Angel Colon has always been a positive person. A Zumba instructor in Orlando, the 26-year-old says he always shared a message of “love, hope and positivity.”
But Colon’s life changed forever on June 12, 2016 when gunman Omar Mateen entered the Pulse nightclub. By the time his rampage was over, he’d killed 49 people and injured 53 more.
Colon, 26, was shot six times, in the leg, hips and hand. Mateen aimed for his head, but missed. “I thought I was going to die,” Colon tells PEOPLE in its latest issue.
After three surgeries and months of rehab, Colon is on the mend — but he tells PEOPLE he has been healing emotionally, as well.
“I’m just grateful to be here,” he says. “It’s basically a second chance in life. I’m young; I’m only 26 years old. I have a lot of goals that I can reach. I’m doing anything I can, and helping others as much as I can. I’m very, very grateful. There’s no reason to be bitter at all; no reason.”
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Colon credits his emotional well-being to his strong family ties.
He remembers reuniting with his family right after the shooting. “I can’t really explain the feeling I had when I saw them,” he recalls. “I almost never saw them again. You really do hug them tighter, you really do spend more time with them. I spend every day with my family now, I made my mom move in with me, so she’s with me every day. I was always close to my family, but the bond we have now, it’s even greater than we had before.”
As part of the healing process, Colon now works with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Shortly after the shooting, he flew to Washington to lobby Congress to prevent dangerous individuals from acquiring guns — including those with ties to terrorism.
• For more on Colon’s life after Pulse and his work now, subscribe to PEOPLE or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday.
In addition to his work, Colon credits his faith in helping him process that horrific night.
“I grew up in church, learning to forgive to move forward,” he says. “In the beginning, I had anger inside of me. But I was like, in order to help myself, I can’t show them anger. I can’t show bitterness. I had to let it go. Holding things in can destroy your soul.”
The 49 victims killed at Pulse were among 15,060 people who lost their lives to gun violence in the United States in 2016, according to the nonpartisan research group Gun Violence Archive. Contact your Congressional representatives, whose phone numbers are provided here; find out what they’re doing about this gun violence epidemic — and let them know what you think should be done to stop it.