ORLANDO, Fla. – One year after a gunman opened fire inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people and wounding dozens more, the survivors and their families chose to spread a message of love and perseverance in the face of tragedy.
Among the wounded was Jacksonville native Rodney Sumter, 28, who was bartending at the club when the gunfire rang out and he was shot three times: once in each arm and in the middle of his back.
Weeks after the shooting, Sumter shared his memories of the massacre with News4Jax.
“Whenever I was hit in my back, I just felt like I couldn’t breathe at all and I thought I was taking my last breath," Sumter said.
He said that after hiding in the club for some time, he made a run for it.
“I decided it was time to go, and I had tunnel vision," Sumter said. "I just kind of sprinted around the corner and went through the exit. I don’t know if there were dead bodies around me, it was really dark.”
Sumter's uncle, Leroy King, said it's been a difficult year for his nephew, who had reconstructive surgery on his right arm and a skin graft for the bullet wound in his back.
King said he believes Sumter is now suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, something King is familiar with from his time in the military.
"It's sad sometimes, when I have to see him, and my sister will tell me that he has rough days and rough nights. He'll have nightmares, basically,” King said.
King said Sumter, a gifted athlete who played football at Jacksonville University, is able to move his arms and walk and is doing well physically overall.
But the emotional scars are harder to overcome.
"He was always working out, and he was living a full life, and this thing, it just tore him apart,” King said.
King said he's thankful every day that this nephew made it out alive, knowing so many didn't.
Among the victims was Darryl Burt, a 29-year-old financial aid officer for Keiser University in Jacksonville.
King said his thoughts are always with the families of the 49.
"I can call my nephew and talk to him. I can go down to Orlando and visit him, and those people can't,” he said.
King said he wasn't sure if his nephew would be taking part in any of the one-year anniversary events, because of the painful nature of the memories.
But he said no matter what, he admires his nephew's strength and perseverance.