June 12, 2016 was a dark day in Tony Marrero’s life. As he and his best friend, Luis S. Vielma, were just about to leave the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Omar Mateen opened fire and killed 49 people. He and Vielma immediately hit the floor; it’s the last time he saw his friend and co-worker alive. The attack targeted Orlando’s LGBTQ community on a Latino-themed night.
Since that day, 30-year-old Marrero has showed nothing but strength. After Tony protected his head with a couch, Mateen shot him four times in the back. He pretended to be dead for hours, and somehow dragged himself to the exit as a standoff occurred. He died on the way to the hospital, but he’s a fighter. He’s spent the last few months recovering, and he credits Katy Perry’s “Rise” with helping him. He’s listened to the song so much that he admits his boyfriend is sick of hearing it.
Ellen DeGeneres learned about Marrero after a friend shared an image of him with a sign that read, “I’m still swimming, Ellen.” She first called him, and then, invited him on her show. Not only did she allow him to share his inspirational story with the world, she also gave him the chance to meet Katy Perry on today’s episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Ellen described the episode as “one of the most emotional segments to ever happen” on her show.
As soon as they see each other, Perry and Marrero begin to cry. And though tears are streaming down both their faces, Perry somehow manages not to completely lose it, even after he says: “I just want to say thank you for everything you do. Your lyrics to that song helped me from the day that I was in the hospital all the way to now. You’re amazing.”
After almost three very touching minutes, Perry says she wants to help his dreams come true by offering to pay for his first year of film school. Check out his story below, and his interaction with Perry above. And prepare to cry.