Patience Carter and Alex Murray found love in the aftermath of one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history, after a gunman opened fire at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., nearly four years ago.
Until then, the two were virtual strangers. Alex’s sister, Akyra Murray, their cousin Tiara Parker, and Patience — a friend of both girls — celebrated Akyra’s high school graduation and “Latin Night” at the gay nightclub in Central Florida. The cousins and their families had traveled from Philadelphia to Orlando on an annual family trip. Carter had joined them that year. The girls were ready to call it a night when a gunman fired into the crowd early in the morning of June 12, 2016.
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When the shooting ended, Akyra, 18, a standout basketball player at West Catholic Prep, was among the 49 victims killed; 53 others were injured. Patience, then 20, suffered gunshot wounds to both legs. Tiara Parker was shot in the side (and survived). The gunman was killed by police, who stormed the building to stop the carnage.
“I really don’t think I’m going to get out of there,” Patience recalled thinking at the time. “I made peace with God: ‘Just please take me, I don’t want any more.’ I was just begging God to take the soul out my body.”
She survived and found healing from an unlikely source — Akyra’s brother Alex.
Devastated by their loss, Patience and Alex began a friendship, comforting each other. He visited her at the hospital hours after the shooting. When she returned home to Philadelphia, they talked by phone daily. In grief, they found love. She moved to Florida, where Alex lived, and he proposed in March 2018 at a Miami Heat basketball game.
“My deepest pain has transformed into my deepest love,” said Patience, now 23. “This is the most amazing experience I’ve had in my life."
The couple had a dream wedding last August at Lincoln Financial Field, and a reception at its Touchdown Club. Corporate sponsors donated rings and other wedding goodies and a honeymoon to Aruba.
The venue had special meaning for the couple: Both are Eagles fans, and Alex had once played in an all-star game at The Linc, back when he was a standout free-safety for West Catholic High. (An injury in college dashed his dreams of playing for the Eagles; he now has a water-ice business.) The couple wrote their own vows and exchanged them on the 50-yard line.
”I want people to believe anything is literally possible,” said Alex, 25, who called the marriage "a fairy tale.”
The Eagles staff were deeply moved when they read an email that Patience included with her application to rent the venue; it described how she and Alex had met. The staff was so moved, in fact, that they created a three-part docu-series, Sincerely, Patience, that debuted on Valentine’s Day at the NovaCare Complex. The title was taken from Patience’s closing signature in the email. The movie’s tag line is: Love always has a game plan.
“You couldn’t write a story like this. We had to capture it and tell it,” said Glen Freyer, who produced the project for Eagles Entertainment.
It has been a circuitous journey for the newlyweds. Patience suffers from survivor’s guilt, and her husband still grieves for his little sister “Kirra,” the youngest of those killed during the siege. A month before, she had signed a letter of intent to play basketball for Mercyhurst University in Erie on a full scholarship.
Alex and his family are keeping Akyra’s memory alive through an annual basketball game at her alma mater. And he and Patience recorded a song — “Praying 4 Orlando" — in honor of all of the victims.
“She was the most loving person in the world,” said Alex’s mother, Natalie. “Her determination and willpower were surreal.”
On that fateful night in Orlando, she was having the time of her life with friends on the first night of vacation. It was the perfect girls’ night out, laughing and dancing in the crowded Pulse nightclub.
Patience ordered a ride home for the trio. Then: gunshots. Patience and Akyra made it outside, but Tiara Parker didn’t, so they rushed inside to find her. The trio huddled in a bathroom with other panicked club goers.
The gunman, who had voiced hatred of Jews, women, gays, and minorities, came into the bathroom and began spraying the room with bullets. Patience was struck in both legs; a stranger shielded her from additional shots, sparing her life. The Good Samaritan was then killed, along with Akyra.
After surgery, Patience underwent months of rehabilitation. One of the bullets had shattered the femur in her right leg. She had to re-learn to walk, while coping with the emotional distress of what had happened.
”It was hard for me, just looking at her in pain, ” said her sister, Chrystal Rouse, 29, of Philadelphia. ”I can’t believe she overcame it. She was like a superhero.“
Patience poured out her feelings in poignant poems and last summer self-published a book about her journey, Survive, Then Live. She also plans to start a foundation to help other trauma victims and hopes to graduate from NYU this spring.
The couple, who lives in Hollywood, Fla., said they hope their story will inspire others facing obstacles.
“I am definitively happy. I’m in love,” said Patience. ”It just feels good. It’s God’s plan.”