Marine Vet Hailed as Hero for Helping Dozens Escape Orlando Shooting

  • A survivor of the attack was 24-year-old Imran Yousuf, a Marine veteran of Afghanistan and a bouncer at the club, who leaped over a bar during the shooting to unlatch a door and allow dozens to escape. Marine photo
    A survivor of the attack was 24-year-old Imran Yousuf, a Marine veteran of Afghanistan and a bouncer at the club, who leaped over a bar during the shooting to unlatch a door and allow dozens to escape. Marine photo
  • This undated image shows Omar Mateen, who authorities say killed dozens of people inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday, June 12, 2016. (MySpace via AP)
    This undated image shows Omar Mateen, who authorities say killed dozens of people inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday, June 12, 2016. (MySpace via AP)

A U.S. Marine Corps veteran is being recognized as a hero for helping dozens of people escape the mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub.

Imran Yousuf, a 24-year-old Hindu and former Marine who served in Afghanistan, was working as a bouncer at the Pulse nightclub when he heard the familiar sounds of gunfire.

"That was a shock. Three or four shots go off and you could just tell it was a high caliber," he told CBS News. "Everyone froze."

As patrons raced to flee the gunfire, they packed into the back staff hallway where he was, Yousuf said. He instructed them to open a latch on a nearby door to exit the building, but they froze in a state of panic, he said.

"I'm just screaming, 'Open the door! Open the door!' and no one's moving because they were scared," Yousuf told the news organization. "There was only one choice: Either we all stay there and we all die or I could either take the chance and get shot and save everyone else. And I jumped over, opened that latch and we got every one that we can out of there."

When correspondent Mark Strassmann asked him how many people exited the door, Yousuf estimated between 60 and 70. Strassmann told him he saved a lot of lives.

"I wish I could save more, to be honest. There's a lot of people that are dead," he said, his voice breaking. "There's a lot of people that are dead."

A total of 49 people were killed in the attack, including Antonio Davon Brown, a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve. Another 53 people were injured in the shooting, several of whom remain hospitalized with serious injuries.

The deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history began around 2 a.m. Sunday at the nightclub, which caters to the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender, or LBGT, community, and lasted until around 5 a.m. when a SWAT team raided the building.

The shooting is also the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001, when al-Qaida militants crashed airliners into the World Trade Center in New York City; the Pentagon near Washington, D.C.; and a field in Pennsylvania, killing nearly 3,000 people.

Armed with a Glock pistol and a Sig Sauer MCX rifle, the gunman was killed in a shootout with police. He was identified as Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, 29, a U.S. citizen and Muslim who lived in Fort Pierce, Florida, and whose parents were of Afghan origin. While Mateen was apparently acting alone, he had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. The FBI has acknowledged he was under surveillance for a time.

Yousuf is a native of Schenectady, New York, near the state capital of Albany. After graduating from Niskayuna High School, he served for almost six years in the Marine Corps, from 2010 to 2016, achieving the rank of sergeant, or E-5, according to his service records.

He served as an engineer equipment electrical systems technician and completed a seven-month tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2011. His last duty assignment was with the 3rd Marine Logistics Group.

His awards include the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (2), Korean Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and NATO Medal, according to his service records.

On his Facebook page, Yousuf said the television interview has brought "closure."

"It created such closure for me that I believe I am finally able to move on from this and get focused back on my goals and my life," he wrote. "I thank everyone from the bottom of my heart for their kind words, prayers and support. It means more than you realize!"

-- Hope Hodge Seck contributed to this report.

-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.

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