In Orlando, an act of hatred—and a message of love

‘I love you,’ read the text message that the mother’s son sent to her at 2:07 A.M., the last time she heard from him. Many excruciating hours later, when I met her, she still didn’t know where he was—whether he was safe without a way to reach her, wounded or dead. After we talked, I watched her walk away, weeping. I later learned from news reports that her son was among 49 dead inside Pulse nightclub.

That same day, June 12, outside a community center in Orlando where victims’ families had gathered, I met a Mexican man who had arrived from Chicago to identify his son’s body. As we spoke, he stopped to fetch his sunglasses to cover his eyes, bloodshot from many tears. I also met an aunt from Puerto Rico, who searched her phone in vain for a picture of her nephew to show me. He, too, was killed in the nightclub.

When I got back to my hotel that Sunday night, almost a full day after the massacre, I couldn’t shake these images of profound sadness—a son’s final message to his mother, an anguished father from Chicago, a victim’s aunt frantically searching for her nephew’s face on her phone. Later, a grim realization set in: This attack could have happened to me, or my family, or my neighbors or friends. That’s the horror of terror—it can happen to anybody, anytime. If the shooter had driven two hours south, toward Miami, I thought, instead of north to Orlando, the tragedy would have struck closer to home.

As a journalist, I’m still trying to understand how and why this attack happened—so I can somehow explain it on television, in my column and on social media. But the Orlando massacre—the deadliest shooting in American history—was deeply complicated. It wasn’t just terrorism, or a violent, homophobic act, or the result of easy access to firearms, or evidence of the shooter’s mental illness, or an attack on the Latino community. No, the Orlando tragedy was about all of this—and more.

The attack was indeed an act of hatred, as President Obama described it hours later, which occurred in a country where people full of hatred can buy a war-grade weapon in a matter of minutes. Since Obama entered the White House in 2009, he has delivered 16 speeches after mass shootings. Sixteen.

Yet we still lack the political will in the U.S. to limit access to assault rifles and handguns. So the next president, be it Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, will deliver many such speeches as well.

Recently on our newscast at Univision, we aired a segment explaining what to do if someone enters a public place and starts shooting: Run, experts on such matters advise. And if you can’t run, then hide. Don’t waste time calling your family or 911. Don’t play dead; the shooter might come back and pick you off. And if you’re cornered, attack the attacker. Perhaps others will join you and fewer lives will be lost. I hate the thought of having this sort of conversation with my children, but it’s become unavoidable.

As expected, nothing escapes politics in an election year. After the shooting, Donald Trump revived his proposal for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the U.S. Of course, such a ban wouldn’t have prevented this massacre, since the shooter, Omar Mateen, was born in New York. Still, Trump, who has an answer for everything, retorted that the terrorist was born here because the government allowed his family to immigrate to the United States. That’s guilt by blood relation.

But we can’t blame everyone of a certain religion or ethnicity because of one person’s actions. That would as absurd as blaming white Americans for the massacre by Adam Lanza, who killed 20 children and six adults in a Connecticut school in 2012, or for Timothy McVeigh’s terrorist act against a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, where 168 people died. In the past, all my trips to Orlando have been for pleasure. This time, though, it was to witness the unfathomable damage that hatred can inflict on a community.

I’m still haunted by that text message with those last words: ‘I love you.’ A message like that should mark the beginning. Never the end.

Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is a news anchor on Univision and the host of ‘America With Jorge Ramos on Fusion.’ Originally from Mexico and now based in Florida, Ramos is the author of several best-selling books. His latest is Take a Stand: Lessons From Rebels.