ORLANDO, Fla. – Orlando police Deputy Chief James Young was one of the first officers to respond to the mass shooting on June 12, 2016 at the Pulse Nightclub, running to a club he had not only worked off-duty at, but frequented before as an openly gay man.
Five years ago Saturday a lone gunman opened fire on the gay nightclub in south downtown Orlando killing 49 people and injuring dozens of others.
“I say it was the longest shift of my life,” Young said. “When I say that, it hasn’t ended to this day.”
On the morning of the shooting Young stood outside in the parking lot at Pulse, just feet from where members of his own LGBTQ+ community, what he calls his chosen family, were inside.
“Just knowing - that’s my family in there,” he said. “I have a long history with Pulse, worked there many time and you start thinking of who might be in there.”
Five years ago Young said as he stood in the parking lot he was worried but also working toward the goal of getting survivors out. He quickly reunited with performer Angelica Sanchez who had escaped the shooting.
“She ran up to me and hugged me and literally squeezed me and said ‘Thank God it’s you. I feel safe now,’” he said.
Young was on scene from just after 2 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., going home only for a quick shower.
“Looking at my uniform, I had blood on my pants, blood on my shoes,” he recalls.
While remembering that night, he occasionally teared up.
“I sometimes try to take their suffering away from them, I want them to be happy and want them to enjoy life,” he said. “We made a promise, all of Orlando made a promise to the victims’ families, the survivors and their families and friends that we will never forget, and this shows we will never forget.”