The first message Mina Justice received from her son Sunday morning seemed innocuous.
“Mommy I love you,” Eddie Justice texted at 2:06 a.m.
His next words, though, were chilling.
“In club,” he wrote. “They shooting.”
Worried and confused, Mina tried calling her son, but there was no answer, she told the Associated Press. She texted him to ask whether he was okay.
“Trapp in bathroom,” Eddie wrote a minute later. “Pulse. Downtown. Call police.”
Mina didn’t know it yet, but her son was caught in the midst of what would prove to be the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
At that instant, Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old security guard, was stalking Pulse, a popular Orlando gay club, with an assault rifle and pistol. He would kill 49 people and wound at least 53 more before dying in a shootout with police.
Sleeping just a moment before, Mina had now been propelled into a waking nightmare.
For 44 minutes, she sat in the dark, staring at her phone, watching the attack unfold in increasingly terrified texts from her son.
Then the texts stopped.
The moving messages, first reported by the Associated Press’s Tamara Lush, are one man’s window into a tragedy that has gripped the nation and rekindled debates over immigration, Islam, gay rights and gun control.
Before the mass shooting made international headlines, however, news of the incident spread on social media and in panicked texts from people trapped inside the club.
“Everyone get out of pulse and keep running,” the club wrote on its Facebook page at 2:09 a.m.
Seconds earlier, Eddie Justice had again texted his mom.
“I’m gonna die,” he wrote.
She called 911.
Eddie was handsome and athletic with tattoos that peeked out of his shirt, and he had a penchant for flashy jewelry, according to Facebook photos. He liked to make others laugh.
His work as an accountant afforded him a condo in downtown Orlando, his mother told the AP.
“Lives in a sky house, like the Jeffersons,” Mina would say. “He lives rich.”
Now her handsome, high-living son desperately needed her help.
As she talked to the emergency dispatcher, she texted Eddie.
“U still in there,” she wrote, according to the AP. “Answer [your] damn phone.”
Finally, at 2:39 a.m., he replied.
“Call them mommy,” Eddie wrote, apparently in reference to the police. “Now.”
He said he was in Pulse’s bathroom.
“He’s coming,” Eddie wrote. “I’m gonna die.”
When Mina asked whether people were hurt, her son said: “Lots. Yes.”
When her son’s texts paused once again, she hopefully asked whether the police had arrived and found him.
“No,” he replied. “Still here in bathroom. He has us. They need to come get us.”
Unknown to mother and son, though, police were outside the club but delaying their assault because of the hostage situation, a senior U.S. law enforcement official told The Washington Post. For three hours, the gunman was on the phone with police, and no shots were fired.
So when Mina texted her son at 2:49 a.m., asking him to let her know when he saw the police, he answered with panic.
“Hurry,” he wrote, according to the AP. “He’s in the bathroom with us.”
“Is the man in the bathroom wit u?” she asked.
“He’s a terror,” Eddie wrote at 2:50 a.m. before answering her question: “Yes.”
“Are u hurt?” Mina wrote.
“Stay there he don’t like gay people,” she wrote again.
“Text me please,” she begged.
“I love u.”
Eddie never answered.
Mina drove downtown to Pulse to await word from the police. When she got no answers Sunday morning, she made her way to the nearby Hampton Inn and Suites, a makeshift waiting area for families of those inside the club during the shooting.
Some of Eddie’s relatives took to social media to express their hope that he was still alive.
“Please say a prayer for my lil cousin, God bring him home safe and sound,” Jeffery Robinson wrote on Facebook. “This is a tragedy for all families involved and it’s time to come together and take a stand regardless of what color, race, sex, or sexual preference.”
“Fear is a powerful thing,” wrote Nerelsha Justice-Macklin, Eddie’s sister, as she raced to Orlando. “As I travel down this road with all my thoughts kept inside … it is overcoming my body … I need someone to reach out there hands … waiting and praying for the miracle worker JESUS … waiting on your glory lord!!! Y’all gonna have to excuse me … trying to keep it together in this backseat.”
In the hotel lobby, there were scenes of intense grief as families learned that their loved ones had died inside the club.
One woman sat in a chair next to a stack of pizza boxes, sobbing and screaming. Another woman was so overcome that she vomited.
Still, Mina Justice had not heard news of her son.
“His name has not come up yet, and that’s scary,” she told the AP.
“It’s just …” she said, pausing and patting her heart. “It’s just, I got this feeling. I got a bad feeling.”
Late on Sunday night, her bad feeling was confirmed.
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice’s name was added to the list of the dead.
Mina could not be reached for comment Sunday night. But her nephew captured the family’s emotion on Facebook.
“Terrible tragedy for my family,” Robinson wrote. “Great young man gone way too soon.”
A GoFundMe page has been established to collect money for his funeral.
“Eddie loved his mother,” the page notes, “and was a momma’s boy at heart.”