A former Democratic candidate for the Florida House of Representatives admitted to lying about being a doctor and treating victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. Elizabeth McCarthy, who dropped out of the race last month, said to a state investigator, “I lied.”
“I’m sorry that I gave any impersonation,” McCarthy told the investigator, according to Florida Department of Health documents obtained by CBS News. “I knew it was wrong and I should have stopped, by no means did I ever mean to put anybody in jeopardy.”
McCarthy, 50, was running in a district that includes suburban Orlando. She had claimed on the campaign trail that she is a medical doctor who treated victims of the 2016 shooting at Pulse, which left 49 people dead and 53 injured. At the time, it was the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.
“Yes, I was working that night,” McCarthy said, according to the documents. “I removed 77 bullets out of 32 people and helped with the triage.”
She told the story at a gun safety town hall in March, with Democratic Rep. Darren Soto and a Pulse shooting survivor in attendance. McCarthy, who is gay, gave an emotional speech about having to treat victims from the LGBTQ club.
“That night, because I’m gay, it struck me even harder,” she said at the town hall. “Because these were my people.” She filed to run for the Florida House days later.
Her claims were called into question after Florida Politics reported that it could not verify that she was a doctor, treated Pulse victims or attended several schools where she claimed to have had medical training. McCarthy had once worked as a register nurse, but publicly presented herself as a doctor for years.
McCarthy initially fired back at the report, writing in a Facebook post that it was a “campaign smearing.”
“I did think about shutting down my campaign after this attack I was not ready for. I am not going to do that,” McCarthy wrote in the post, which has since been deleted. “I have a passion for legislation, apparently not up to snuff on campaigning but I am learning. I am MOVING FORWARD.”
But the local Democratic Party withdrew support for her and Pulse survivors demanded she drop out.
“Elizabeth told our community for 3yrs that she, a doctor, removed bullets from patients after Pulse,” Brandon Wolf, a Pulse survivor, wrote on Twitter. “She was called a hero. Elizabeth is not a doctor & wasn’t on staff that night. I don’t know why she lied and used our grief for her gain. But she needs to withdraw & let us heal.”
McCarthy later announced her exit from the race, citing “thoughtful contemplation” and “professional obligations.” Her statement about dropping out made no mention of her fabrications.
The Florida Department of Health charged McCarthy with violating a state law by lying about being a doctor. She will have to pay a $1,000 fine and additional investigative costs. She also received a cease-and-desist letter saying she can no longer tell anyone she is a doctor.
McCarthy told CBS News that, due to the cease-and-desist letter, she was “unable to speak to anyone regarding this matter.”