Sedalia Pulse nightclub survivor says healing is an ongoing process

The Hansen family visit Christopher after the Pulse shooting in Orlando, Florida. (Photo courtesy of Duane Hansen)

Two years after one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history, Christopher Hansen said he's still dealing with the memories.

"I couldn't sleep last night," he said. "I was trying to not let it affect me."

Christopher was one of the survivors of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida. The shooting took the lives of 49 people.

"It was a sanctuary of love but a domain of death," Christopher said.

The 34-year-old said that night he went out to celebrate a new job. Originally from Sedalia, he'd been living in Orlando for about two months.

"It was Latin night and I didn't know the music," he said. "But music is international."

His night ended in chaos.

Christopher recalled how he tried to stop the bleeding of one victim with his bandanna, struggling to communicate due to a language barrier. He also described how he held a 19-year-old woman in his lap after she had been shot in the back.

"I talked to her to try to keep her awake," he said. "While I was trying to stop the bleeding I asked her what's her sign, her favorite animal; we had a lot in common. I learned her name was Kalisha."

Both victims survived. Christopher said he still keeps in touch with them.

"We talked today," he said about Kalisha. "I couldn't imagine going through that at 19."

Christopher said he's still coping with his PTSD, but the experience has made him an advocate against gun violence and for LGBT rights.

Now located in Arkansas with his father and step-mother, he organized a vigil to light three bridges in Little Rock in rainbow lights.

"In only five days he was able to coordinate the Capitol of Arkansas to being lit-up in bright peaceful colors for the world to see," Duane Hansen, Christopher's brother, said.

Duane, a resident of Sedalia, said the second anniversary of the shooting is a good day to bring recognition to the LGBT community.

"There's been a lot of healing going on," Duane said.

Both Duane and Christopher said they felt anxious leading up to the anniversary, a date neither of them will ever forget.

"Reminds me of how blessed we are to have my brother around," Duane said. "I told him maybe a week before [the shooting] happened he was my favorite person in the world. We're really close."

Duane said when Christopher came out to him in 2002, he didn't really understand.

"He was 18 and I was 16," Duane said. "I didn't know what he meant. Then he went out and started a new exciting life."

Christopher said his father wasn't so accepting at first, but now after the shooting their relationship is better. Christopher said his father even helped him cut rainbow ribbons for the Arkansas vigil.

"My dad didn't want me to bring the lifestyle around," Christopher said. But he said as time has passed, he feels that more people are more understanding.

"I feel like I brought more acceptance to people's eyes," Christopher said about being gay in the Midwest.

Duane said though his brother and him have always been close, he feels the incident changed his family.

"Since the shooting, we have come closer together as a family unit, and we better understand the meaning and value of life," Duane said.

"If I would've lost him that day we would be as the mourning families are; and dealing with the affects of seeing his face memorialized on a poster would have been much worse to live with, especially since hate and violence would have been the reason."

Christopher and Duane, though they live different lifestyles, share the same message.

"I'm transitioning into what life is," Christopher said. "Even though there are dark times there are lights."

Christopher said he is returning to Orlando soon to work on a documentary in collaboration with his fellow survivors.

"I am glad he is alive and actually out there creating change and sharing his light and newly found purpose in our world," Duane said, "which is promoting love, kindness, and awareness and the need for tolerance of our neighbors choices."

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