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Vincent Perez and Shane Columbo smile together
Survivor Stories

I live to advocate for my fiancé and the future we were supposed to have.

In the fall of 2018, my life was going great. I had proposed to my fiancé, and we both got into graduate school. We bought our first home. We were starting our life together. I thought I was going to plan a wedding. I never thought I’d have to plan a future without my partner. 

Within 30 minutes of him landing in Chicago on September 2, 2018, a few days before he was set to start his Ph.D. at Northwestern University and just a block away from our new home, my partner, Shane Colombo, was killed when a stray bullet hit him. My life has not been the same since.

I suffer every day from not having Shane in my life, and I’m speaking out in hopes of preventing this from happening to someone else. I see now more than ever that our elected officials must take action on background checks. I live to honor Shane and advocate for the future we were supposed to have. Others should not feel the pain of losing a loved one that I do every day. Our senators owe us more than thoughts and prayers—they owe us life-saving bipartisan action on background checks.

I was the founding father of a fraternity at San Francisco State University, and as I was graduating and leaving, Shane was joining. We started talking one night and I thought, “This is the guy I’m going to marry, one hundred percent.” Shane was an amazing, beautiful person. He was a go-getter, an academic, and a dancer. Our relationship was playful, loving, understanding, and authentic—beautiful in every way. 

Shane Colombo smiling beside a yellow and black mural
Shane Colombo

I proposed to Shane the day after my birthday, in December of 2017. I flew to New York, where he was studying at Columbia, doing research at the Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (SCAN) Lab. When he asked what I wanted for my birthday I told him all I wanted was good fun, a day out with him, and an experience.

The entire day, I was nervous, carrying a ring with me in my backpack. He wanted to surprise me by taking me ice skating in Washington Square, but the lines were long. We were hungry, tired, and cold and nothing was open. We were pretty defeated and tired from schlepping around NYC during the cold season, but eventually, we ended up at a beautiful outdoor light exhibit. I pulled out the ring I had been holding all day and told Shane, “There will always be things that go wrong. Nothing will be perfect. But no matter what, I will always love you.” I proposed immediately after. 

Vincent Perez and Shane Colombo smiling
Vincent Perez and Shane Colombo

When Shane got into Northwestern University, after being long distance for several years, we decided we would both move to Illinois and start our life together. We bought a house, but we never actually got to be in it at the same time. I still live in our house now with boxes of Shane’s unpacked stuff in a closet. The couch he and I picked out together was delivered while we were dealing with his funeral arrangements. I live here like nothing is wrong, but everything has changed. 

From a physical and mental standpoint, it’s still very difficult. There are days when it’s easy to function and there are days where I can’t function at all. I have PTSD attacks, I have dissociative issues, I have temporomandibular joint syndrome, I have tension headaches. There’s a lot that goes on in my brain, and my grief has manifested in so many ways that it hurts.

But even with what seems at times to be unbearable pain, there has been beauty in my life. My sister named her son after Shane. And I have found love after loss. My current partner, James, is so accepting and loving. It’s nice to have found someone who’s supportive and kind and beautiful, because I never thought I’d be blessed with two loves. 

After losing Shane, I had to reassess my trajectory because my role was to lift him up and watch him succeed. I had to become the protagonist in my own story, and it’s been challenging figuring out my life without him. I continue to make conscious choices about how I want to honor Shane while working towards my future. I am currently getting my master’s degree at the University of Southern California and have founded a startup to help other people navigate the end-of-life process and find greener alternatives to traditional burial. 

I live to honor Shane and advocate for the future we were supposed to have. Others should not feel the pain of losing a loved one that I do every day. I continue to tell my story to lawmakers, venture capitalists, colleagues in academia, to anyone who will listen. I want to be an advocate and create change for BIPOC and LGBTQ individuals and people who look like me.

Why aren’t there stricter gun laws? Why aren’t there background checks on all gun sales? Why aren’t there more measures to prohibit people who aren’t supposed to have guns from having them? These things could have prevented Shane from being taken from me. 

The Everytown Survivor Network has given me the courage to tell my story, and a family that understands what I’ve been through, and that I can rely on. It’s given me an outlet to release some steam and to do good in the world. My healing journey is still in progress, but I know I have people who will hold me up when I need it. 

It still hurts. 

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If you have been personally impacted by gun violence, you can join a community of gun violence survivors in the Everytown Survivor Network. The Survivor Network connects survivors to each other, amplifies the power of survivor voices, offers trauma-informed programs, provides information on direct services, and supports survivors who choose to become advocates.

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