Saturday night was “Latin Night” at Pulse, a high-energy, 18-and-over gay dance club that drew young men and women from all over Central Florida.

Stanley Almodovar III, 23, a pharmacy technician, was there. So was Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34, a national brand manager for a travel agency. So was Louis S. Vielma, 22, a production assistant on the “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” ride at Universal Orlando.

And so was Omar Mateen, heavily armed and ready for war.

Almodovar, Sotomayor and Vielma were among the 49 men and women slaughtered by Mateen early Sunday morning, a crime so horrifying it stunned a nation that had become used to mass killings. Before the end of the news cycle, the identities of the victims had taken second place to speculation about motives and predictable political arguments about immigration, terrorism and gun control.

Mateen declared allegiance to the Islamic State before he died, but had he been recruited, trained or supported by a foreign organization?

Or did the natural-born U.S. citizen radicalize himself by reading hate-filled literature easily found on the internet?


We don’t know, but there is one thing we know for sure. This was not a random act. He picked a gay club to attack.

And not just any gay club. For many of the dead, Pulse was a refuge from a hostile world. Founded by the sister of a man who died of AIDS, the club hosted monthly educational programs on issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in addition to regular stage acts and dance-party theme nights.

Attacking these men and women in a place where they could feel free and be open about who they were was an attack on freedom and openness. It was an attack on American values.

That’s what President Obama was getting at when he said: “We are defined more as a country by the way they lived their lives than we are by the hate of the man who took them from us.”

But as much as we would like to distance ourselves from Mateen, we can’t. He is not a foreign invader. He was born here, attended school here, got a job here, bought a house here. He was one of “us” as much as he was one of “them.”

And if he learned to hate LGBT people, he did not need a foreign ideology to teach him. There are plenty of teachers here already.


That’s why the political arguments ring so hollow this time around. It’s true: Americans would be safer with common-sense amendments to our gun laws, and reflexive opposition from the gun lobby is putting lives at risk.

But little that has been proposed could have prevented Mateen, a trained and licensed security guard, from arming himself last week.

At least those ideas aren’t as absurd as presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s renewed call to shut down Muslim immigration, as if that could stop someone born here from being radicalized – as if you could build a wall against ideas that fly around the world from computer to computer.

For now, all we can do is mourn Almodovar, Sotomayor, Vielma and the rest, and reflect on the fact that they died because someone couldn’t stand to see them exercising the freedom that we all cherish.

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