Saturday, September 17, 2016
Artists working an a Pulse Mural being spearheaded by Michael Pilato spoke with Christopher Hansen, who goes by Chansen, at around 2am on September 12, the three month anniversary of the tragic Pulse shooting. Red wine and coffee kept us all up for a 49 Hour Pulse Mural Marathon Project.
Chansen grew up in Ohio. As a 14 year old, he remembered hearing of Matthew Shepard, a student of the University of Wyoming in Cheyenne, who was robbed, pistol whipped and tortured by two men for being gay. Mathew was found 18 hours later by a bicyclist tied to a fence, left for dead. He died two days later from his head injuries. That happened not far from where Christopher lived at the time He moved to Cheyenne from Ohio. Working at TGI Fridays brought him North to Wyoming. Because of that horrible crime Chansen knew from a very early age, that people hated him just for who he was. On a trip to Orlando, Chansen went to Universal Studios and saw beautiful Cherry Blossom trees in bloom beside the pristine lake. He knew at that moment that he would live in Orlando. He resigned from his job in Ohio and immediately moved to the City Beautiful.
At 11:07pm on June 12th, Chansen entered Pulse wearing an American Flag T-shirt. He had never been to Pulse before. He remembers the exact time because a $10 cover started at 11pm. "Come on," he pleaded. "It's just seven minutes past, no one will notice." He had to pay the cover. Being new to Orlando, he just wanted to relax, have fun, dance and hopefully meet new friends. "Everything about Pulse was amazing." he said. Since it was Latin Night, there was plenty of dancing. Although he doesn't speak Spanish, music is the universal language. He had some drinks. Towards the end of the evening, he ordered a drink at the bar since it was last call. He sank down into a cushy sofa. He remembers not wanting to lean all the way back because he might tumble over backwards. Then the loud bangs started. He thought that the DJ must have been kicking it up a notch. The guy next to him collapsed. There was blood, chaos and pleading. Glass shattered behind the bar. He dropped to the floor and crawled on his stomach. If he stood and ran, he would make a big moving target. He considered the bathroom, but remembered a movie in which a date went wrong and someone had to be rescued from the bathroom. No, he had to get out. "Had I been sober, I might have froze." he recalled. Chansen's hand was trampled as he crawled out to the back patio. Once he felt concrete below him, he knew he as out.
On the back patio 10 to 15 people were trying to push open a gate. He is convinced someone was holding the gate closed from outside. Angel was shot down beside him. He saw Jose Martinez (Junior) lying on the ground, and he reached down and touched his leg, His leg was wet and when Chansen looked at his own hand, it looked like he had dipped it in a bucket of red paint. He threw Junior's arm over his shoulder and made his way across the street. Shots continued to ring out. He saw the shooter walk and shoot Angel a second time. In the blur of activity he believes there could have been a shooter outside as well as a shooter inside. He never saw the shooter's face. He left his glasses at home.
Junior wasn't just shot in the leg. He also was shot in the back. Chansen took off his bandana, tied it in a knot, and shoved it in the hole to slow the bleeding. Outside he also found Alecia who was shot in the arm. Sitting on the sidewalk, he had Alecia lean back in his lap. She just wanted to close her eyes but he kept her alert. He asked her name and asked her questions to keep her focused. He told her, "I'm not leaving you, until someone comes for you." They were both born in May, and she had also just moved to Orlando from Ohio. She loved lions, so he told her she was a king of beasts. He said "Hakuna Matata" which means no worries, "you will survive this." It turns out Alecia was also shot in the back. The pressure of his leg on her back wound may have kept her from bleeding out. Chansen's blood soaked pants were his first hint of her second wound. She said she was having heart trouble. He hasn't seen Alecia since that horrible night. He did get to speak to her briefly on the phone to find out that she was OK. Chansen called his dad to let him know he was alive. Gunfire was still ringing out in the background. "We were the lucky ones, most people were shot multiple times. We were all directed to go to the hospital." Chansen stayed with his charges, fearful that they wouldn't get the help they needed. In triage they might be overlooked. Shooting victims were tagged with red or yellow. Yellow shooting victims we loaded into pickup trucks first, since there weren't enough ambulances. He helped carry Alecia to a vehicle.
That night, Chansen helped save two lives, he is a hero, yet still there are haters and trolls who call him a crisis actor. There are even conspiracy theorists who claim the Pulse shooting is a hoax. These arm chair haters are very much the reason such a horrific act could happen right here in Central Florida. Chansen's response is, "We celebrate love because hate attacked us. We don't answer hate with hate." When he got back to his apartment, his American Flag T-shirt was stained with blood.