Yet even as she grieves, Bernadette Cruz pushes forward, relying on her friends, her family and her faith.
Cruz's cheerful, affectionate firstborn son was just 22 when he was caught in an ambush of gunfire on June 12, 2016 — one of 49 victims of the Pulse gay nightclub massacre.
Bernadette Cruz with her son Peter "Ommy" Gonzalez-Cruz. (PHOTO PROVIDED BY FAMILY)At the first anniversary of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, Cruz has a message for other parents: “Take advantage of every day with your family because you never know what can happen. Communicate often with your children and show them all the love you have for them. They will reciprocate.”
I checked in to see how Cruz is doing after writing about her son’s death last year.
As Christian Chronicle readers may recall, Gonzalez-Cruz was the nephew of my friends Luis and Tony Cintrón (they are twins). Bernadette Cruz is my friends’ sister. In my 2016 column, I highlighted a special connection that a Church of Christ in New Jersey made with the victim’s family.
On Friday, while in the Orlando area on an unrelated assignment, I took a few minutes to visit the now-closed nightclub site where gunman Omar Mateen, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, opened fire.
I thought about my friends’ nephew as I joined the crowds who keep coming to the makeshift memorial — filled with rainbow-colored messages of love, support and hope — to reflect and pay respects. (Plans are in the works for a permanent memorial.)
Related: In Orlando, a call for more openness, less fearPedro Cruz, Gonzalez-Cruz’s grandfather, facilitated a Chronicle interview with his daughter, who speaks little English. I’m grateful to him for translating her Spanish and to her for taking the time to talk as she faces an emotional few days, including events tied to Monday’s anniversary.
Bernadette Cruz, 47, works as a retail clerk. Her surviving son, Gabriel Omar, is 12.
Q: Tell me about your son who died. What was he like?A: Peter Ommy was an excellent son and brother. He was confident. He was humble, always a gentleman, always with a positive outlook on life and always happy. All of the good traits that the Lord can place in a human being Peter Ommy demonstrated.
Peter “Ommy” Gonzalez-Cruz, with his grandparents Pedro and Marianela Cruz, in Las Vegas about two weeks before the Orlando attack. They went to see Jennifer Lopez in concert. (PHOTO PROVIDED BY FAMILY)
Q: What are your favorite memories of him?A: Every thing of every day. He got up every morning happy and with a loving attitude.
Q: What do you remember about his last day?A: When he got up that morning, he told me he was going to the beach with a female friend and invited me. I had some things to take care of before leaving to work that night so I told him no.
I later called him to ask to borrow his car because the air-conditioning wasn't functioning in mine. He said, “Of course,” and commented that for some reason he had left his car keys at home.
That was the last time we spoke because by the time he got home, I had already left for work.
Orlando massacre victim Peter “Ommy” Gonzalez-Cruz, with his grandmother Marianela Cruz. (PHOTO PROVIDED BY FAMILY)
Q: How did you find out about the shooting and about his passing?A: A friend of Ommy passed by the apartment and invited him to go to the club. They were to meet two other friends that would be going later.
When the two friends showed up at the club, they were met with the police and all that was happening. They first went to Ommy’s friend’s house and told his mother what had happened and that her son had been there. The three of them then went to where I work to let me know.
We all went to the hospital where the other mother and I were directed to a private room and told we would be informed of the status at a later time.
At 3 p.m., we were taken to a hotel next to the hospital, and each of us was put in a separate room, where I was told that my son had been one of the victims.
Q: How does a person even begin to handle that?A: Because so much time had gone by, I could only expect the worst. When I was told, the only thing I could think was to ask the Lord for strength and faith because I could not believe this had happened.
A memorial remembering Peter “Ommy” Gonzalez-Cruz. (PHOTO PROVIDED BY FAMILY)
Q: How did you cope those first few hours and first few days — and then weeks and months — after you lost him?A: The first few days and weeks I was overwhelmed by all of the support given to my family and me by so many people close to me and by the many more I did not know.
Many of the victims were friends of Ommy and had been at our house. Some parents of victims and survivors are people that I have known for some time. There are five of us that meet as a support group with a therapist every week, and this continued relationship with friends that have gone through the same suffering helps me to cope.
Q: How are you doing emotionally and spiritually?A: I am a person who believes in the Lord and attends a Christian church. The belief in the Lord and the continued support of friends and family help me to continue with my life. I think of Ommy every day, but I also realize that I need to attend to his younger brother.
Bobby Ross Jr. is Chief Correspondent for The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at email@example.com.
Enjoyed seeing Luis and Tony Cintron for the first time in too many years tonight -- along with Barry Ryan and Ricky Kalifa. We all (along with my brother Scott, who couldn't make it tonight) attended Keller High School and shared some crazy late nights and early mornings working at McDonald's in the, gulp, 1980s. #oldgangbacktogether