In the wake of mail bombing suspect Cesar Sayoc’s arrest, more details about the Florida man’s anti-gay beliefs are rapidly surfacing. Debra Gureghian, Sayoc’s general manager at Ft. Lauderdale’s New River Pizza & Fresh Kitchen, spoke out about his behavior at work, and how she as a lesbian felt threatened by his beliefs. “He knew I was a lesbian and a very proud lesbian, and he made it a point to tell me that, you know, God had made a mistake with me and that I should burn in hell,” she said on CNN.
“He never threatened my life, per se,” Gureghian explained in a Saturday morning phone call with INTO. “He threatened my being, as far as my sexuality, absolutely, every single day.”
Had they worked at a greater chain of stores, with corporate management, Gureghian might have been able to fire Sayoc for his behavior. Unfortunately, “because of him being vocal about his politics and things like that, I could not fire him,” Gureghian explained. “My hands were tied. My employer would not fire him.”
She could have fired him if Sayoc had received customer complaints — “I have fired many people because of that,” she said — but according to Gureghian, Sayoc didn’t actually have any customer complaints. Moreover, she described their working relationship positively, noting, “He really liked me as a general manager. He was really appreciative of me, he was very supportive of me as a general manager.”
That didn’t translate into personal affection, however. Sayoc’s openness about his hatred was “emotionally draining” for Gureghian. “There were many days I went in the back and cried,” she said.
Despite his hatred of LGBTQ people and her personal emotional response to his words, Gureghian said she wasn’t scared of Sayoc, nor did she imagine he’d do something like the crime at hand. When she found out, she said,”I was dumbfounded, I was shocked. I really couldn’t believe it.”
Gureghian’s interview with INTO happened against the backdrop of news of a shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh that claimed multiple lives. The shooter in that crime reportedly said “all Jews must die” during his attack. Gureghian drew the two events together in a plea for humanity.
“What’s happening today, especially in the shooting in Pittsburgh; it’s hatred,” she said. “It’s the slaughter of Jews. It’s getting out of hand. … I would love it if we could truly get back to humanity, and kindness, and tolerance, and respect.”