The June 12 shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando forever changed countless lives when 49 people were killed, another 53 left wounded. Two months after the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S history, those who made it out alive are still dealing with the physical and emotional ramifications. On Monday at 8 p.m. ET on MTV, True Life: We Are Orlando will follow four survivors of the attack as they attempt to overcome the trauma of that fateful night and find a new normal in their lives.
Tony Marrero is one of those people. He was shot four times that night in Pulse, including once in the back. Even worse than the gruesome injuries he suffered was the fact that his best friend, Luis Vielma, was one of the victims. While Marrero is out of the hospital now, it’s still been a struggle to come to terms with his health and his guilt over his friend’s death, but he still felt like he had a responsibility to do the show.
“It’s been very hard on a lot of people, but I wanted to show people my struggle in the beginning, getting out of the hospital with open wounds, and just show them I’m still going, I haven’t given up,” he tells EW. “You got to keep strong, you got to keep going, and that’s why I decided to do it, so people can take that with them and stay strong. We have to keep going for those that we lost.”
While the MTV cameras were following him through his recovery, Marrero made a brave and tough decision to return to Pulse for the first time, despite his friends and family not wanting him to go. In an exclusive clip, above, he returns to the scene of the worst night of his life, where he gives his thanks to police officers and bonds with onlookers, some of whom knew victims.
“It was very difficult and emotional, but it was a decision that I made,” he says of his return to Pulse. “I told the crew I wanted to go, even though my family thought that I wasn’t ready. I said, I really want to go because I felt like I needed to pay my respects to every single person that we lost that night, and especially my friend Luis, and it’s all part of the process. In order for you to heal, you need to do these things, you need to just go at it, at least that’s how I heal. When I got to Pulse and I saw the amount of love that people were leaving, it was just so touching that I focused on that, instead of focusing on what happened that night.”
Through all of Marrero’s pain and struggle the past two months, one moment that greatly touched him was J.K. Rowling paying her respects to his best friend. Vielma was an employee at Universal Studios and worked on the Harry Potter ride there. After his death, the author tweeted a pic of Vielma, while also retweeting memories from others who had encountered him, and even sent flowers to his memorial. “When they told me that J.K. Rowling tweeted about Luis, it made me realize, ‘Wow, this is big,’” shared Marrero. “It affected the world and it was amazing to just see that she took the time to mention Luis. I always say love is the best medicine, and her reaching out and mentioning Luis meant a lot to me.”
Marrero is still without complete movement in parts of his hand and has an open wound in his back; his doctors are trying to figure out if another surgery is necessary. Despite all of that, he has maintained a strength and positivity to overcome it, all to help inspire his fellow survivors. “I want to heal 100 percent, just to show everybody that they can also do it, we can all do it,” he says. “We can all rise together. That’s my message, that’s what I want people to take out of this episode.”
A GoFundMe account has been created to help pay for Marrero’s rehabilitation and medical expenses, and MTV has compiled more resources for viewers, including information on how to help support the survivors and families of the victims, here.