Once upon a time there was a young man named Luis Vielma who loved Harry Potter. Luis worked at the 'Disaster' ride at Universal Studios on Orlando, Florida, but when that ride closed he was moved to 'The Forbidden Journey' ride (TFJ), also known as the Hogwarts castle ride. Luis was very happy to work in 'The Wizarding World of Harry Potter' and loved his new position.
Then, one sad night ( the early morning of June 12th, 2016, to be exact), Luis was with friends at a nightclub in Orlando called Pulse when the unthinkable happened. That was when a terrorist whom I refuse to name, making him the real life He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, opened fire and killed 49 people and injured many more. Luis was among the 49 who died, though at least two of his friends survived, including Tony Marrero who was a coworker of his at Universal (Tony was a Slytherin while Luis was a Gryffindor).
This post is a dedication to Luis, as well as the other victims and survivors of the shooting. I am focusing on Luis because he is the one with the Harry Potter connection, but I want everyone to know that my heart is broken for all the families and friends who were affected by the Pulse massacre, not just this one person.
I woke up Sunday, June 12th, ready to begin a cross-country drive. My husband turned on the news and we found out about the shooting. I left shortly after, but not many details were released until later that day. I drove all of Sunday and Monday thinking about the attack. I was still away from home when details about the victims who died started to be released, and that was how I found out that one of them was a team member (aka employee) at the Hogwarts castle at Universal Studios.
My family and I frequently visit Universal Studios, and although I never met Luis I felt a deep need to be there for the team members who had worked with him. The entire time I was gone I wanted to go to Universal but I wasn't sure what I would do. Then I decided I would go to take a picture of my Dumbledore Funko character in front of the castle and create a picture with a quote from Dumbledore.
I arrived back home the following Sunday and despite having just driven two full days by myself I knew that I would go to Universal the next day. During the drive back home I realized that, in addition to taking a picture of Dumbledore, I also wanted to offer love and support to the team members at the castle since I strongly suspected that they were hurting in silence.
It turns out that I was correct, that the team members had to put on happy faces for the guests they helped who knew nothing about Luis or Tony while keeping their grief inside. I wore a pin that said "MOM HUGS FOR TMs" (TMs = Team Members) and was unsure how to approach the first person I saw. I admit that I was really nervous, but as soon as I explained what I was doing the first TM I spoke to opened up and talked.
I spoke to many people that day and gave out a lot of hugs. Some people simply accepted my hugs while others wanted to talk about their grief and their memories of Luis. As they talked, I listened (and shed tears with them), and what I heard broke my heart. Luis had been an amazing young man, truly loved by all who knew him. More than one person told me that it was impossible to not like Luis.
They told me that Luis loved Harry Potter and was super excited to work at the castle. Team Members are expected to stay in character when talking to guests, but Luis was exceptionally good at doing so. For example, he would tell people in great detail what he had for dinner the night before in the Great Hall.
The next day my daughter Lily told me that she wanted to make cookies to give to the TMs. We bought cookie dough (we were going to make too many cookies to do from scratch), sprinkles, and tiny chocolate chips. She then put the cookies in plastic bags, one cookie per bag, and decorated the bags with, "With Love" and a heart-shaped happy face. I didn't think to take a picture of the finished products, but a TM sent me a picture of one, which you can see here.
We went back to Universal the next day (Wednesday) and I felt so proud as my daughter went up to TMs. We both spoke to them but the cookies were all her. She handed them out and listened to stories about Luis, and I think she was as touched as I was as we went from worker to worker.
Wednesday's visit was more of the same from Monday: more wonderful stories about Luis, more tears, more hugs. One of the many things we learned has to do with the picture you see of Luis at the top of this page, the one of him dressed up as a Gryffindor. We were told that this particular picture was taken on Luis's first day at 'The Forbidden Journey' ride. Several TMs remembered his first day with fondness, and those who met him that day said that they adored him from his very first day with them.
They also told us that Luis had a great sense of humor and was very playful. At some point Luis learned a part of the job where he spoke to the other TMs in their headsets. He loved to whisper to his coworkers so softly that they couldn't understand what he was saying. He couldn't resist whispering to them or doing other silly things to make them laugh.
Here is a picture of Lily giving a cookie to a team member named Haley. The look on her face is one of surprise as she comprehended what Lily was doing. Lily has a look of fear because Haley started to cry and my daughter was worried that she had upset Haley (Haley assured her that she hadn't).
As I said, my original intention for going to Universal was to take a picture with my Dumbledore Funko. This is the picture that I took, along with a quote that I thought fit the situation well.
Dumbledore wasn't the only thing I took pictures of as I offered love and support to the good people working at the Hogwarts castle. I also took pictures of Team Members showing their love for Luis, Tony, and all the other victims and survivors of the Pulse nightclub attack. Here they are, in the order that I took the pictures.
In closing, I want to say thank you to all the Team Members who allowed me into their lives during such a difficult time and who shared their memories of Luis with me. Spending time with you meant more to me than I would have ever imagined.
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