ORLANDO, Fla. - Wednesday marked three years since a gunman murdered 49 people, injured 53 others and traumatized hundreds more at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
Patience Carter was 20, her best friend, Tiara Parker, was 21 and Parker's cousin, Akyra Murray, was 18 on June 12, 2016, the day of the mass shooting.
The trio, who were visiting from Philadelphia, discovered the gay club through a Google search and arrived at the venue shortly after midnight.
About two hours later, the women had agreed to order an Uber ride to the vacation home where they were staying.
At that point, gunfire erupted, and Carter and Murray ran outside the club before running back inside to search for Parker.
The women were among more than a dozen people who tried to seek shelter in a bathroom stall. Murray was killed, and Carter was shot several times in the legs.
Carter told Channel 9 on Tuesday that the anniversary of the attack is always a difficult time for her, because it reminds her of all who perished.
"I’m reminded of my own pain every day. My leg still hurts. I remember the fact that I was shot in my legs every day. That pain is never going anywhere," she said. "But the anniversary reminds me that there are wounds deeper than my physical ones. It reminds me that some wounds never heal for people, like Akyra’s family."
Carter said that although June 12 brings awful memories to mind, she is thankful for Wednesday's remembrance ceremonies, which she described as "extreme acts of kindness."
"My only hope is that the focus remains on those lives and their legacy," she said. "Knowing that these events are continuing restores some of my hope in humanity. It gives the phrase 'gone but not forgotten' real meaning, and for that, I am grateful."
Carter, who now lives in Florida, said she seldom visits Orlando, but she visited the shuttered nightclub earlier this year to honor the memory of Murray, her fiancé's younger sister.
She said she typically does not attend annual remembrance events because she focuses on providing her fiancé emotional support.
"I’ve been able to heal faster, emotionally, from this tragic event but not him," Carter said. "When June 12 arrives, it’s the hardest day for him. I try to be as much (of a) support as I can since I understand the level of pain he’s experiencing. June 12 is usually private family time for me."
She said her fiancé pays tribute to Murray daily.
"He honors Akyra’s life every day by doing 20 pushups before he leaves the house," Carter said. "He kisses her photo on the wall before walking out the door, faithfully."
These 49 people were robbed from 49 different families. No one understands the pain of the mothers, the sisters, the brothers, the friends, and the spouses who lost them. Not even me. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ This may just be an image to you. But I see the pain on my fiancé’s face every single day. When he kisses his sisters photo in the morning before leaving the house. When he does 20 push ups to honor her before stepping a foot out the door. I see the tears he holds back when he’s describing her. But I can never feel it. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I witness his pain, but I can’t even begin to understand his loss. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ There are so many people fighting back tears everyday, because they always remember. Not just on June 12th. Let’s continue to encourage each other, and love one another. You never know what’s behind someone’s smile. #AkyraMurray #Orlando #AlexMurray Never forget the people who suffer the other 364 days of the year. Encourage them. Uplift them.
Carter said that although three years have passed since the mass shooting, the tragedy continues to affect her physically and psychologically.
"I’m way more cautious than I was before the shooting," she said. "I used to take more risks with where I went and the places I traveled to. But now, I think about the what-ifs. Like, what if someone comes in here with a gun? Do I know where the nearest exit is?"
Carter said she eases her concerns by constantly reaffirming her sense of safety and security.
"I remind myself that I’m OK and that I’m safe," she said. "I look around and ask myself is there any reason for me to be afraid right now? Once I realize that it’s just my emotional memories from my traumatic event resurfacing, I ignore them."
Carter said she completed a certified trauma professional certification "to not only understand more about my own responses to trauma but to offer any advice I can to help people dealing with theirs."
She said she has written a book called "Survive Then Live: The Patience Carter Story," which will be released later this month.
Watch Carter recite a poem while hospitalized in June 2016 below:
Watch Carter recount the shooting while hospitalized in June 2016 below:
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