When Tiffany Johnson called her dad June 12, the first thing she did was thank him.
She thanked him for encouraging her to pay attention to her surroundings and listen to her gut feeling. Those tips may have saved her life on the night of the country’s deadliest mass shooting in modern history.
Johnson was bartending at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., the night Omar Mateen shot and killed 49 people and injured more than 50.
Johnson survived the attack, and though displaced from her job, she has another she works during the day. Others were not so lucky. That’s why Johnson is coming back to her hometown of Akron Thursday to tend bar at a fundraiser she and her father, George Johnson, organized to support employees who survived the incident.
The event will take place 6 to 9 p.m. at Creo’s Steakhouse.
“All the support has been amazing,” she said. “I’m very happy I can come back and be a part of it.”
The incident is still difficult for her to talk about. Her dad, however, remembers the night vividly.
A concerned call
He was in Pittsburgh on business. By chance, he woke up around 3 a.m. and looked at his phone to see several missed calls from Tiffany’s boyfriend.
When he called back, his daughter answered.
She explained he might be seeing the horrible event on the news and there were still hostages, but she was safe.
“Do you need me to get on an airplane?” he asked her, intending to catch a flight to Orlando as soon as possible. Tiffany’s mother was already on the way, though, so she told him it wasn’t necessary. Instead, she recapped what had happened over the course of that horrific hour.
Shots rang out
Tiffany is usually stationed at the main bar of the club, the first area where Mateen opened fire. That night, though, she was working at the patio bar.
She had been home in Ohio just weeks before the incident. During the visit, her dad gave her a piece of advice that resonated with her: pay attention to your surroundings, and listen to your gut feeling.
On the night of the shooting, “she got a funny feeling,” her father said. “The next think you know, she heard two pops.”
Tiffany hit the floor, ducking behind the bar with another bartender. As more shots rang out, she noticed an exit nearby and took off running.
She made it across the street to a Wendy’s, where her fellow bartender’s car was parked. She left behind everything she brought to work with her and went to her boyfriend’s house, where she was able to call her mom and dad.
“That kid is tough,” her father said. “She’s been knocked to her knees before.”
Shortly after the incident, Tiffany and her father were talking not only about the tragedy of those lost, but also those displaced from their jobs at the now-closed nightclub.
“[Tiffany] has a good family structure to help her, but other people don’t have that,” George said. “It was income they really, really needed.”
Up until recently, George was the president of the city of Akron’s chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), among multiple other roles with the city that he still holds. He contacted several city officials, including Summit County Executive Russ Pry and Summit County Sheriff Steve Barry, who agreed to help sponsor the event.
He also reached out to his friend Nadia Outkidout, the owner of Creo’s Steakhouse, who will offer complementary hors d’oeuvres at the event.
“It’s a great cause,” Outkidout said, “which is tragic. Thank God she is good.”
Though Tiffany is still recovering from that night, she is grateful to be where she is today.
“I’m glad to be here,” she said. “We were fortunate.”
Johnson and Outkidout will accept cash or check donations at the fundraiser. All donations will go to those who worked at Pulse.
Theresa Cottom can be reached at 330-996-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.