Bilerico Report

Family’s excruciating Orlando journey ends in forgiveness

In this Wednesday, June 15, 2016 photo, Andrea Drayton looks over family photos that show her daughter, Deonka Drayton, a victim of the recent mass shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. Drayton, her husband, Shepherd, son, Shepherd III, and daughter, Alexia, piled in the family car and began an excruciating early morning journey south from South Carolina to Orlando, where a gunman had opened fire at a gay nightclub killing 49 and wounding scores of others before being killed by police.

In this Wednesday, June 15, 2016 photo, Andrea Drayton looks over family photos that show her daughter, Deonka Drayton, a victim of the recent mass shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. Drayton, her husband, Shepherd, son, Shepherd III, and daughter, Alexia, piled in the family car and began an excruciating early morning journey south from South Carolina to Orlando, where a gunman had opened fire at a gay nightclub killing 49 and wounding scores of others before being killed by police. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Andrea Drayton woke up Sunday to a mother’s worst nightmare when her phone buzzed with a text message: Her daughter Deonka was at a club in Orlando, there was gunfire and Drayton needed to come to Florida fast.

Drayton, her husband, Shepherd, son Shepherd III and daughter Alexia piled into the family car and began an excruciating early morning journey from South Carolina to Orlando, where a gunman had opened fire at a gay nightclub in an attack that left 49 victims and the killer dead.

Drayton called the friend of her daughter’s who had sent the text. The friend said “a bomb went off.”

“I couldn’t understand what she meant with that,” Drayton recalled, realizing later it was a police explosive used to distract the shooter.

The family found only chaos when they arrived in Orlando on Sunday afternoon. They called hospitals. They asked police and others if they had seen 32-year-old Deonka Drayton. They held up pictures of her. Nothing.

They found their way to a senior center set up a few blocks from the Pulse nightclub for families who couldn’t find their loved ones.

Finally, around 10 p.m. on Sunday, they were among the first families to hear. Deonka was among the dead.

Anger, sadness and disbelief welled up inside them.

They went back to their small hotel room with a view of a busy freeway. They carried Deonka’s black book bag with them. Inside was her Bible, stuffed with scribbled notes about Jesus and questions about life.

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