by Jean Gonzalez
ORLANDO, Fla. (CNS) — As a youth minister, Michelle Murphy has established strong bonds with many of her youths, especially the ones she met during her first year working at All Souls Parish in Sanford. She lovingly refers to them as her “cornerstone youths.”
One of those youths was Luis Vielma, who died along with 48 patrons at the Pulse nightclub during the June 12 massacre.
The news devastated Murphy, many members of her DAWG (Disciples Always Witnessing God) youth community and even her own daughter who told her mother, “Luis was my friend too.” Although 22, Vielma was still active in the group at All Souls. Whenever he came to a gathering, people would shout “Luis!” and greet him with bear hugs.
He was slated to be a young adult leader at the Heart workcamp, to be held at the end of June in Virginia. Murphy couldn’t bring herself to take Vielma off the list, so his name will remain.
“It’s going to be a tough week. A lot of my memories of Luis are from those trips,” said Murphy, who will still be taking more than 50 to the service camp. Vielma had previously served with Heart a few times. It was a big part of who he was. “He came to our group to make his confirmation when he was younger. He has just grown by leaps and bounds.”
Since the shooting, Murphy describes how she and the young people who knew and loved Vielma feel they are on a roller coaster of emotions. One minute she or others might feel rage over his senseless death, and then someone shares a story about Vielma that brings an immediate smile.
The sharing of stories that reveal Vielma’s humor, love and compassion, especially ones Murphy had not known about, has helped her heal. She wants to make sure young people also find that hope and healing, and not become easily mired in a spiral of sadness.
“With young people, when they encounter something sad, sometimes they keep finding things that continue to make them sad. . . . That’s not what Luis would want for us. He wouldn’t want us to ache,” Murphy told the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Orlando. “When I hear others tell stories about him, it just makes me love him more and it makes me refuse to let hate into my heart. I want them (the youths) to know they can come to me. I don’t want them to drown in this sorrow.”
Vielma had a great sense of humor. He loved friends and was the guy who always kept in touch through text, phone calls, social media, whatever worked. He loved his job at Universal Studios and was the kind of employee who cheered on his co-workers.
On the night after his death, Murphy and her daughters went to Universal. When she got to Harry Potter area where Luis had worked, she introduced herself as “Luis’ youth minister.” In response, Vielma’s co-worker embraced her and cried.
“I asked them why Luis was even at the club. He didn’t go to clubs. He was a homebody,” Murphy said. One of the workers nodded in agreement and said they were always trying to get Vielma to join them, but he usually turned them down. “But the co-worker said one of Luis’ friends was feeling depressed so to cheer him up, Luis said, ‘Let’s go out and do something you like.’ He stepped out of his own comfort zone to help out a friend. That’s what Luis did. Cheering up a friend, up until the very end.”
In the reaction to Vielma’s death, Murphy has witnessed youths struggling with faith and forgiveness. And who can blame them? She admitted she has been struggling, too.
“I think we are in the healing process and I think that the healing comes from faith,” she said. “We need our faith. It is who we are. . . . I see the kids clinging to each other but without that faith, you could go to that place of hatred. And we can’t be there.”
While there might be questions of why he had to die, Murphy said she and the youths “know one thing for sure.”
“We know where you are, Luis. We know exactly where you are,” she said. “We will miss [him], but we know you are in our hearts and our minds.”
When national news reports show Vielma’s image, it is generally a Facebook post that showed him in his Universal Harry Potter ride uniform. In fact, the morning of the tragedy J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter book series, tweeted that very photo with the tweet, “Luis Vielma worked on the Harry Potter ride at Universal. He was 22 years old. I can’t stop crying.”
The tribute is especially bittersweet. Murphy and Vielma’s friends agreed he would have loved that tweet.
“I think he would be humbled by it, but just really so excited,” Murphy said, a soft chuckle escaping. “Yeah. He would have flipped out if he could have seen that.”