” she said.
Dr Caroline Mills, Head of School of Natural & Social Sciences at the University of Gloucestershire, confirmed the students were given special counseling in Orlando and again when they arrived back home.
In an email to News 6, Mills confirmed, "One of our students took the decision to administer first aid to the wounded and help carry some of the most seriously injured victims into ambulances at a location away from the scene."
Both universities applauded the work by both OPD and OCSO to make sure the students were safe.
"The university is enormously grateful to the police for the care they took to ensure the safety of our students while at the same time supporting the victims of the appalling events at the nightclub," Mills wrote in an email to News 6.
Mills issued the following statement Wednesday:
"The 2016 Florida field trip consisted of 17 University of Gloucestershire BSc Hons Criminology undergraduate and graduates, two postgraduate students and a member of academic staff acting as the trip leader.
"This was the third time that this field trip had taken place as part of an agreement between the University of Gloucestershire and the University of Central Florida. The trip was split into two parts: 10 days of academic study examining policing in America and within the state of Florida and four days at the end for the students for some free time. This programm is part of the university’s wider commitment to support all of our students to gain the breadth of skills, insight and experience that will prepare them well for successful careers and rewarding lives.
"A key element of the field trip was the opportunity for the students to shadow officers from two Florida police organizations: The Orange County Sheriff’s Office and Orlando Police Department. This took place on the nights of Friday 10th and Saturday 11th (of) June.
"When all police units in the area were called to attend the tragic incident unfolding at the Pulse nightclub in the early hours of Sunday (June) 12, officers ensured that all students who were with them waited in a safe location. They were not in danger at any time. The university is enormously grateful to the police for the care they took to ensure the safety of our students while at the same time supporting the victims of the appalling events at the nightclub.
"One of our students took the decision to administer first aid to the wounded and help carry some of the most seriously injured victims into ambulances at a location away from the scene.
"The student concerned, who does not want to be named, said, 'At the request of the officer I was with, I was waiting at a location some distance away from the nightclub with some other police officers, talking to a group of witnesses who had just fled the scene.
'One of the witnesses collapsed and it became clear that several of them had gunshot wounds and hadn’t realized until they’d run away and arrived at a safe place.
“'I am lifeguard qualified so have had first aid training, so instinctively I went to help. Some of them had very severe gunshot wounds and a group of us decided to carry the most seriously injured to the waiting ambulances.'
"I am immensely proud of the actions of our student that night, but she does not accept the label of hero. She told me, 'I’m not a hero. I just did what needed to be done. The police are the real heroes for the way they reacted to the situation. They are the brave ones and I am completely in awe of what they did that night.
“'I’m a criminology student and it was always my ambition to become a police officer. I had been looking forward to this field trip to Florida ever since I started my degree. Being involved in these awful events in Orlando has just strengthened my resolve that I will become a police officer when I graduate from the university.'
"The student’s parents wrote to the university to comment on their daughter’s actions that night, they said, 'We are very proud of our daughter and have been impressed with the support she has received from the University of Gloucestershire, the University of Central Florida and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
'We have always taught her to assess the situation and to help if she can; it is part of our family values and so we are not surprised at her involvement trying to help victims of this awful tragedy.'
"The day following the incident, we cancelled all planned activities and we were very grateful to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the University of Central Florida who sent trained counsellors and a Chaplain to our hotel to give all students the opportunity to talk through what happened.
"The University of Gloucestershire offered all students the opportunity to return home early, but they all elected to stay for the remainder of the trip.
"Upon their return, the University of Gloucestershire has offered the students a range of additional support services."