Mario Perez was just going to a housewarming party.
He was in Orlando to see a friend who recently moved into a new apartment. Perez and his friends were excited to see each other. They planned this weekend six weeks in advance. The anticipation was so high that Perez, driving from Miami to Orlando, even took time to FaceTime with friends Amanda Alvear and Mercedez Flores.
After the housewarming party — as with many other trips he made to Orlando — Perez and his friends decided to head to Pulse night club for a night out.
Perez was with a big group that included Alvear and Flores when they went inside the club, though they eventually separated.
The last call for drinks was at 2 a.m. Perez was in the main room of the club as Omar Mateen fired his first shots; Perez knew the loud pops weren’t fireworks or music coming from the DJ.
“I knew those were gunshots,” he said.
One of Mateen’s first bullets grazed Perez’s body. He dropped down to the floor to take cover. Perez remained low, near the exit door, as the gunman fired.
Finally, the shots subsided. Perez, 34, said to himself, “Mario you’re not going to die here, you’re getting up and you’re going now. Run!”
He ran across South Orange Avenue to a 7-Eleven store and hid in the kitchen; he first thought the shooter was coming after him. He soon went back outside and found two of his friends, one of whom had been shot in the leg while trying to hide in a bathroom stall. When ambulances arrived, they were both taken to the hospital.
Perez paced back in forth in the hospital. Still, he thought he would die — he has a piece of metal from one of the first shots buried under skin near his chest. A nurse consoled him, saying the way he was pacing and screaming across the room was no sign of his nearing death.
Perez was released from the hospital Sunday and headed home to Miami. Three friends were still unaccounted for: Brian Lopez, Mercedez Flores and Amanda Alvear. On Monday, Perez heard that Lopez was at the hospital and in stable condition.
Flores and Alvear died inside Pulse, he learned.
Back in Miami, Perez and his friends were going to attend Fort Lauderdale’s pride parade this weekend, but they’ve decided to have a gay pride barbecue at home instead.
“We’re all fighters. We’re not going to let nobody bring us down,” he said. “We all stand together, and we’re always going to stand together.”