ORLANDO —Javier Nava will carry a part of the Pulse nightclub massacre with him for the rest of his life. The 33-year-old Mexican has a bullet lodged in his abdomen that doctors have decided not to try to remove.
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“When I got here there was no time to perform X-rays, so they opened me up fast to make sure everything was fine. They saw that the bullet hadn’t hit any [vital] organs. I still have the bullet [in there], but they aren’t going to extract it,” Nava said from his hospital bed, during a brief meeting with the Mexican consulate on Tuesday afternoon.
Nava said the bullet, which doctors say poses no further risk to his health, will remain stuck somewhere in his right abdomen. He’s already undergone surgery and is in therapy so he can walk again. He expects to be back on his feet soon.
Once he is, he'll be taking his first steps toward becoming a U.S. citizen.
Mexican Consul Juan Sabines suggested that Nava apply for a U-visa, which can act as a bridge to citizenship for victims of violence and abuse who cooperate with authorities on criminal investigations.
But what Nava wants most right now is to see his mother and child—something he hasn't been able to do in many years, since he came to the United States from Mexico City undocumented.
During Tuesday's hospital visit with the Mexican consul, Nava discussed the logistics of applying for humanitarian visas for his son and mother so they can travel from Mexico to visit him. He said he wasn’t ready to go on the record just yet with more details about his life or the horrific events of the nightclub shooting, but gave permission for Fusion to publish his photograph, name and immigration status.
Nava's best friend, 27-year-old Cuban-American Adrian López, has been by his bedside since Sunday and was willing to go on the record.
López was at Pulse with Nava during the attack, but miraculously managed to escape without being caught in the spray of bullets. His only injury was a moretón— a deep bruise on his right thigh.
“We arrived at the club around 12:30 a.m. to meet with some friends. We were having a good time, we were dancing,” López told me, adding that his memory of the ensuing chaos is a bit blurry. “At around 2 a.m. the club announced it would stop serving alcohol. Then seconds or minutes later we started hearing gunfire coming from the entrance, and for a second I thought someone had lit off firecrackers. I stood still and saw people falling on the floor. Then the music stopped.”
He continued: “I threw myself on the floor and someone fell on top of me. That person was badly hurt, there was blood in my back, there was a piece of meat on my armpit, someone’s blood… for a second I thought to myself: ‘Adrian, stay here and play dead, he’s not going to see you'."
López says he saw the shooter, but escaped through an exit in the club’s patio. He says he briefly went back inside after noticing that none of his friends were with him, but saw the shooter a second time firing at people on the floor and ran back out.
López said he was taken by police to a nearby fire station, then to a second location where he waited anxiously hoping to see his friends. But many of them never made it out. He says six of his friends died in the club, and another is in a critical condition in the hospital.
He remembers searching the crowd outside the club and seeing Nava getting escorted by a policewoman who was covering his bullet wound with her hand. He saw Nava get put into an ambulance and hours later found him at the hospital.
López says he will stay at Nava's side until his family comes from Mexico.
“God willing his mother and son will able to come to see him,” López said.
He says the two are still in shock.
“You get up in the morning, you brush your teeth, and go to work and you never know if you are going to come back or not. You don’t think that way, but you never know,” he said. “I never imagined this would happen to me. It was like a horror movie. All those people dead. I never imagined seeing so many people like that, on top of each other, so much blood.”
Still López is grateful to see his friend alive. And he's hopeful Nava is going to make a full recovery.
“But the bullet is going to stay there,” he said.