Some Heroes Wear Capes, Others Wear Tank Tops: One Man’s Story of Surviving the Pulse Nightclub Shooting

Credit: Unknown

Amit Kalantri once said that, “Someone needs to fight, someone needs to sacrifice, someone needs to inspire, someone needs to be a hero.”

The night of the shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida; 24-year-old club-goer, Joe Galligan, stepped up to the plate and did all of the above.

Credit: Unknown

Credit: Unknown


Galligan, originally from Yonkers, NY; moved to Orlando, Florida for graduate school. He was accepted to a PhD program in Industrial & Organizational Psychology; and in May 2015, he took his Masters degree in the same thing. He completed his undergraduate studies at University at Albany—double majoring in Psychology and Sociology, and minoring in Education.

Galligan’s interest in serving his community and helping those around him began long before that night at Pulse. He’s a brother in Alpha Phi Omega—“a national coeducational service organization founded on the principles of Leadership, Friendship and Service [to the community].” He says his chapter has been good with offering support, and “just reaching out.” They’ve also been re-sharing GoFundMe pages which were created to help victims and their families.  Galligan says that two of the people who benefitted from the GoFundMe pages were just released from the hospital.

”I bet if they were in session right now they would have done a fundraiser or something,” he continues.

People have been at odds with mainstream media over the way the shooting has been covered.  For example, groups such as No Notoriety urge the media to “Limit the name and likeness of the individual in reporting after initial identification…” in an attempt to deprive “…violent like-minded individuals the media celebrity and media spotlight they so crave.”

Galligan offers a “middle of the road” answer to the problem of media coverage and the emphasis on the shooter.

“I think the media is doing their job in the sense that they have to make news that’s going to catch people’s eye,” he says,” Unfortunately, what tends to capture people’s attention is negative headlines. I also understand the need to report on the shooter.”  Galligan doesn’t see the media’s emphasis on the shooter in terms of the negative attention or positive attention that it gives the shooter. For him, it’s all a series of learning opportunities. “People also need to know the story of the shooter, because you need to learn from history, and hopefully take notes from this lesson,” he says. For example, he mentions the potential to use the shooting as a stepping-off point for conversations on gun control.

Perhaps just as important, Galligan sees the aftermath of the shooting as an opportunity to have larger conversations on acceptance and tolerance of other cultures and lifestyles. “Just because the guy claims he did it in honor of ISIS…I know many people who are Muslim who do not associate with that,” he says.

Galligan doesn’t just point out problems without offering solutions, and he even considers the “bigger picture” when coming up with answers.

“I think the focus should be on what we can do moving forward to make things better…I’d like to see more attention on that for sure,” he says, “It’s really something we should shift our attention to for more than just this situation.”

For example, after the shootings, Galligan notes that there have been problems with fake crowdfunding pages. These pages claim that they’re raising money for survivors and victim’s families, when in reality, someone with no connection to the tragedy is just pocketing the money. “There can be a story about the gofundme pages,” says Galligan, “Those can be advertised a little more.”

While Galligan understands all the focus on the shooter, he also wishes people could see the other side, the POSITIVE side. “There could definitely be more focus on people that helped out—EMS workers, cops, hospital staff,” he says, “I know the hospital was on lockdown that night and people couldn’t leave before a certain time…There’s another side to it to, there’s the positive things.”

Another problem that the media is having is deciding if this was a homophobic attack, an Islamist act of terror, or some combination of the two. “I think it’s kind of hard to say it’s NOT an attack on LGBT people,” says Galligan, and he briefly entertains arguments that the shooter was gay, along with   arguments that the shooter’s family had come out as “disapproving of that type of lifestyle.” “I don’t know the answer to that,” Galligan ultimately concludes, “It was not only LGBT people at that club.  It was not only LGBT people hurt…It’s hard to deny that it was also an attack on gay people because it was a gay club.” But for Galligan, it goes beyond that.  “It’s a bigger issue than that, but at the end of the day, that’s a big part of it,” he says, and also reminds people that it was Latin Night at the club.

In addition to offering advice to the media, Galligan also offers the following advice to politicians: “People tend to take something like this and turn it into a presidential campaign issue.  The focus should, at least for the time being, be on the situation at hand.”

All the focus on the shooter hasn’t left a lot of time to show how those who survived made it through the night. I asked Galligan if there was one particular thought or person that helped him to make it through the night.

“I wish I could say there was, but honestly, my thought process at the time…” he says, and sort of trails off.

