There were so many flannel shirts, beers and cowboy boots, it could have been a night at Borderline Bar and Grill.
But here, half a mile away at Los Robles Greens golf course in Thousand Oaks, a toast Saturday night in memory of Telemachus Orfanos occurred underneath a starry sky.
Orfanos was the last of the 12 people killed at Borderline in November laid to rest, his wake planned two months later because his parents wanted to give the city a chance to recover. It was planned as a celebration, with music and dancing, because Orfanos would have wanted it that way.
“Tel would have loved this,” his mother, Susan Orfanos, told a friend.
Even with the chill in the courtyard on Saturday evening, there was warmth — in every embrace bestowed on Orfanos’ parents and in every story people shared about their son.
There was the woman Orfanos had helped buy a car through his work at an Infiniti dealership and whom he later became “Dodger buddies” with, bonding over their love of the baseball team. There were the friends he’d driven home after a night at the bar so they wouldn’t drive drunk. The ones he’d brought into his group of friends without hesitation.
“Anybody he met, he basically had an open door for them,” said Brendan Kelly, who, like Orfanos, survived the Las Vegas mass shooting. “He was able to connect with them in one way or another.”
So no one was surprised that hundreds of people, from all walks of life, showed up to celebrate the 27-year-old’s life. Many of them, including Kelly, had been inside Borderline on Nov. 7, when a stranger walked in and began spraying bullets. Some, like Orfanos’ parents, had also lost loved ones that night.
After the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas in which 58 people were killed, Borderline had become a sanctuary for Orfanos and other survivors — a place to hear country music and feel safe. Orfanos, who served two and a half years in the Navy, had helped pack wounds for those injured at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival.
In November, Orfanos, who worked as a Borderline security guard but was off the night of the shooting, led a group of friends out of the bar and had returned to rescue more. His wounds suggest he charged at the shooter. He was stabbed in the neck and shot multiple times.
In his memory, many attendees wore red and black flannel, including Steve Campbell, a close friend of Orfanos who had been inside Borderline the night of the shooting. Orfanos had worn his red flannel so often that Campbell stopped wearing his, he said with a smile. That night, Campbell also wore Orfanos’ gray Kings hat, given to him by Marc Orfanos, Telemachus’ father.
The celebration marks the end of a string of funerals since the horrific shooting, he said.
“I’m glad it’s over, but this is the hardest one,” Campbell said.
For hours on Saturday, Marc and Susan Orfanos wrapped every well wisher into a tight hug, asking about their families and laughing often. Over and over, Marc Orfanos told people he wanted to keep things upbeat. Before loved ones walked away, he fretted over whether they’d had a chance to eat and drink, although he could hardly find the time to do so himself, with an unending crush of people stepping forward to greet each parent.
Kelly slung his arm around Susan Orfanos, holding a beer in his other hand. They posed for a photo together, her head on his shoulder, shaded underneath his white cowboy hat. Orfanos’ name is tattooed on Kelly’s body.
“My kids will know about him and the hero that he was,” Kelly said.
“I miss him,” one woman said.
At times, Marc Orfanos would grasp a vial hanging around his neck, which held some of his son’s ashes. His other son and his wife had ones just like it, their way of keeping him close.
When it came time for a toast, with shots of Jameson Irish whiskey because it was Tel’s drink of choice, his mom warned the crowd they would need the drinks because it might get emotional. His mom, in a flannel jacket and tan boots, looked out at the crowd and grew teary-eyed, her husband placing a consoling hand on her shoulder as she spoke.
“I found that it takes a village to raise a child and it takes a village to say goodbye,” she said. As she spoke, people used their flannels to wipe away tears.
To become an Eagle Scout, she shared, Orfanos had written his life goals: “I believe my purpose in life is to mean something to someone besides myself.”
“He achieved that,” Susan Orfanos said. “Tel, you meant something to so many.”
His father recalled the time his son bought $200 cologne, even though he didn’t wear any. When his father asked why he bought it, Tel responded that the woman selling it was cute, Marc Orfanos shared, prompting the crowd to burst out laughing.
Marc Orfanos called his son a “multidimensional person,” someone with a number of different circles of friends and acquaintances. He was the most gregarious person he knew, with a crooked smile that was always genuine. One of the things he will miss, he shared, are the hugs Tel would give him before heading off to work.
“I miss that,” he said, “because he was a damn good hugger.”
Orfanos’ brother, Ty, looked up at the stars, before raising a shot glass with Tel’s name printed on it, leading the crowd in raising their own.
“To Tel,” he said, as people clinked their shot glasses against one another, before downing their drinks.
Soon, a cry rose up through the crowd, as everyone chanted Tel’s name.