An officer hailed as a hero for his actions during the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., is being let go just six months before he would have become vested in his pension.
Omar Delgado, 45, a corporal at the Eatonville Police Department, was one of the first officers at the club in the early hours of June 12, 2016, after a gunman killed 49 people and injured dozens in what is now the second-deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
Delgado, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of witnessing the carnage, scoured through bodies that littered the ground and helped survivors get to safety. One of the clubgoers he helped was Angel Colon, who was shot six times. The pair’s story of survival and their growing friendship grabbed headlines around the world.
The department is terminating Delgado from the force at the end of the month, Eatonville council members confirmed at a meeting late Tuesday. His last day on his $38,500-a-year job is scheduled for Dec. 31.
An extra six months on the job would have allowed Delgado to receive 64% of his salary with benefits for life, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Since he will leave the force before making it to 10 years, he will receive 42% of his earnings, the paper noted.
Delgado, who has mainly worked on desk duty since the attack, said the department told him they needed to replace him because of his PTSD and because they need an additional officer on patrol, a job he can no longer perform. He said he’s ready to leave and focus on his mental health but asked his superiors to wait an additional six months so he can mark 10 years at the department and become vested in his pension.
“Just let me get vested and I will be more than happy to pack up my troubles and leave,” he said. “This is the thing I’ve been working toward for 10 years and to be six months shy then be fired, it’s like ‘wow!’”
Eatonville Mayor Eddie Cole said the situation is complex but added he hopes to start a conversation about helping law enforcement officers after traumatic incidents. He said he couldn’t talk specifically about Delgado’s situation. Officials at the city’s police department also would not comment on the termination.
Delgado said he had hoped for a better outcome. “It’s a small town and we’re like a family,” he said. “You don’t just throw a family member to the street. They’re acting like a Fortune 500 company and saying since you can’t do your job, we’re going to replace you. Even if the world saw me as a hero, that was yesterday.”
Colon said he is shocked to hear about Delgado's situation.
“He was my hero. He saved my life and for them to just do what they’re doing to him in front of my face is a slap to my face as well,” Colon told WFTV, a local ABC affiliate. “He did his job that night on June 12 so they should have his back 100% totally and just be there for whatever he needs.”
Delgado said he partially blames his termination on his decision to speak up about his mental state, adding he regularly sees a psychologist, though it hasn’t helped much.
Delgado tried coming back to work about a month after the shooting, on the Fourth of July, but said the loud bursts from fireworks gave him flashbacks to the sounds of gunfire.
And more than a year and a half later, Delgado still wakes up from the same nightmare every night. It always starts the same: He’s working to get survivors out of the nightclub when gunman Omar Mateen starts firing his rifle.
He and other officers drop to the ground. They don’t know where the gunshots are coming from or who they're aimed at.
Delgado wakes up screaming and sweaty. He can never go back to sleep.
“I never thought I would have gotten to this point. I thought I’d shake it off and everything would be fine,” he said. “But that hasn’t happened. Nothing has been right since that day.”
Delgado said he has a GoFundMe page to raise money and plans to apply for disability, but until he’s approved it’s going to be an uphill battle financially for him, his wife and their three kids.
“This Christmas is going to be a really sad one,” he said. “There’s simply not enough money to make it.”