Philadelphia Teen Was Youngest Victim In Orlando Nightclub Attack
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Most of the victims of Sunday morning's shooting were young. Akyra Murray was the youngest. She was only 18. Today we spent some time with her family.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hello. Sit your stuff down.
SHAPIRO: Her mother, Natalie Murray...
NATALIE MURRAY: My daughter just graduated high school last Monday, and she was headed to college on a full scholarship ride.
SHAPIRO: Her cousin Tiara Parker, who was at Pulse with her during the shooting...
TIARA PARKER: She came back for me, and I kind of wish she'd stayed outside.
SHAPIRO: Their description of the last few days is explicit and raw, probably not right for younger listeners.
The weekend started out as a happy occasion. After Akyra graduated from high school in Philadelphia, the whole family food flew to Orlando to celebrate. Her mother says Akyra wanted to study criminology at Mercyhurst University this fall.
MURRAY: She wanted to work with the FBI to help them, you know, I guess figure what triggered these people to act the way that they act and the rage that they had in them.
SHAPIRO: The family rented a condo by the theme parks just off the Magic Kingdom highway exit. On Saturday night, Akyra, Tiara and their best friend Patience wanted to go out dancing. They did a lot of research to find the perfect club. They wanted a place that was fun and safe where you didn't have to be 21.
MURRAY: She had Googled it. We - she checked the ratings of the club. She read people's comments at the club. We even called the club.
SHAPIRO: Pulse was the perfect choice. Akyra sent her mother videos on Snapchat all night.
MURRAY: I mean, she was having a ball. And I could just - she was on the stage dancing. They were putting money in her pants. She was having a ball dancing with these guys. And they had them strippers and everything there, and she was loving it.
SHAPIRO: Then Natalie got a text from her niece Tiara.
MURRAY: She texted me. Auntie, please come and get me, please. They're shooting.
SHAPIRO: The condo was 25 miles away from the club.
MURRAY: I must have turned that 35 minute ride into about 17 minutes. But by the time - I think it was 2:12 we got the phone call from her. And she called just to tell us she had been shot.
SHAPIRO: It was Akyra on the phone.
MURRAY: And at this point, she's frantic. She's screaming. She's crying. She's - Mommy, please help me. I'm bleeding so bad. Please call the cops. Please help me, Mommy, please. And my husband's holding the phone, and we're using the phone for GPS. And we're trying - she - call the cops, Mommy, please. And we're like, Baby, we got to hang up so we can do these things. Like, we can't do everything with the one phone. And I'm just like, if I'd have known that that was the last time I was going to talk to her, I would have never got off the phone.
SHAPIRO: Akyra's cousin Tiara has the perspective of what was happening inside the club as this unfolded. She says when the shooting started, Akyra actually escaped. But when she realized she had left her friend and her cousin behind, she ran back in. They all hid in the bathroom - 15 or 20 people in a handicapped stall. Then the killer walked in.
PARKER: He came in. You could hear him loading the gun.
SHAPIRO: Tiara says the group talked about whether to try to rush him, but he opened the stall door and started shooting. Tiara was hit in the side, her cousin Akyra in the arm. Their friend Patience took a bullet in each leg. That's when Akyra called her mother from inside that bathroom stall. And then they played dead.
PARKER: I just remember lying down and I know - I don't know if you've all heard this term. It's called playing possum.
PARKER: And like that's what I had to do in a pool of blood all - for hours and hours, you know, just watching other people die and (unintelligible) God, I'm like, please get us out of here. Like, we're too young for this. Like, we did not expect in a million years to be in a situation like this. You see stuff like this in the movies...
PARKER: ...But not in person. Like, I never thought that I would have somebody's brain fragments in my fingernails, blood clots and stuff all over the place. Like, I never thought I would see something like that.
SHAPIRO: Lying there for hours, the three young women used a sort of Morse code.
PARKER: Kind of like, you know, scratching and tapping and trying to make sure we were, like, pulling through and everything. And everybody's hands would go up. She would scratch me or something. Back of her hand would go up with me, we - and she'd be like, I'm good; I'm good. And I'm like, we good. We're going to get out of here. We good. In my mind, I was not worried about her going anywhere because she was only hit in her arm.
SHAPIRO: But Akyra was bleeding steadily. And by the time the sun came up, she had stopped the Morse code.
PARKER: You know, so I was tapping her, like, the back of her leg and her butt, and I just kept hitting her leg and hitting her leg. And she wasn't tapping me back, so then I, like, grabbed her, like, real tight. Like, I just squeezed her at this point. These nails are sharp, so I know she felt that because I just grabbed her real hard. And then, like, I felt her like try to clench my hand back.
SHAPIRO: Finally police officers blew open the wall. The fragments of porcelain cut up Tiara's arm. Men in uniform dragged them out of the bathroom, put them in separate vehicles. Akyra didn't have any pockets, so Tiara was carrying her ID. That meant when doctors and investigators started to identify the victims, they couldn't tell who Akyra was. Her mother and father had been waiting outside of the club for hours without any information. And they kept waiting.
MURRAY: We sat out there from 2:32 a.m. until they let us in the hospital at 12 noon, 1 o'clock...
MURRAY: ...Knowing nothing, knowing nothing - whether she was dead, alive, safe, gone, still in the club. She sat in that club until 6 a.m. until they blew a hole in the wall and killed the assailant and got the kids out, but my daughter was already gone. She'd bled to death. She had took a bullet to her main artery in her arm. I'm thinking, when she said she was hit in her arm, oh God, it's just her arm; she can survive this; she can survive this, never, ever for once thinking that it was her main artery and that it would take her out.
SHAPIRO: Akyra's family didn't learn until midday Monday that their 18-year-old college-bound child was dead.
MURRAY: I haven't eaten since Saturday. I've barely closed my eyes - barely.
SHAPIRO: Akyra's friend Patience is still in the hospital. After taking bullets in both legs, she's struggling to walk. Akyra's cousin Tiara is recovering from a bullet wound to the side. And Akyra's body is still at the morgue. The family is waiting to see her. So all they can do is sit in their vacation condo as they come to grips with what has happened. When we visited, Akyra's 4-year-old sister Ayana was eating cereal.
How much does she understand...
MURRAY: A lot.
SHAPIRO: ...About what happened?
MURRAY: A lot, everything.
PARKER: Yeah, she know more than the average teenager probably.
MURRAY: She's very intelligent.
SHAPIRO: How's she doing?
MURRAY: She has moments where she's by herself and she cries of missing her sister. And I told her it's OK to cry in front of us. She doesn't have to hide.
SHAPIRO: Can you tell us your favorite thing about your sister?
AYANA MURRAY: I miss sissy.
MURRAY: You miss sissy? I know you do.
SHAPIRO: She whispers in her mother's ear, I miss sissy.
When Tiara was released from the hospital, she asked to take the bloody clothes with her. She says she's going to hold on to them.
PARKER: I'm not just - it's not to remember, but it's more so to know that that was a fight we put up with. And that's why I won't throw them out. My cousin laid on top of me for hours. I laid on top of her for hours. That was a fight we put up with.
SHAPIRO: She says those clothes represent how we were as fighters.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
That is our colleague Ari Shapiro reporting from Orlando. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.