THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Tel Orfanos lived through the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history only to lose his life in another one less than 10 minutes from his home barely a year later, a tragic coincidence that has devastated his friends and family.
The 27-year-old Navy veteran was among at least several survivors of last year’s Las Vegas massacre who were at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks when a gunman stormed in and killed 12 people late Wednesday. While the others became two-time survivors, Orfanos died.
“He survived Vegas, where a lot more people died than this. It’s just unreal,” his friend Aliza Thomas said Friday. “It’s not fair.”
Thomas, who has known Orfanos since they were in high school, said her friend didn’t talk much about his experience in Vegas. Orfanos liked to focus on the positive.
“He was always such a happy person,” she said.
Orfanos’ mother, Susan Schmidt-Orfanos, was shaking with rage and grief when she spoke about how her son was unable to survive two mass killings.
“Here are my words: I want gun control,” Schmidt-Orfanos told The Associated Press. “I don’t want prayers. I don’t want thoughts.”
She said she wanted Congress “to pass gun control so no one else has a child that doesn‘t come home.”
Dani Merrill, who survived both Vegas and Borderline, was among mourners at a packed theater Thursday honoring Orfanos and the others who lost their lives in the shooting at the bar.
“I’m super upset that it happened in our home, and I feel awful for the families that have to go through this,” said Merrill, the exhaustion evident in her eyes.
“I didn’t sleep,” she explained. “It’s hard to sleep after these kinds of things. You don’t know how to feel.”
Brendan Kelly, a 22-year-old Marine, also survived Vegas and was at the Borderline bar when Wednesday’s shooting happened.
“I already didn’t wish it on anybody to begin with for the first time,” Kelly said outside his home in Thousand Oaks. “The second time around doesn’t get any easier.”
Kelly said he was dancing with his friends when the bullets began flying.
“The chills go up your spine. You don’t think it’s real — again,” he said.
He said he threw two of his friends to the floor and covered them with his body. Then he got a look at the shooter and the terror unfolding and decided they needed to escape.
Kelly said he dragged one woman out a back emergency exit and then, using his belt, T-shirt and Marine training, applied a tourniquet to his friend’s bleeding arm. Two of his friends were killed in the shooting.
In Las Vegas and Thousand Oaks, country music fans were the victims. Borderline was having a weekly country night and the Vegas shooter targeted a crowd of country fans gathered for the Route 91 Harvest Festival.
Kelly, who has a large tattoo on his left arm memorializing the Las Vegas shooting, said that Borderline had become a safe haven for dozens of Vegas survivors and it was common for many of them to hang out there together.
“It is our home,” he said.
A few weeks after the Vegas shooting, the bar held a benefit concert for five people from the area who were killed, and now-eerie social media posts show a number of survivors holding up a “Route 91” sign inside the bar at a six-month anniversary event.
Kelly said living through Vegas changed his life and doesn’t know how a second mass shooting will affect him down the road.
“Everywhere I go, everything I do is affected,” he said. “I don’t sit in a room with my back to the door. You’re always picking up on social cues. You’re always overanalyzing people, trying to figure out if something were to go down, ‘What would I do?’”
Kelly said he’ll be looking to God for comfort in the coming weeks and months.
“I know that, being a religious person, that God is never going to give me anything more than I can handle,” he said. “I’m here for a reason.”