National News

Parents struggle with son's death on 2nd anniversary of Pulse massacre

Posted June 12, 2018 10:53 a.m. EDT

— Maria and Fred Wright say they weren't overly concerned when they awoke two years ago Tuesday to news of a mass shooting just hours earlier at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

Their son, Jerry Wright, who'd moved to the Florida city for his dream job at Walt Disney World, had told them he was working late. If he'd gone somewhere else, he would have given them an update, they reasoned.

"He was the kind of kid that would call us twice a day just to report, just to say, 'Here I am. This is what I'm doing,'" his mother said.

Hours later, they learned Jerry never made it home that night.

Instead, their son and 48 others were killed when a man opened fire with an assault-style rifle in the gay nightclub on June 12, 2016. It was, at the time, the deadliest mass shooting by a single person in modern US history (in October 2017, 58 people were killed in the Las Vegas shooting).

But to the Wrights, Pulse feels like it happened two days ago.

Maria remembers calling the hotlines, driving up to Orlando from Miami and feeling shock and confusion.

Her husband went to the hospital, and she stayed at an Orlando hotel where all the families of victims gathered. They waited as a doctor stood on a table and started reading names of the people in hospitals, in alphabetical order.

"I kept saying, 'He is going to be on it, he's going to be last,'" Maria said. "I remember praying ... and thinking how ironic I was praying that my son be so badly injured that he couldn't get a phone to call me. And that's what I was praying for. But they didn't read his name."

It wasn't until the next day that authorities brought the couple in to identify the body of their 31-year-old son.

"That's (the) part that I don't let go," Maria said. "To see your child in a coffin. To put your hands on his chest and realize they put Styrofoam to hold it up."

Orlando is marking the two-year anniversary Tuesday with a tolling of church bells and a ceremony in front of the now-shuttered club. Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared it a day of remembrance for the Pulse victims. Orlando officials posted the names of all 49 victims at the top of the city's webpage.

But those public gestures, well meant as they are, offer little solace to the Wrights.

Jerry Wright was an avid Miami Heat fan who liked to dance and meet new people. He was always there for his friends and, above all, loved his family. When she was feeling down, Jerry would give his mom a hug to lift her spirits.

"One time, he even went bathing suit shopping with me, and he was a trooper," Maria said with a smile. "I think I'd tried on a hundred bathing suits."

Fred and Maria Wright say their feelings haven't changed much since their son's death.

"If anybody says, 'Well, it gets better with time,' it does not," Fred said Monday at an anti-gun violence rally at Orlando City Hall. "It's been two years, and it feels like it was yesterday. And every time we talk about it, it feels like we were present right there that same moment."

Maria nodded. "It's almost like sometimes I feel like I'm waiting for him," she said. "Like I still can't really believe it. They say time will heal, but the pain doesn't get better.

"I think what happens is you begin to get used to hurting."