BRANDON WOLFCanby’s Brandon Wolf was among dozens of people who escaped from Orlando’s Pulse nightclub early Sunday morning as a gunman began firing in the crowded club, killing 49 and wounding dozens more.

Wolf, 27, Canby High School’s 2006 valedictorian and senior class president, made a harrowing dash for an exit. He and two friends were in the club’s bathroom when 29-year-old Omar Mateen of Fort Pierce, Fla., began firing an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle into the club shortly after 2 a.m. June 12. Mateen, who pledged his loyalty to the ISIS Islamic State in Syria, held nearly 40 people hostage for about three hours inside the club before Orlando police broke through the club’s walls, freeing people who were hiding inside.

Mateen, the subject of two previous FBI investigations, was killed in a shootout with police.

Wolf, who told his story on CNN this week, said he and friends Juan Ramon Guerrero and Christopher Andrew Leinonen, went to Orlando’s Pulse nightclub to dance on Saturday night, June 11. Just before entering the club, Leinonen stopped and said they needed to tell each other they love each other more often. Once inside, Wolf met with another friend, Eric Borrero. He and Borrero were in the bathroom of the large club when the first shots were fired. After a few panicked moments, they made a harrowing dash for the door, making it out alive.

Wolf’s grandmother, long-time Canby resident Cherie Nelson Dikeman-Clark, said that Wolf was “devastated” by the shooting. The family has been bombarded with phone calls from reporters and has decided to only talk with a few, Dikeman-Clark said.

“He called his father once they made it out of the bathroom and they were a couple of blocks away,” she said. “He told (his father) he made it out OK, and that was the first they knew of the shooting. I didn’t find out until the next morning — I was at another grandson’s graduation all day and I went to bed right about the time it started. My granddaughter, (Wolf’s) sister, lives with me. The next morning, she said she had something to tell me, and she told me about it. Then, we turned on the TV and got ahold of my daughter, his mother, and went from there. Of course I immediately messaged him. He hasn’t slept very much, but his friends and his support group in Orlando are all helping each other through this.

“I spoke with him and he’s, what can I say, devastated. These were the three amigos. Drew and Juan were shot and killed. Juan made it to the hospital and they thought he’d be OK but then he died. It’s just something … I know all of them are going to need counseling — it’s just something you can’t get over. The pain might subside a little bit but it just never goes away. Horrible things like this only get easier to cope with as time goes on.”

Day-to-day struggle

Dikeman-Clark said Wolf’s mother died of cancer when he was about 10 years old, and his mother’s husband adopted him. Wolf has two brothers and a sister.

After high school, Wolf worked for Starbucks before receiving an offer from Disney World to work as a parade performer in its Orlando theme park. In 2013, he appeared on a Bravo! reality TV series, “The Kandi Factory,” a competition-based show that chronicled Kandi Buress, known for her role on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” trying to help aspiring musicians jumpstart their careers. Wolf appeared in Episode 4, “Hoodwinked, Bamboozled and Ambushed.”

After “The Kandi Factory” job, Starbucks asked Wolf to help turn around a failing store in Orlando, Dikeman-Clark said. “Brandon hand-picked his crew and hired them. Then, the big-wigs came down and courted him. They are building a store in Trinidad and they want him to hire and train the people there. They want him to be their ambassador in Trinidad.”

Wolf had planned to come home to Canby for a visit this month, but was waiting for details about the Trinidad offer from Starbucks. Then, the shooting occurred, Dikeman-Clark said.

“I have told him of all the outpouring from people I don’t even know in Canby, on Facebook, and I sent him the pictures of the Morrison Bridge being lit up,” she said. “He is just so overwhelmed; he had no idea all of that was happening. He sent me back a text with two great big hearts.”

Dikeman-Clark said she knows it’s going to be a day-by-day struggle for her grandson, and that the family offered to fly to Orlando to be with him.

“He loves us and we would have all gone down there but it’s just too much for him to deal with,” she said. “We are so proud of him with everything he does and who he is as a person. He is just a magnet for people wherever he goes.”

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