On November 13, I wrote here about the massacre that took place on November 7 at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California. The perpetrator, a former Marine with PTSD, shot twelve people to death and then killed himself. My emphasis in that piece was on the high level of incompetence that plagues the system of psychiatric evaluation that, not long before the murders in Thousand Oaks, declared that that Marine was not a danger to himself or others. (Five days after my piece appeared, the Daily Mail reported that a woman who had been working as an NHS psychiatrist for 22 years had no credentials whatsoever in that field.)
In my piece, I mentioned that one of the victims of the Thousand Oaks massacre was Telemachus (Tel) Orfanos, the 27-year-old son of an old friend of mine, Marc Orfanos. Tel, it turned out, had previously survived the October 1, 2017, massacre at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas. Indeed, he had not only survived that massacre, the largest such atrocity in American history, but had performed acts of remarkable heroism. The day after the Thousand Oaks atrocity, the Washington Post provided some of the details:
“Tel easily saved hundreds of lives,” said Brendan Hoolihan, 21, who met Orfanos amid the mayhem at the Route 91 concert. The two young men were strangers that night who quickly became teammates, rescuing people from the field beneath Mandalay Bay and later assisting victims inside the Tropicana resort …
When the gunfire started in Las Vegas, Orfanos and Hoolihan helped topple a barricade so concertgoers could run into a parking lot. Then they crawled between cars, looking for people to help. It was there, at eye level with tires, that they quickly introduced themselves.
They worked the field for hours, loading the injured into the back seats of Uber cars and using their collective trauma training to stop the victims’ bleeding and pack their wounds. Orfanos, a Navy veteran, used his flannel to make a tourniquet. Hoolihan, in school and training to be a police officer, packed his shirt into an off-duty officer’s gaping wound. Both had to cover corpses.
In the days and weeks after the Las Vegas massacre, I read and heard plenty of details about it, but nothing about the courageous acts of Tel and Hoolihan. Although both of them suffered from severe PTSD as a result of their experiences that evening, I’ve seen no indication, in the extensive reporting I’ve read about Tel in recent days, that authorities either in Nevada or in their native California offered either of these young men the opportunity to receive treatment for their emotional torment. Perhaps they were offered help and turned it down. Nor, I gather, did either of them receive any official recognition for his heroism.
Fast forward from the Vegas massacre a little over a year. When shooting broke out at the Borderline Bar on November 7, Tel made it out of the bar alive — only to head back in and try to save others. Another Post article reported as follows:
Somebody heard that Orfanos had made himself vulnerable while lifting others into the attic, a space only employees knew existed. They heard that he had thrown himself on top of someone as a shield from the gunfire.
Every time one of these mass shootings occurs, there is a variety of reactions. Some call, as I have, for improved mental-health evaluations. Some argue for arming employees at potential massacre sites; others urge stricter gun controls, even when a massacre has taken place in a jurisdiction that already has very strict controls.
Many families are split on gun rights. Tel’s was one of them. His mother made headlines around the world by saying she didn’t want prayers; she wanted gun control. The Post reported that according to Tel’s father, my old friend Marc, Tel, far from being “a critic of the Second Amendment,” was in fact “something of a gun enthusiast.” While in the Navy, Tel “often visited shooting ranges, and when he returned home to live with his parents several years ago, he asked if he could keep a gun in the house. They wouldn’t allow it.”
Whatever one’s views on these matters, it seems to me that there is one thing on which we can all agree: Tel was a hero not once but twice. In my view, this kind of heroism deserves official recognition. One possibility would be the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is presented a few times a year for “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Perhaps even more apt would be the Presidential Citizens Medal, which recognizes a person “who has performed exemplary deeds or services for his or her country or fellow citizens.” It is only given to American citizens and can be awarded posthumously. If you feel, as I do, that Tel Orfanos’ sacrifice merits an award of this sort, I would encourage you to contact the White House and ask that the President consider paying deserved tribute to this brave young man’s memory.