Imran Yousef served in the Marine Corps before working as a bouncer at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. He had served in Afghanistan on a combat deployment. And that combat experience may have helped save countless lives this weekend.
Yousef spoke to CBS News about his experience that night at Pulse when Omar Mateen opened fire with an AR-15. He barely missed seeing Mateen after he made his final rounds following last call. But he immediately recognized the sound of gunshots when Mateen started firing.
Many clubgoers later related that they didn’t realize someone was shooting at first. They thought the loud booms were part of the music. But Yousef knew right away.
“The initial one was three or four (shots). That was a shock. Three of four shots go off and you could tell it was a high caliber,” he said. Everyone around him froze, and he realized that he needed to find a way to get people out.
Yousef was standing in a back hallway when the shooting began, and people began flooding into that hallway trying to find a way to escape. There was a door there, one that Yousef knew needed to be opened — but people had jammed themselves in like sardines in their terror and panic. He screamed for people to open the door, but no one responded. So he sprang into action.
“There was only one choice. Either we all stay there and we all die, or I could take the chance, and I jumped over to open that latch a we got everyone that we can out of there,” he said.
And once people realized there was an escape route there, they finally moved. “As soon as people found that door was open they kept pouring out and after that we just ran.”
Yousef estimates that 60 to 70 people were able to escape through that back door — but he can only think of the people who were left behind.
“I wish I could have saved more to be honest. There are a lot of people that are dead… there are a lot of people that are dead,” he said.