77ºF

Lowered flags, bells mark 1 year since Pulse massacre

Names of 49 names read allowed at services

ORLANDO, Fla. – Orlando marked the first year since 49 people were killed and more than 50 others were wounded at Pulse nightclub Monday with love and kindness during a series of remembrance events.

“Orlando is proof that love always wins. Today you are going to hear the word love a lot, and that is our word of the day: love and kindness,” nightclub owner Barbara Poma said at a morning memorial service.

Thousands of people flocked to Pulse Sunday and Monday to pay their respects. Hundreds stood shoulder-to-shoulder earlier Monday morning outside the nightclub as the name of each victim was read aloud, starting at 2:02 a.m. That's the exact time a gunman who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group starting fired shots one year ago during Latin Night at the gay nightclub in the heart of downtown Orlando.

The gunman was eventually killed by police during a shootout after a three-hour standoff. 

"I realize that gathering here in this place, at this hour, is beyond difficult," Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer told survivors, victims' families, club employees and local officials during the private service. "But I also know that the strength you've shown over the past year will carry you through today and in the future."

A larger ceremony was held outside the club at 11 a.m. and included prayers, music and tributes. 

"One year later – look at this – this is exactly the opposite of what the terrorist intended," Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, said at the morning service. "The terrorist wanted to divide us; to strike fear. What it did, it united us. Not only Orlando United, but the nation."

Pulse owner Barbara Poma said Monday during a midday service outside the nightclub that she is planning to open a memorial at the site of the club, which has been closed since the massacre.

"I miss Pulse," she said.

SLIDESHOW: Emotional service remembers victims

Monday marked the anniversary of the shooting on June 12, 2016. Forty-nine people were killed and dozens more were injured inside the nightclub.

She says that people ask her what has changed in her life since the tragedy, and she says "everything."

At noon, church bells throughout the city rang 49 times.

Gov. Rick Scott ordered U.S. flags around Florida to be flown at half-staff, and a giant rainbow flag will be unveiled at the Orange County government building.

An evening gathering in the heart of downtown Orlando -- Orlando Love: Remembering Our Angels -- will honor the victims. A final, music-filled late-night service is being held back at the nightclub.

"My heart goes out to still to these families," Scott during a visit to the site Monday morning. "Thank God we have a resilient community. Thank God, we have the law enforcement we have and the medical personnel that took care of all these individuals."

MORE COVERAGE: Pulse One Year Later

"When you remember the tragedy that did happen, there's no way around it; there's going to be tears," state Sen. Linda Stewart, R-Orange County, said. "I think that what we gain from all of this and the remembrances is that we prove again and again that Orlando stands together."

Nicole Irizarry and her family lost a friend, Christopher Sanfeliz, in the Pulse shooting.  She said they sat in a hotel room after the shooting last year listening for names of survivors. Sanfeliz’s name was never called.

"I’ll never forget hearing the screams at the end when other families didn’t hear their loved ones' names either," Irizarry said. "It hurts really bad still, but I know that he’s at peace.  I know that he’s happy in a better place."

Monday's services culminated several days of events aimed at turning the grim anniversary into something positive. A foot race was held over the weekend, and eight gay and lesbian students were awarded $4,900 toward their college studies by a local businessman. 

Local officials declared Monday "Orlando United Day" to mark the one-year mark as a day of "love and kindness." They are encouraging residents to volunteer or perform acts of compassion.

An exhibit of artwork collected from memorial sites set up around Orlando after the massacre will be shown at the Orange County History Center. The club's owner, Barbara Poma, is developing plans to build a memorial at the Pulse site.


About the Authors: