Brother of Orlando victim describes horror of Pulse nightclub shooting

Baron Serrano on Juan Rivera and his husband, who were shot and killed in the Orlando terror attack: They didnt grow old, but they were together until the end

Juan Riveras last text message to his brother Baron Serrano, sent just hours before he was killed in Sundays massacre at Pulse nightclub, was short and simple yet spoke deeply of the affection the siblings held for each other.

Te amo it read I love you.

It was that kind of relationship, Serrano said through tears in an interview with the Guardian just hours after learning that his brother was among the 49 victims. My reply was you dont love me as much I do you, and he sent back emojis and kisses. Thats just who he was.

Rivera, 37, died with his husband Luis Conde, 39, in the shooting. The couple, both from Puerto Rico, were inseparable, Serrano says, working side by side at the prominent Kissimmee hair and makeup salon they owned, and spending their spare time together dancing, having fun with friends or helping out in the community.

They were humble lovable, outgoing human beings. Anywhere they show up they light up the place. They were there for the community, very fun people to be around, anybody could ask them for any favour and they will always say yes, Serrano said.

Its like this love story the way they started 13 years ago. They said they will never stay apart and they want to grow old together. They didnt grow old, but they were together until the end.

Friends at the Latino music radio station where Serrano works as a presenter staged a prayer service at its studios in Kissimmee on Monday night to honour Juan P, as he was known to everyone, and light 49 candles in remembrance of each of the victims. Serrano hugged his wife Maria and children Janiella, 14, and Emille, 9, as a pastor paid a tribute in Spanish.

Juan Rivera and his husband were killed at Pulse nightclub. Photograph: Facebook
Serrano says he has experienced wildly conflicting emotions over the past two days, from disbelief at hearing of the shooting, to hoping his brother survived, to despair and finally grief. He is not yet ready to think too deeply about the circumstances of his siblings death, or the reasons why the shooting took place.

You can see it as a hate crime, you can see it as terrorism, you can see it from any point of view you want, he said. You want to know the way I see it? I lost my brother. I dont care how, it makes no difference to me right now, he said.

How it happened, Ill leave that to the politicians, to the FBI, Im going to leave that job to everybody else except me. All I care about is that 49 people died that night, that my brother died that night, thats my concern. And those 43 people at the hospital right now who are wounded.

Serrano, 36, also said he could have been at Pulse himself. Juan called him at 9pm on Saturday to say he and Luis were going and asked him to come.

I feel bad with myself because I said no. But in truth I always said no, because I dont go out that much, he said. I feel bad because my job is always to be protective. Being there, would I have noticed something? Would it have been different maybe? If I was there would they be alive? But thats the point, those what ifs. Those ifs are going to kill your insight. I dont want those ifs to kill me, Ive had enough.

The questions, Serrano believes, can come later: Any answer is going to create another question, why did the guys let him [the shooter] in like that, why did the police do what they did, why did they take three hours, why here, why there, why this, why that?

Theres not going to be one good, real answer thats going to make you feel, OK, Im at peace now with this. Theres none, no closure. The best thing you can do is just get around your loved ones, hug through these tough times, deal with the situation, deal with this, and later start asking questions.

Serrano also recounted the frustrations of the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the desperate search for information and having to wait so long to find out his brothers fate. It was not until mid-morning on Monday, more than a day after the murders, that Riveras name appeared on the official list of the deceased.

When I heard about it Sunday morning I started looking at social media, but that was saying a lot of things that werent real. The best thing is not to look, he said.

So I just drove up there. You start searching and looking and asking questions. But heres the thing, when they started bringing people to hospital they didnt use real names, for protection and because most didnt have an ID. The bad thing in that moment is you lose track of whos who, so you ask for someone under their real name and it takes time to account for them and do the whole process of identifying whos alive and whos not. Its a long process.



figcaption class=”caption” caption–img caption caption–img” itemprop=”description”> Friends at the radio station where Serrano works as a presenter staged a prayer service at its studios. Photograph: Richard Luscombe

Even though he already suspected it, hearing the confirmation that his brother had died was the worst moment you can imagine, Serrano said.

Were sitting down, and the people come over and say, please follow me. It was unreal. You never lose hope, but you have to face it sometime.

Serrano said the memories of his brother, a black belt in karate, who studied cosmetology and hair styling in Puerto Rico for many years before moving to Kissimmee and opening his upmarket salon, will help carry the family through the dark days ahead that he knows are inevitable. He said they had not yet planned the funeral.

I want people to remember him the way he really was, a very happy person, Serrano said. He was out there helping people, always made sure he kept that smile, always being honest, always being humble. He had many reasons not to be that humble, he was doing great, his business was very successful, he was loved by the Latino people.

I hate a lot of things right now. I have anger of everything that happened and that there was nothing in my power to change. But you cant let the anger take over your heart and mind because youre not going to think straight, youre going to have crazy ideas on your mind and that can really hurt you even more.

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