Omar Delgado realized he wanted to become a police officer after moving from Chicago to Central Florida, where he met and tagged along with a Seminole County deputy who soon became a close friend.
He graduated from the police academy and then, nine and a half years ago, took a job with the Eatonville Police Department, where he remained “because they were the first ones who gave [him] the opportunity.”
But now, the 45-year-old corporal is saying he was dismissed from the force Monday — six months before he was due to be vested in its pension system — because he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after being one of the first to respond to the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando.
On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen opened fire and took hostages at the LGBT-friendly nightclub, killing 49 people and injuring dozens more. At the time, it was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Delgado returned to patrol duty for a few months after the shooting, but said he decided to stop. For the past eight months, he has been working a desk job answering phones, recording fingerprints and completing similar administrative tasks.
And on Tuesday night, the Eatonville Town Council voted unanimously to pay Delgado $1,200 before taxes in accrued sick time, and designated Dec. 31 as his last day of work, The Orlando Sentinel reported.
Delgado, a married father of three, said the gravity of his dismissal hit him while watching a local news story about it with his 9-year-old daughter.
“My mouth dropped, and she asked me why am I not going to be a police officer anymore,” he told NBC News. “I had to tell her it was because I’m sick. It’s a challenge to try and explain something like that to a 9-year-old and a 10-year-old.”
Delgado said he will begin receiving 42 percent of his $38,500 annual salary a decade from now, when he’s 55 years old.
The Eatonville Police Department did not respond to repeated requests for comment by NBC News.
Angel Colon, who was rescued by Delgado after being shot six times during the massacre, denounced the department for terminating the man who saved him.
“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. “He did his job that night on June 12, so they should have his back 100 percent.”
Ever since the massacre, Delgado has regularly woken up screaming after having the same nightmare about the carnage he witnessed that night in Orlando. He said he can only sleep between three and five hours each night — even on medication.
“After that night, it was hell,” Delgado said. “Just trying to continue my life with visions of what I witnessed. No man should ever have to do that.”
The officer said he has difficulty being in bars, restaurants or anywhere that’s noisy with crowds of people. He said he constantly fears that an event similar to the massacre will happen wherever he goes.
“I just don’t live my life the way I did before what happened at Pulse,” Delgado said. “I feel bad, and I can see myself deteriorating away because I don’t do the things I enjoyed doing before. I’d rather be home — I’d rather stay in my room.”
According to Florida state law, workers who endure psychological trauma on the job are not entitled to paid days off or medical bill reimbursement by their employers.
But a new bill that advanced in the Florida Senate Tuesday might lead to a policy change.
Senate Bill 376 would require coverage for PTSD treatment in workers’ compensation insurance for first responders who witnessed or responded to the scene of a child death, murder, suicide, fatal injury or mass-casualty incident.
On Wednesday, multiple Central Florida lawmakers responded to Delgado’s termination by calling for workers’ compensation for first responders coping with work-related mental health issues.
Shortly after learning of his dismissal, Delgado said he received an outpouring of support from friends, family and community members.
A GoFundMe account that was created on his behalf had collected more than $35,000 as of Friday morning. Delgado said he is grateful for the support, but still wishes he had his job — especially now during the holiday season.
“You expect your country to take care of you,” he said. “I thought my department would’ve taken care of me, and that’s not the case.”