Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Make Amends with Your Friends

Norman Casiano has always had the support and love of his parents. While he was still in the hospital he heard that some parents didn't want to claim their children after the PULSE shooting. This is something he could not comprehend, his parents helped so much after everything happened.

His world changed completely on June 12, 2016. That evening was his send off, because he was about to start school as a make up artist. His parents dropped him off at the club, he got there early about 11pm. No one was there, and he was going to leave early, but then his friends started showing up. He had a falling out with Stanley Almodovar but that night they made amends. Stanley said, "I'm glad we fixed things because you never know when your last day might be on earth." Stanley was one of the 49 to die that night.

About 1:30am Stanley gave Norman his credit card and said he was going to get his car and pull it up in front of the club. They were going to leave along with Marie, Stanley's friend. Norman entered the middle room with all the mirrors and dancers. As he handed the card off to one of the bartenders, and he and Marie heard the first two gun shots. He wasn't immediately scared, it might be a fight between two people. He ducked under the bar and told Marie to stay. Then he heard the automatic assault weapon. Marie asked, "What is going on?" He did not know. This was not normal. The room they were in had two doors. As they tried to get up from under the bar there was a tsunami of people. He was trampled and stepped on. He fought his way to his feet, the adrenaline drove him forward. The whole time he heard people screaming and glass breaking. Chunks of cement flew through the air.

He needed to hide. The closest refuge were the bathrooms. He tried to make sense of the situation. He didn't think the shooter would systematically try to kill everyone. Once in the bathroom stalls, it was packed. He was in the boy's bathroom on the left hand side. There were only urinals and a private handicap stall. Maria ran into the stall and struggled to hide in the crowd. Norman froze he didn't want to hide under people. He didn't want to survive thinking he had used someone else as a shield. He closed the stall door from inside. Everyone was trying to shush each other so as not to draw the shooters attention. A boy ran in and fell against the stall door blocking it closed from the outside. The boy had been shot in the middle of his back. He was screaming and trying to crawl under the stall door. "Please I don't want to die!" he shouted. Norman reassured him as he tried to pull him inside.

The gun shots kept getting closer and closer. They stopped when the gunman entered their bathroom. It suddenly became clear that he was coldly and deliberately thinking about what he was doing. Norman went into a primal state of fear, he was just shaking and still. Even people who were hysterical grew still. The assault rifle jammed. People yelled, "Please don't do this!" He tried to see the shooter but never got a view. The shooter wasn't listening, instead he put more bullets in the weapon. Then the shooter laughed. He shot the boy on the floor. The ground shattered. Shrapnel punctured Normans shoe. He was wearing white from the waste down. His shoe turned red. He scooted back, less than an inch from the stall door. He knew what was coming. In a way he was ready. He thought of his mom, dad and little brother.

As the gunman was getting ready to shoot, Norman called his parents. His mom shouted, What is going on!" Norman was scared because the shooter was right there. He hung up once he heard the gun being cocked. Bullets punctured the stall door non stop. Norman was shot on his lower left hand side, near his hip. It felt like being branded. It felt hot. He called his parents again. He told his dad, "He shot me!" The phone died. The gunman was still in the bathroom getting ready to shoot again. He could not open the stall door, bodies blocked the door. He seemed to be frustrated. So he climbed up and shot down into the stall from above.  Norman looked up and saw the gun pointed directly at him. The first shot hit him on his lower back on his right side. Everything went black. When he woke, the shooter was no longer in the bathroom having crossed to the bathroom across the hall. Norman stood straight up amazed that he was alive.

He started convincing others in the stall that they needed to get out. They yelled back, "If you want to die by yourself, you can die, we aren't going out there!" He said, "If we don't leave here, we are all going to die in here." The gun kept firing. No one budged. Marie got shot 12 times. She could not get up. She said, "You have to go." the stall door would not open. He climbed on the sink and pulled himself over the stall wall and dropped to the floor. Shots were fired into the bathroom again with cement hitting him. He realized he was shot from the waste down so his legs were not working. He tried to pull himself up. Even doctors are not sure how he got himself out. In the corner of the bathroom was a plastic trash can which he hid behind, knowing it would not stop any bullets. He poked his head out and saw a first responder. That convinced him it was safe to come out. They shouted, "Victim or assailant?" He shouted back "Don't shoot, I'm a victim." "If you are a victim come out with your hands in the air." He dropped to the floor and he crawled towards the emergency doors to the right. The door opened and he was dragged out.

