Survivor Space: Luis Berrios

Survivor Space is a project of CeaseFirePA to provide a place for survivors of gun violence to tell the stories of their loved ones, lost to gun violence, and tell those in power what they need from them. CeaseFirePA conducted a series of audio interviews with survivors so that you can hear from them in their own words. If you have a survivor story, please consider sharing it with us and others..


Listen to the Interview


Interview Highlights


Tell us about the incident.

I went to a tailgating party with a friend. On my way home, I caught the train. I sttopped at two stores—a gas station and a Chinese resteraunt. When I got to my front door, I put in the key to unlock the door and I felt the presence of two men. I stepped down off my stoop and I asked them what was this about. They said, ‘you know what this is about’ and I remember telling them all these cameras were out there, you don’t wanna do this. I turned around to tell my friend to run and warn a friend, and one of the men shot me in the back. The last thing I heard was the footsteps of everyone running. I held my stomach, I felt pressure. I took out my phone out to call 911. I remember stumbling into the street where I ended up on my knees in a prayer stance. Before my head hit the ground, I remember asking God that I do not want to die, please don’t let me die. That was the last thing I remember.

I remember seeing my two sisters and my father. The first thing that came to my head was thinking that I was in a psych ward. Why am I here? I started panicking. I didn’t know I was shot. I quickly remembered the shooting then passed out. For almost a week, nurses had to tell me every time I went to sleep and woke up that I had been shot because it didn’t register. I couldn’t believe it. On the second day, I remember being upset. I didn’t know how much damage was done to me. After a few days, I was told that the bullet went through my back and pierced my right lung and hit my intestines twice in two separate areas. It hit my kidney, my liver, took half of my pancreas and I ended up with a colonoscopy bag. I was so broken. I was sas. I was so furious. All I could think about was that I was going to kill somebody. I had become really sick. First few weeks I would have a high temperature. My heart rate wouldn’t drop below 160 and any time I cried, it would go higher.

After the third week I didn’t see myself getting any better. I lost my voice when doctors pulled a tube out—it collapsed my right vocal cord. I was unable to speak but on the second day, I got up to tried to walk. I needed to know that I wasn’t paralyzed. I started praying because my dreams were so vivid. I kept seeing myself getting shot and seeing myself fighting. When my friends were allowed to come to see me, I felt ‘done’. No one could see me because the cops didn’t know who shot me. So when my friends came I wasn’t ready. I didn’t want to live that life. I wanted to go a different route.

So I began writing, I didn’t know what I was writing at the time. I would just bawl up a bunch of paper and throw it. By December, I started writing a letter of forgiveness

A message to you who shot me:

I must tell you guys; you changed my whole life. You really put me in a place that keeps me stuck in deep thought with lots of questions. Why me? My guys. I’m from the same ‘hood as you!! I walk these streets every day and kept it ‘100’ with everyone. I’m respectful to everyone! I mind my own business and keep to myself.

Man, I got to tell you. Your hate, your greed and your disrespect for guns have caused a lot of pain to a lot of people. I’m not sure what you guys were trying to do that night, but I can tell you what you did do: You walked up to me and shot me in the back. You left me on the street, bleeding heavily—to fight for my life. For a while, I thought I was gone. Do you know what it feels like to think you’re gonna die? Not having the chance to hug your loved ones? Being too scared to close your eyes because [you fear] not waking up? I don’t know if it matters to you. For the last three months, I am still in and out of the hospital, fighting for my life. Since the day you shot me, I’ve had surgeries, blood transfusions, long painful nights. I have ongoing thoughts of why you would try to shoot me. If I did anything wrong, I promise…I do apologize. However, trying to kill me is something I will never understand. I thank God every day for sparing my life—for giving me the strength to fight. And, that’s something you could never rob from me.

I do want to say this: Despite everything I’ve been through—currently going through, and the pain that you’ve caused me, I can honestly say I don’t hate you. I am not angry. I am not looking for war or retaliation. Although the streets may have taught us to deal with situations like this, in that way—it never worked for anybody. I’m sad you picked me. I’m sad that you have that much hate in your heart. I’m sad that you stopped my whole life for absolutely nothing. Yet, I can’t seem to find hate towards you. I am sad that you made my mother cry and still my heart doesn’t allow me to hate you.

I’m still in so much pain and hurt. I am still going to live my life and fight hard as hell to get better. I hope this letter finds you. I hope you can understand my pain. I hope that one day you can tell me why!

I hope that you can forgive yourselves, as I forgave you. Make peace with God, so he can have mercy on you. And, I hope you never hurt another person as you have done to me.


Have you forgiven the people that did this to you, and do you struggle with the idea of being at peace?

A lot of people have asked me: “How?” How do you forgive somebody that tried to kill you? I stood there and prayed, and it opened my eyes. So if you haven’t been there, you don’t know. I let people know it takes time, this forgiveness takes time… every day I struggle with this. Every day I touch my scars on my body and know that there are certain pieces inside of me that are missing…I have to live with it. I have to be reminded of what happened. So every day, I practice forgiveness.

I struggle with mental health, I deal with it every day. I still cry. I still have nightmares…to the point of where I’m screaming, because I feel like I am going to go through it again. There are some days where I wake up crying. There are some days I ask God why. And then there are times where I meet people. I met this young guy, who was shot in October of 2019, and I was able to speak with him. He told me that I gave him hope. It’s moments like that keep me going. Yeah, I’m struggling financially. But, I’m here. There are too many people that are being buried. There are too many young kids being put into the ground. But I am here and I have to hold on to that even in my weakest moment.


What have you learned in this situation?

You don’t know your own strengths; you have to dig down deep for it. I’ve learned a lot about myself. Laying in a hospital bed with almost a 6inch opening in you—from my chest from my belly–I’ve seen myself heal. When I wrote that letter, I saw myself heal even faster. It was a peace that I was trying to find.


What do you want people in power to know

It’s already hard to have to deal with trauma, but you have to jump through ‘hoops’, to get any assistance—it doesn’t help the healing process. The people who robbed me probably had nothing. We live in these broken communities with nothing. In my year of healing, I was left with nothing. I had to think about how I was going to survive. I had to jump through hoops just to get what I deserve…I had to go down to the welfare office, with two colonoscopy bags beside me. The people in power should make things a little easier for people who have been through this. There’s a level of empathy that’s missing.


What do you want to say to other survivors?

It’s a really tough question because everyone’s emotions are different. I’ve had to fight. I’ve had to speak with organizations and had to leave organizations because of the lack of support. I would tell survivors don’t give up, don’t turn your back just because they told you ‘no’. That’s why it’s so hard because it is so easy to walk away. You will end up doing something that you don’t want to do. I’ve had the opportunity to work with other gunshot victims at Temple University and sit with victims either to support them or share my story. I want to continue to put out my letter of forgiveness and speak more about the power of forgiveness.

This interview was conducted by gun violence survivor Zarinah Lomax who is the host of ‘Talking the Walk Philly.’

Facing the truth about gun violence in PA