How a Pulse nightclub survivor learned to forgive the gunman

2017-06-08 08:06
People attend a memorial service in Orlando, Florida. (Spencer Platt, AFP)

People attend a memorial service in Orlando, Florida. (Spencer Platt, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Orlando - Ever since the massacre at a gay nightclub a year ago, Demetrice Naulings positions himself in bed when he goes to sleep so he has a view of his apartment's front door in case anybody tries to get in.

Darkness often takes him back to that moment when gunshots shattered a night of drinking and dancing during "Latin night" at the Pulse club in Orlando.

"That is a flashback that gets me every time," Naulings said recently.

He escaped, but he lost friend Eddie Justice, who was among the 49 people killed after gunman Omar Mateen started firing a little after 02:00 on June 12, 2016. Dozens more were wounded in the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history.

Naulings and Justice took refuge in a bathroom, but Naulings decided it was a mistake to stay. Justice begged him not to let go of his hand, and they ran out of the bathroom holding hands. But in the panicked crowd of 300 people trying to flee, Naulings let go. He made it out alive. Justice did not.

Justice was always a guiding light for Naulings, and now Naulings beats himself up about that night and thinks about what he would say if he could see his friend just one last time.

'I miss you'

"I'd tell him, 'I miss you'," Naulings said. "I hope he's not disappointed, and I hope he knows that I would have done anything to change it, and I didn't leave him ... And one day, I'm going to get to a place where I won't beat myself up."

The massacre shocked a world in which mass shootings happen constantly. Mateen, who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, was killed in a shootout with police after a three-hour standoff.

About nine months later, in February, Naulings heard that Mateen's wife had been charged with aiding him and obstructing the investigation. Noor Salman has pleaded not guilty but remains in jail awaiting trial.

The news about the gunman's spouse reopened old wounds. Naulings had moved from living in a hotel to an apartment in downtown Orlando after receiving $25 000 from a fund created from the more than $30 million raised for the victims' families and survivors of the massacre.

Naulings did not talk to anybody about Salman's arrest for several days, and then he thought about what Justice would do in his shoes.

Grow up

"He was forgiving," said Naulings, a makeup artist by trade. "He would say, 'Demetrice, you hold a grudge way longer than I do'. I thought there was a part of me that needed to grow up."

It dawned on him that the 4-year-old son of Mateen and Salman would likely grow up not knowing his parents. His heart went out to the young boy.

"I lost a best friend, and now that kid lost a mother and father. And I felt I had to forgive on his behalf," Naulings said.

"Because you can only imagine having your mother taken away from you at a young age, how much hate you will have against everyone."

Before her arrest, the boy's mother filed a petition in California court to change the name of her son, who is partly named for his father.

Naulings sometimes imagines what he would say to Mateen's son: "You know what? I forgive your father. It's not your fault."

He said he would not want the boy "to grow up with the same hate that his father had in him, to do something hateful like he did".

Read more on:    us  |  orlando shooting

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Inside News24

 
/World
 

Fascinating facts about dogs

Think you know a lot about dogs? How many of these facts do you know?

 
 

Paws

Perfectly captured cat snapchats!
Fascinating facts about dogs
Out with the old dog, in with the new
Play with your pet when you're not at home
Traffic Alerts
Traffic
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.