Just days after a gunman stormed in and killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub, Malcolm Barraza — who survived the massacre — decided he wouldn’t succumb to fear.
On Wednesday night, Barraza, who lives in Kendall, slowly walked down Lincoln Road, live-streaming himself on the way to a fundraiser at a South Beach club, Drinkhouse Fire & Ice. He spoke about his experience, and in four hours the venue raised almost $5,000 for Equality Florida, the largest LGBT rights group in the state.
As the death toll began to rise, the group posted a GoFundMe fundraiser, which has now raised about $4.9 million since Sunday. Donations will go to victims’ families and survivors.
Barraza, 29, said the echoing gunshots from Saturday night couldn’t deter him from uniting with his friends and family.
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“I was very nervous. I was questioning the entire time whether or not I should go. That’s why I live-streamed everything,” he said. “But it was the people that surrounded me, the people filled with love that made me feel safe.”
Barraza, who works as a production manager and an assistant to a night entertainment director, said nightclub and entertainment venues are “so much more” than drinks, loud music and strobe lights.
“It’s a place of expression, a place of music, a place of life,” he said. “You go and dance and you connect with everyone around you. It’s always been a part of my life, it’s been my home.”
During the fundraiser, the venue held a meditation moment with a candlelight ceremony. Surrounding the club were “healing stones from mountains around the world” that instilled peace across the club, Barraza said.
The club also named him “hometown hero.”
Barraza was in Orlando teaching middle and high school students at a three-day dance and color-guard camp.
After a 12-hour day of teaching, Barraza and five friends decided to visit Pulse, a gay nightclub in the heart of Orlando. Around 2 a.m., shots were fired and havoc ensued inside. Barraza, trapped in a small hallway near the back of the club, managed to escape after he and some others yanked a large refrigerator away from a wall and slipped out through the small hole behind it.
He looked at the chaos in the streets outside and decided to stay.
“People are screaming, people are bleeding, there are people everywhere,” he said. “At that point, what do you do? You know you don’t get in the car, you stay. You have to help these people.”
He bandaged wounds, lifted bullet-riddled bodies onto the beds of pickup trucks, messaged friends and families of survivors and tried hard not to look into the eyes of the dead.