The music was loud, the dancing energetic, the atmosphere electric. And then the shooting started.
As gunfire rang out revelers hit the floor, ran for the exits, hid in bathrooms and even sheltered beneath the bodies of their friends, desperate to escape the hail of bullets.
This was the scene in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in the early hours of Sunday morning, as gunman Omar Mateen killed 49 people, and left dozens more wounded before being shot dead by police.
But to those who lived through the Paris attacks last November, eyewitness accounts of the scene that unfolded inside the popular gay club sounded shockingly familiar.
Clubgoers under siege
As in the November 2015 massacre during the Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan club, where 89 people died, many at Pulse at first mistook the noise of the attack for part of the evening’s entertainment.
“At first it sounded like it was part of the show, because there was an event going on – we were all just having a good time,” Andy Moss told CNN.
“But once people started screaming and shots just kept ringing out, you know that it’s not a show any more, and you gotta do what you’ve gotta do … My first instinct was to run and get out.”
Many are already calling the Orlando shooting “America’s Bataclan.” Britain’s Sun newspaper splashed the label across its front page Monday, and California congressman Adam Schiff, of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, said the attack was “painfully reminiscent of the terrible attack at the Bataclan.”
“In both cases you had a multi-hour hostage siege situation,” said CNN analyst Paul Cruickshank. “Both were in confined spaces which it was hard to get out of, both were well-thought-out attacks, and in both cases you had gunmen doing what they could to get ISIS to take ownership – turning it into an overtly political act.”
As in Paris, the victims were young, mostly in their 20s and 30s. Groups of friends had gathered to enjoy an evening together – drinks, dancing, some flirting and fun.
They were soft, easy targets, and their deaths were aimed at creating fear – terror – across a wide spectrum of the public.
Previous attacks have made people think twice about using public transport (the 2004 Madrid bombings, the 7/7 London bombings) or attending large, crowded public places (the Boston Marathon bombing, the Westgate mall attack in Nairobi). But the Paris and Orlando massacres appear to have been focused on scaring people out of their social lives.
“Terrorism is all about about creating fear to achieve certain ends,” said Cruickshank.
Seven months after the Paris attacks, many of those who survived are still struggling to come to terms with what they went through that night.
Max Besnard, who was at the Bataclan on November 13, told CNN he was “horrified” by news of the Orlando shooting: “there’s an obvious link with the Bataclan tragedy – in both cases, it’s a way of life that’s been attacked.
“But let’s not forget Brussels, Beirut, Tunis, Baghdad … there’s a mass shooting or a bomb attack almost every day now, and I don’t see the situation changing anytime soon. I wonder how we got here? [It] makes me feel so sad.”
Besnard said the survivors of the Pulse attack, like their counterparts at the Bataclan, face a long road ahead. He urged them to “try not to let fear and anger take over” – however tough that is likely to be.
“Personally, the most difficult thing is to learn to live with fear – to be strong, living in a world where I don’t feel safe as I used to,” he said. “It’s hard to remain optimistic when you’ve been caught in a war scene right down your street.”