Washington – Imagine being called into a room after waiting 10 excruciating hours to learn if your child is alive or dead. You find yourself face to face with a sombre police officer. The words "I am sorry, your son did not make it" are barely comprehensible as the room swirls around you. You gasp for air as you feel your heart being ripped out of your chest. Your life, along with the lives of your family, friends and community, is changed in that instant. This is the reality of gun violence in America. This was our reality three months ago today.
Telemachus "Tel" Orfanos was my oldest son. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for him, and there is nothing in this world more important to me than my children. He lived his life to help others, and that is how he died. He was only 27 years old.
Tel survived the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history on October 1, 2017, in Las Vegas. He honourably served our country in the Navy but never felt the looming presence of death more than at the Route 91 Harvest festival, where 58 people were killed and more than 850 wounded. When he came home, we hugged and cried – we felt so lucky for him to be alive.
None of us ever expected Tel would be at the scene of a second mass shooting just one year later. On November 7, 2018, Tel was at the Borderline Bar & Grill in our hometown of Thousand Oaks, Calif., when someone opened fire. Tel rushed a group of friends out of the bar before returning to try to help more. He was shot multiple times and killed along with 11 others. I will never again be able to hug him, cry with him or be thankful he came home.
Mass shootings have become so routine and commonplace that my son was present at two.
No one among us should be so naive to think we are exempt from gun violence. If you take away one thing from our experience, it’s that gun violence can happen anywhere, anytime, to anyone – including to someone you love.
We are far from alone in our grief. The U.S. gun-death rate is 10 times higher than that of other high-income countries. At this point in the calendar, our nation has already experienced more gun deaths than our peer nations will see the entire year. What kind of country allows this level of violence to be a normal occurrence?
We know the legislative changes needed to address this epidemic; what we must find now is the political will to make them happen. That’s why today I’m joining countless others in sharing my story as part of Gun Violence Survivors Week. Only by keeping the spotlight on how gun violence is constantly affecting the lives of Americans across the country may we finally make meaningful reform happen.
Since Tel’s death, my only goal is to get people to stop and think – and commit to doing something to end this horrific epidemic of gun violence. I don’t want any other parent to ever experience the kind of inconceivable grief that we are feeling, yet the fact is tens of thousands of parents, siblings, children, friends and colleagues feel this anguish every year. It is time for this to stop.
It’s up to all of us to demand change from our lawmakers and to vote them out if they refuse to act. It will take courage and character to do that. I hope we are all up to the task. Do it for your children. It’s too late for my son but hopefully not too late for yours.
Every morning when I wake up, I think for a moment that I had a bad dream. Yet as I open my eyes, the reality rapidly hits me that I am living in a nightmare from which I will never wake. We all must open our eyes to the reality that countless Americans are experiencing this exact same nightmare every single day. I want this nightmare to stop. I want to wake up. All I want is to hug my beautiful son, but I can’t.
The Washington Post