A U.S. Marine Corps veteran with roots in India saved the lives of more than 60 people early June 12 morning, as gunman Omar Mateen stormed the Pulse night-club in Orlando, Florida, killing 50 people and injuring more than 53 others.
New York native Imran Yousuf, who had returned from military service in April after a serving tour of duty in Afghanistan, had started to work at Pulse, a gay night-club, just one month before the attack, the worst incident of mass violence in U.S. history. At about 1:45 on June 12 morning, just after the last call at the club, which was celebrating “Latin Night,” Yousuf told CBS News he heard shots ringing out.
“Initially, there were three or four shots. You could tell it was a high-caliber,” Yousuf told the news station.
The former Marine, 24, never made contact with Mateen, an American citizen who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State before he embarked on the deadly rampage. Yousuf knew from working at the club that there was a back door that would lead out to safety. “I kept screaming, ‘open the door, open the door,’ but nobody moved.”
“There was only one choice: either we would all stay there and die or I could take a chance on getting shot and saving everyone else,” said Yousuf, adding that as soon as he unlatched the door, more than 60 people poured out.
“There were a lot of people dead. I wish I could have saved more,” he tearfully told CBS.
Yousuf’s uncle, Rafi Yousuf, told India-West his nephew has always acted courageously. “He has always put other people ahead of himself, and whatever he does, he acts with courage and bravery.”
“At a very young age, he decided he wanted to go into the military and fight for his country. It was a very smart decision,” Yousuf’s aunt, Christina Yousuf, told India-West. “The entire family was all very nervous when we first heard about the night-club shooting, but we knew Imran would somehow be safe.”
“He did not act just for himself; he saved the lives of so many people. We are very proud of him. He is a hero,” said Christina Yousuf.
The Yousufs emigrated from India to Guyana four generations ago. Imran Yousuf’s paternal grandfather is Muslim, and his grandmother is Hindu, so his father Rasheed is a mix of both ethnicities.
Yousuf’s mother Norma is Hindu, and Imran Yousuf identifies as a Hindu, said Christina Yousuf.
Imran Yousuf graduated from Niskayuna High School – near Schenectady, New York – in 2010 and immediately joined the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps Times reported that Yousuf served as an engineer equipment electrical systems technician in the Marine Corps from June 2010 to May 2016, according to service officials. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2011.
He was last assigned to 3rd Marine Logistics Group. His military awards include the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Korean Defense Service Medal and Afghanistan Campaign Medal.
Ameer Yousuf, Imran’s brother, told The Daily Gazette in Schenectady: “This was so unexpected but because of my brother’s training in the Marine Corps, he was prepared and used strategies from that to do everything he did.”
Imran Yousuf had not returned calls to India-West by press time. He wrote on his Facebook page June 13: “There are a lot of people naming me a hero. As a former Marine and Afghan veteran I honestly believe I reacted by instinct.”
“I have lost a few of my friends that night which I am just finding out about right now, and while it might seem that my actions are heroic I decided that the others around me needed to be saved as well and so I just reacted,” he said.