Hailed as hero, Pulse first responder with PTSD terminated from Eatonville police

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PHOTO COURTESY OF DEAR WORLD
It's the iPhone ringtone that haunts Cpl. Omar Delgado.

The singular sound takes the Eatonville Police officer back to the early morning hours of June 12, 2016. After receiving an alert from Orange County dispatchers that Orlando police officers needed help, he raced down Interstate 4 toward the gay nightclub Pulse, toward the gunman mowing down crowds of people near the usually quiet corner of Kaley Street and Orange Avenue. When he got there, two law enforcement officers told him there was an active shooter inside Pulse – then he heard the gunshots. They ran toward the sound, past the hundreds of people screaming and crying as they escaped.

When Delgado finally got inside, it was quiet. It took some time for his eyes to focus in the dark, but when they finally adjusted, all he could were bodies on the ground. He yelled, "Get up! Get up! The police are here!" until he realized some people would never get up. In the petrifying silence, he slowly started hearing cellphones, ringing, ringing, ringing with calls, texts and messages from panicking loved ones.

"The iPhones have their own specific ring tone – you automatically know it's an iPhone," Delgado told a small crowd last summer at the Orlando Public Library. "There was one by my feet that just rang and rang and rang and vibrated and it just started floating away on a big pool of blood – and I couldn't do anything about it. I couldn't grab it. I couldn't turn it off. I couldn't do anything. And I just felt bad because I knew at one point in time these people were never going to be able to pick up their phones."

After being stuck inside Pulse for hours, Delgado saved Angel Colón's life that night by pulling him out of the club. At the end of that terrorizing night, 49 people were dead and dozens were left scarred. Delgado gained a brother that night in Colón – but he was also left with a debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder so severe he's been on light desk duty for months. Earlier this week, Delgado learned he was being dismissed from Eatonville's police department by the end of the month.

The Eatonville Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday to pay Delgado about $1,200 before taxes in accrued sick time before he is terminated on Dec. 31. Delgado is being let go six months before his 10-year anniversary at the department. The additional time would have allowed him to qualify to vest in the city's pension system for officers and receive 64 percent of his $38,500 salary with benefits for life, the Orlando Sentinel reports. Now, he'll only get 42 percent of his salary starting in 10 years when he turns 55.

Omar Delgado - PHOTO BY MONIVETTE CORDEIRO
  • Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
  • Omar Delgado
Eatonville officials wouldn't talk about why Delgado was let go. Mayor Eddie Cole said there were things he was not at liberty to talk about in regards to Delgado's employment. Instead, he pivoted to questioning why officials didn't set aside money from the OneOrlando Fund that was given to victims' families and survivors for Pulse first responders.

Delgado says the only reason Eatonville officials gave him for ending his employment was because his doctor determined his PTSD, depression and anxiety made him unfit for duty.

"I needed help, and I guess I'm being punished because I asked for help," Delgado says. "They can't find it in their hearts to find six more months just so I can be vested and then just move on with my life? … I am not fit to be a police officer, and I understand that wholeheartedly, but to let me go and not be able to work light duty in an office behind a desk answering phones – I don't need to be a police officer with my gun belt and so forth to be able to do those little tasks."

The corporal says he didn't expect to be cut off so quickly by the town he's served in for almost a decade.

"It's hurtful, especially after what I've been through," he says. "No one's there with me when I'm suffering at night and I'm having these nightmares and I wake up in the morning yelling and screaming. They don't see that, so they don't know what I'm going through."

Angel Colón - PHOTO BY MONIVETTE CORDEIRO
  • Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
  • Angel Colón
Colón was there on Tuesday in a wheelchair to support the man he calls his brother.

"He's a person who saved my life and because of him I'm so grateful," he says. "I just had my fifth surgery last week and he's been there every surgery. Every time I open my eyes, I'm in my room and he's there, he's waiting for me. He deserves so much more than being fired at this moment. He did his job that night. He rescued lives – he save my life and for him to be in this position right now, it doesn't make any sense."

Nancy Rosado, a former New York City Police sergeant who responded to 9/11 and an advocate for first responders suffering from PTSD, says the culture in police departments often treats physical and mental injuries differently, even though both can cause disabilities.

"My heart breaks for him and that something like this comes down to money," she says. "If he had been physically hurt, they would have told him, 'We're going to hold onto you for six extra months' because it's something visible, it's something tangible. But because it's an invisible injury, it's different. PTSD is an illness, nonetheless, and it's a debilitating one. He deserves the respect and he deserves the pension."




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