Terry DeCarlo, Gay Leader in the Wake of a Shooting, Dies at 57


Terry DeCarlo, a spokesman for Florida’s L.G.B.T.Q. community following the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016, died on Jan. 27 at a hospital in Hollywood, Fla. He was 57.

His husband, Bill Huelsman, said the cause was face and neck cancer.

Mr. DeCarlo moved to Orlando in 2014 to become the executive director of the Center, a nonprofit L.G.B.T.Q. advocacy organization. He quickly became a familiar face in his community; after a gunman opened fire at Pulse around 2 a.m. on June 12, 2016, killing 49 people and wounding 53, Mr. DeCarlo was thrown into the national spotlight.

Mr. DeCarlo was one of the many people who had gathered outside the club by 4:30 a.m., anxiously waiting as authorities tried to rescue patrons who were still trapped inside. Not until shortly after 5 a.m. — three hours after the shooting began — were the police able to rescue the hostages and kill the shooter.

“It was surreal. I felt helpless,” Mr. DeCarlo told The Miami Herald that morning. “I kept thinking, if this is a bad dream, I need to wake up.”

While the country mourned the victims of what at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history (58 people were killed at a country music festival in Las Vegas the next year), Mr. DeCarlo became a public source of comfort and information on television and radio news programs.

“Terry was one of the first faces I saw on TV,” Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democratic member of the Florida House of Representatives, said in a recent interview on the NPR program “All Things Considered.” “It was 7 a.m., and he was already on the ground providing support and comfort to those seeking information, many who would later discover that their loved one was killed in the attack.”

In January, Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan told The Orlando Sentinel that Mr. DeCarlo had the Center open by 7:30 a.m., and was ushering people inside to meet with grief counselors mere hours after the attack.

“We’re hurting, but we’re hurting together,” Mr. DeCarlo said the next day on “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC, “and we’re standing strong.”

Mr. DeCarlo spoke on numerous broadcasts in the days and weeks following the attack. Months later, he also spoke openly about the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder that he and many other people in his community were experiencing.

“In Orlando, you don’t shake hands anymore; you hug,” Mr. DeCarlo said on NPR’s “Morning Edition” in December 2016. “You put your hand out to somebody to shake their hand, and they say, ‘Oh, no, we hug.’”

Terry DeCarlo was born Thomas Joseph Nunziato on March 19, 1962, in Bethpage, N.Y., on Long Island, to Mario Nunziato, who worked for Grumman Aerospace, and Anne (Puglisi) Nunziato, a dental assistant.

He served in the Air Force from 1980 to 1983 as an intelligence operations officer for the Strategic Air Command’s 349th Air Refueling Squadron. He received a bachelor’s degree in communications from the Air Force Academy in 1984.

After leaving the Air Force, he moved to New York City and took the stage name DeCarlo while briefly pursuing an acting career. He later started working for the H.I.V./AIDS advocacy group Act Up.

Mr. DeCarlo met Mr. Huelsman in 1996, shortly after moving to South Florida. They had a civil ceremony on Feb. 15, 2003, before same-sex marriage was legal in Florida, and then married under the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree on Dec. 15, 2012.

The couple lived in Wilton Manors, Fla., before moving to Orlando. Mr. DeCarlo worked as the development director of Broward House, a nonprofit that helps individuals with H.I.V. and other chronic health issues, from 2006 to 2014.

Before the Pulse shooting, Mr. DeCarlo had announced plans to leave the Center and move to Miami that June for a job as the Southeastern regional director for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. In the wake of the shooting, he decided to stay in Orlando, and he continued working as the executive director of the Center until July 2017.

In the months after the shooting, Mr. DeCarlo spoke about how his health was deteriorating from the onslaught of stress. He said he lost 40 pounds, and after having a heart attack in May 2017, he decided to step back from his management role at the Center to take over communications there.

Mr. DeCarlo and Mr. Huelsman left Orlando in July 2018 and returned to Wilton Manors, where Mr. DeCarlo became the communications manager for the Broward County government.

In addition to his husband, Mr. DeCarlo is survived by his mother, Anne Fabrikant; his sisters, Mary Detto and Deborah Waters; and his brother, John Nunziato. His father died in 2004.

Reaching beyond his community, Mr. DeCarlo had a message for the rest of the nation.

“Grab your loved ones tonight. Say I love you. Hug them,” Mr. DeCarlo said on the Orlando radio station WMFE the day after the shooting. “You never know what could happen.”

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