He found himself behind a truck sweating, but that sweat was actually his blood and others blood. A woman survivor was with him, She asked him if he was hurt. Something didn't feel right, his leg hurt. She lifted his shirt and gasped. She shouted out for an officer, "He 's hurt!" He suddenly felt an elephants worth of pain weigh on him. The woman and the officer lifted him up. He was one of the first shown on TV as he was carried towards Wendy's. It felt like a war zone. Behind Wendy's he sat with the woman. He noticed her phone. He asked her to call his mom. He apologized to his mom, thinking he was dying. She shouted back, "You are not saying good bye to me! Are you OK?" He didn't want to tell her the truth. He lied, saying he was fine. The gunshots continued across the street. He said, "I love you." and he passed the phone over to his guardian angel Rebekah. Rebekah was on vacation from Michigan and walked into this hell storm. His mom questioned Rebekah who started crying and she explained everything that was happening. She said simply that he was no OK. He hear his mom yelling, "What is not OK? Tell me! Is he going to make it, where did he get hurt?" She told his mom about the lower back wound his mom lost it. A policeman came and told her to get off the phone.

Police put tags on those that were shot to see who needed to get put on an ambulance. Tag color went from green to black. Green meant you were OK, while black meant you were dead. His color was red which wasn't good. He made peace with what was happening. He drifted off. Rebekah was looking down at him and saying, "Don't go to sleep." But it felt good to drift off. The ambulance arrived just in time. The bullet went straight through  but now he was bleeding out. He flat lined. It was a soft feeling. He heard welcoming voices. He felt connected. Then he heard thunder and a loud NO! He gasped for air. The doctor was holding a defibrillator.

In the hospital, they cut off his brand new pants and started inspecting his wound. He was one of the first to arrive and they did not know if he was a victim of the assailant. A call came in that there was another shooter and that he made his way to the hospital. They were herded into a room and the doctors surrounded the patients waited to find out if there was indeed another shooter in the hospital. An alarm went off. It felt like the end of the world. Victims were separated into different areas separated by curtains. As he waited they gave him morphine. He could hear the suffering of others. It didn't seem real.

His parents had rushed to Pulse but they didn't know he was alive. Police told them to go to the hospital. A chaplain was offering prayers and Norman begged him to let him call his parents. He pulled out a flip phone and called Norman's mom. He looked guilty as he made the call. The chaplain introduced himself to her and she lost it, thinking it was THE call. Finally Norman got on and shouted to calm her down. He was sure he would die. With that much pain you turn into a 5 year old. A doctor gave him more medication and he drifted off.

At 11am the next day he was reunited with his parents. They let him cope with his pain before they let him know about the bigger picture. At 3am his parents were asleep and he turned on the TV to see the news fr the first time. He wished he hadn't. They were reading the list. Stanley's name was on the list. He screamed, waking his parents. He did not understand. The numbers kept growing. Nothing made sense. FBI entered the room and separated him from his parents causing a fight. He was interviewed. He was in the hospital three nights and two days. FBI advised him not to talk to the media. At the door of ORMC there was a storm of cameras, media and interviewers. Cameras followed their every move as they rushed out, he felt dizzy and tears welled up in his eyes. He was in a wheelchair, he could not get up and run. A reporter from Miami opened the door to his parents car and the first interview he did was from the back seat of the car.

In the months that followed, he got to meet president Barack Obama. He just remembered that the president was left handed and he cried on his shoulder. The interviews became unbearable. What he most remembers was the pain. Life would never be the same. Being thrown into the aftermath of Pulse he got to meet people who are caring. People donated clothes, food, and money. His positional hospital bed was donated to him because he could not sleep in a regular bed. His heart swelled and he wanted to become a voice of the survivors. The shooter did not win. Lives were lost and he lost friends but the silver lining is that the shooter did not do what he had planned, which was to instill hatred and fear. What happened was the complete opposite, there was compassion, love, and togetherness. The shooter's hatred never left the club. What came out of it was that we stand stronger together. Make amends with your friends. You never know.

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