TORONTO -- WARNING: Details in this story may be disturbing to some

In the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen opened fire inside Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., killing 49 people and injuring more than 50.

At the time, it was the U.S.’s deadliest mass shooting.

The victims were overwhelmingly Latinx and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community, and the global outpouring of grief and solidarity resonated deeply in the queer community.

Survivors and allies are now marking the five-year anniversary in the midst of a global pandemic that limits the ability to gather together and grieve, during a month meant to celebrate acceptance and pride.

Orlando Torres was in the restroom at Pulse when the gunman began shooting, held hostage while Mateen rampaged through the club and then called authorities, pledging his allegiance to the terror group ISIS.

“It’s unbelievable that five years have passed already,” Torres told CTV News Channel on Saturday. “Every time that there’s a mass shooting out there, it opens up our wounds and reflects back on what we went through, which seems like yesterday.”

Torres was able to reconnect with the two SWAT officers who rescued him from the shooting that night.

“I was trying to express my sincere thank you but I started breaking down, it was hard to express the words quickly as I was deeply touched,” he said.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate passed legislation to make Pulse nightclub – which has remained closed since the shooting – a national memorial site.

Reflecting on the support he and other survivors received, Torres said the tragedy changed a lot of people’s minds about the queer community.

“It’s not just our community – we gained support from around the world,” he said, noting that LGBTQ2S+ and heterosexual people came out to donate blood to the wounded after the shooting.

“It opened up a lot of minds and hearts that we are not just members of the LGBTQ community, we’re children of God, we’re human, we hurt, we bleed,” Torres said. “We saw the compassion.”


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