Orlando victims, survivors of gun violence seek change

Friend's death moves man to change his life; survivor fights for stricter laws

By Erik Sandoval - Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - Gun violence has left a lasting imprint on the people who call Orlando and Central Florida home -- especially those who have experienced it firsthand.

"I'm all for standing up against that," Demarcus Womack said.

Womack is a volunteer for the Parramore Kidz Zone, and he said he often returns to the Jackson Community Center in Orlando.

He said he always thinks about what happened just steps away from there three years ago.

"I lost a friend, literally, right where that silver car is," he said pointing to a nearby street.  "One of my close friends died right there. He got gunned down."

News 6 was there in 2016 after 24-year-old Gino Nicolas was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting.

Orlando police said it was the result of a fight at a nightclub.

"Gino, he was a city employee," Womack said. "He worked with My Brother's Keeper. He was gunned down right there."

One of the bullets also killed a mother of three. Tanya Skeen was putting away her groceries when she was hit.

Womack said losing his friend helped change the direction of his life.

He's gone to college and he's now mentoring young people in his old neighborhood.

"Finding ways to keep (children) intact with staying out of the streets and making a better life for themselves and trying to expand their horizons and open up some of their other gifts and talents that they have," he said.

But the violence continues elsewhere.

In January, five people were shot and killed at a bank in Sebring.

"I just said, 'Here we go again,'" Orlando Torres said.

Torres survived the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016, and like other survivors, he said he's frustrated mass shootings keep happening.

He has joined other survivors in fighting to get a ban on assault style weapons.

"I'm trying to get the message across that these types of weapons should not be in the hands of average citizens," he said. "For that, you might as well say, 'Let them have grenades.' It's dangerous."

But why do mass shootings keep happening?

Torres said he thinks social media has a lot to do with it.

"It is one of the main ingredients that feeds into the weak-minded, the walking time bombs, the bully that wants to take out innocent lives before theirs, and the copycats that want to go out bigger and better and make a bigger name for themselves by taking more lives," he said.

Torres said when he comes back to Pulse, he doesn't come to feel sorry for himself, or for the 49 people who lost their lives or the 53 others who were injured.

He said he comes to Pulse to think about what could be and how he can help change it.

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