In the aftermath of mass shootings, public attention is often focused on the perpetrator. Who is he? What's his story? Why did he do this? This reflex is not surprising. After all, when someone does the unspeakable, we all seek to make sense of it in order to cope, to categorize, and thereby move on.
Of course, this behavior is precisely what these killers want. The simple fact of it is a mass shooting is the most brutally narcissistic ploy for attention you could ever imagine. And we all consistently deliver that attention to these killers in excess.
Unfortunately, in the hazy wake of such unthinkable violence, we all pay far too little attention to the actual victims.
It's psychologically far easier to focus on why? how? who? than it is to sift through the carnage of this hate crime. But that is exactly what we all need to do. We need to learn about the victims. We have to make them real. We have to let it to hurt, and keep on hurting.
One survivor of the massacre wrote an open letter to the gunman for xoJane about his experiences in the attack. I'm going to paste the letter, in full, because you should really read it all. This letter shouldn't be compressed into sound bites.
It's time we stop heaping all our attention onto the perpetrators and start focusing on the victims and remembering those who are not here any longer.
Here is the survivor's full letter to the gunman. (Head over to xoJane for the original post with photos.)
I'm a young, gay man who was born in New Jersey and grew up in Orlando. I love my friends, I love my parents, I'm half Puerto Rican, half Dominican, 21 years old, and at 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, you almost took my life. I go to Pulse nightclub in Orlando because I feel comfortable there, and I can be myself. Several of my friends were there that night, including my friend Stanley. I will never see Stanley again. You took that away from me. Saturday night was Latin night, and it was a party vibe because of the Puerto Rican Day Parade. It was a hot night, and the club was filled with life and love and dancing and — until you arrived — pure joy. My friends and I arrived at Pulse around 11 p.m. I've been going to the club for a few years now, and it's a wonderful place to let loose and really be yourself in Orlando. We had been having an amazing weekend, and we were planning to stay until it closed, but as it turned out, my friend Vincent had the premonition that he wanted to head out before everyone tried to leave at once, since last call was already upon us. My friend Vincent saved my life. Across the street, moments after we left, we heard the gunshots start. They sounded like firecrackers. We were terrified. We saw people running all around us, some of them jumping fences. We had no idea the all-consuming nightmare we narrowly escaped inside. Minutes after we left, without realizing how precious those minutes were, that's when the massacre began. 'The deadliest mass shooting attack on U.S. soil.' 'The worst terror attack since 9/11.' Please. Let's call it what it was: the worst attack — on love — on U.S. soil. Edward, Stanley, Luis, Akyra, Luis, Juan, Eric, Peter, Kimberly, Eddie, Enrique, Anthony, Jonathan, Yilmary, Cory, Mercedez, Deonka, Miguel, Jason, Darryl, Jean Carlos and Luis Daniel, Oscar and Simon, Shane, Amanda, Martin, Gilberto, Javier, Tevin, Alejandro, Franky, Xavier, Joel, Juan, Luis, Juan, Jerald, Leroy, Jean, Rodolfo, Brenda, Christopher, Angel, Frank, Paul, Antonio, Christopher, Geraldo... These men and women were strangers to you. All of them had one precious gift, one saving grace that you could never, ever have. That much is clear. I know you had a child and a wife and a father and a mother, but you did not have what they had. You never could have. What happened never could have happened if you did. But Omar, you failed. You tried to massacre the very one thing that you can never destroy in our community. Ever. You can not take away our love. It is more powerful than anything else that exists in the world. I'm 21 years old now, but I came out when I was 16. I remember my exact words: 'Mom… I'm gay.' Violence had long been part of my life. Ever since fifth grade, I have been made fun of and called a faggot and had to fight for dignity and pride all my life. But in that moment when I came out to my mom, she looked at me, and she knew. I could tell she had always known, and she loved me so much. She gave me a look that told me she would love me forever. 'Okay,' my mom replied to me. 'And?' And… she didn't care. She saw me as her son. She saw me the same way she had always seen me. She saw me with the healing, transformative eyes of love. I am so sorry you must not have ever had that in your life. Otherwise, I can't imagine you would have wanted so badly to end mine. In the aftermath of almost dying, of narrowly escaping your wrath, my friends and I have been walking around like zombies all day. We survived, but now all we have are questions. What do we do now? Why am I still here? How could this have happened? And of course — why, why, why do you hate us like you do? I know that there is only one answer. Every time I ask these questions, it is the only thing that makes logical sense to me in this sea of devastation and heartbreak and grief. I think about Eddie Justice who sat in the bathroom and sent those terrified texts: 'I'm gonna die. Mommy, I love you.' Violence all around him, and he found the love. Omar, we are stronger than your hate. We always will be. Eddie did not survive. Stanley did not survive. Edward did not survive. Luis did not survive. Akyra did not survive. Luis did not survive. Juan did not survive. Eric did not survive. Peter did not survive. Kimberly did not survive. Eddie did not survive. Enrique did not survive. Anthony did not survive. Jonathan did not survive. Yilmary did not survive. Cory did not survive. Mercedez did not survive. Deonka did not survive. Miguel did not survive. Jason did not survive. Darryl did not survive. Jean did not survive. Carlos and Luis Daniel did not survive. Oscar and Simon did not survive. Shane did not survive. Amanda did not survive. Martin did not survive. Gilberto did not survive. Javier did not survive. Tevin did not survive. Alejandro did not survive. Franky did not survive. Xavier did not survive. Joel did not survive. Juan did not survive. Luis did not survive. Juan did not survive. Jerald did not survive. Leroy did not survive. Jean did not survive. Rodolfo did not survive. Brenda did not survive. Christopher did not survive. Angel did not survive. Frank did not survive. Paul did not survive. Antonio did not survive. Christopher did not survive. Geraldo did not survive... But love did. In fact, it just grew stronger.