That one question triggered a flood of memories.

“What first happened was we heard loud noises,” he says.

He continues, noting that no one thought anything of it. “To us, the music was just loud,” he says.

Then suddenly, everyone hit the floor.  “I can’t tell you if it was a minute, or if it was 30 seconds, but that thing was firing fast,” he says.

Galligan’s first thought: “What do I know about this room that I’m in?”

“I still don’t know if there were any doors behind me,” he says, “What I did know was that there was a bathroom.”

He continues, “I thought, ‘The closest thing I could run to is the bathroom’.”  After considering his options, he concluded that if he ran in there, and got cornered, there would be no way out.

It was then that he thought of the double doors.

“The most straight run I could have…” he says of the doors, “It wasn’t the shortest run either.”

The shots stopped for a split second, and he seized the opportunity to make a run for it. “It felt like my body just carried me,” he says of the moment he decided to run. 1-2 people ran with him. Together, they ran across the street and hid behind a car.

Galligan’s first thought: “I need to text my friends that were in there right away.” He remembers feeling worried. “I could have told them to run with me, or done something differently,” he says.

“Really what got me out, I have to say, was gut instinct,” he concludes, “Really all the people that were around me got shot.”

Galligan texted his family in New York at 5:49 am, Sunday morning, to tell them what happened. He first texted his mother and stepfather. Included in the first round of texts he sent them was a reminder.

“I love you both,” he wrote.

In subsequent texts, he told the story of how he took off his tank top to help seal a girl’s wounds.

“People just, were very supportive,” Galligan says, “Even just beyond family, friends…people I haven’t spoken to in a long time…Even my dad, he called me and asked me to call him back and wanted to make sure I was alright.”

In the hours and days that followed, Galligan says that people he hadn’t spoken to in a while reached out to check up on him. He says he initially couldn’t understand how people could be concerned over something and someone that they weren’t very close to. After having it happen to him, he was able to understand. “Them reaching out to me, it was genuine,” he says, “It was genuine concern, genuine empathy.”

This all taught him two important lessons, and inspired him to live his life differently going forward.

First it taught him to hold friends and family just that much closer. “Even to friends, tell them you love them,” he says,”You can be affectionate towards people.”

Second, he says that “life is too short” to cling to “stupid, petty things that you would normally get annoyed with.” “Two of my friends there, they were annoyed with each other, then this all happened,” he says, “I couldn’t imagine that even those two, if one of them made it out and the other didn’t ,how that person would feel.

When asked to boil the entire evening down to one memory, Galligan thinks back to a loss he suffered. “Unfortunately it would be this guy that I helped to carry out to a pickup truck to be transported to the hospital,” he replies. Once, when visiting a friend at the hospital in the days following the attack, Galligan ran into a guy named Carlos.  Carlos, as Galligan later found out, helped him carry the guy out to the pickup truck.

“When I met up with Carlos, I was informed that he [the guy they carried] was one of the victims,” he says, “I was hoping I had helped save that person, and helped to get them to safety.”

Galligan doesn’t want to be thought of as a hero, and he doesn’t care about getting recognition for his actions the night of the shooting. “People were telling me I’m a hero because I took off a tank top and gave it to a girl to cover her wound,” he said, “ I don’t think that’s the case.” He goes on to note that everyone just did their job and did what they needed to do.

“It was just crazy to see how people pulled through and came together in that moment,” he said.

Later on, in a Facebook messenger chat which took place after our Skype interview, he said he’s “excited” to see what I come up with for this article. I responded by saying, “You’re a hero.  I’m going to give you all the respect you deserve.”

Galligan responded with the same amount of humility he showed during the interview. His reply: “Haha.  I don’t care about my own recognition.”

Editor’s Note:  There have been reports of fake crowdfunding campaigns, which claim to be set up to support survivors and victim's  families.  For anyone who is interested in places to donate, Joe sent along the following list of crowdfunding campaigns: - Victor Guanchez - Angie Caro - Angel Colon - Juan Guerrero & Christopher “Drew” Leinonen - Brenda Marquez McCool - Eddie Justice - Frank Hernandez - Tony Strong - Eric Ortiz - Paula Blanco - Cory Connell - Jonathan Amaya - Pulse Victims Fund - Employees of Pulse - A site organized by Orlando to raise money for the victims and their families -A second site for Angel Colon  -The Center -Victim’s Medical Bills –Orlando Regional Medical Center --Pulse Orlando



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