74ºF

Day of memorials ends as it started, at Pulse nightclub

49 victims of Pulse massacre remembered in daylong services

ORLANDO, Fla. – Church bells tolled 49 times, a giant rainbow flag hung from a county government building and the names of the victims of the Pulse nightclub attack were read aloud at various ceremonies Monday as people in Orlando and beyond remembered the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

At 2:02 a.m., survivors, victims' families, club employees and local officials were gathered for a private service at the gay club at the exact time Omar Mateen opened fire a year ago and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. He was eventually killed by police after a three-hour standoff on June 12, 2016.

"I realize that gathering here in this place, at this hour, is beyond difficult," Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said. "But I also know that the strength you've shown over the past year will carry you through today and in the future."

The service began what would be almost 24 hours of solemn remembrances. During a midday service, the Orlando Gay Chorus performed Cyndi Lauper's song "True Colors" and speakers talked less about the tragedy and more about how Orlando-area residents came together in the aftermath.

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said the city will only partly be remembered for the shooting. Most of the patrons killed were gay Latinos.

"That will be a part of the history books, but the true legacy of our community is going to be in our darkest hour we responded with love and compassion and unity," Jacobs said.

At noon, church bells throughout the Orlando area rang 49 times. Gov. Rick Scott ordered U.S. flags around Florida to be flown at half-staff and a gay pride flag was unveiled at the Orange County government building.

MORE COVERAGE: Pulse One Year Later

In the evening, rain didn't deter thousands of people from showing up at a remembrance in downtown Orlando in front of an amphitheater that was painted in gay pride rainbow colors after the massacre. City officials estimated that 15,000 people showed up for the ceremony, during which individuals dressed as angels with white billowing wings took the stage as the names of the 49 people killed were read.

The evening service took place in Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando at the amphitheater. A fountain in the center of the park was lit in rainbow lights.

"It's a year later. People want to move on and have healing," Eric Easter, a local resident, told News4Jax.

At the last service, a late-night ceremony attended by hundreds of people outside the nightclub, Pulse owner Barbara Poma said she had wanted to start and end the one-year commemoration of the tragedy at the nightclub she had opened in memory of her brother.

"It truly means the absolute world to me to see all of you here," said Poma, who plans to open a memorial at the Pulse site.

Poma told the hundreds of people at the late night service outside Pulse that she was touched by their presence, given the late hour.

The first service started almost 24 hours earlier outside the club in a private ceremony for survivors, victims' families, employees and local officials. Earlier in the day, Poma said when people ask her what has changed in her life since the tragedy, she tells them "everything." But she said she is grateful for the outpouring of support. She plans to build a memorial at the site of the nightclub, which has been closed since the tragedy.

"I miss Pulse," she said. "I miss everything it stood for."

President Donald Trump tweeted a photo of the victims and said: "We will NEVER FORGET the victims who lost their lives one year ago today in the horrific #PulseNightClub shooting. #OrlandoUnitedDay."

Local leaders said Mateen's hateful act caused an outpouring of love from Orlando and the wider world.

"What a terrorist tries to do is divide us," U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said. "Isn't it interesting it had the opposite effect? It brought us together in unity and love."

Outside Pulse, hundreds of people dropped off flowers, drawings and cards. 

"It still hurts. It's still very raw," said Erin Anderson, a friend and former co-worker of Pulse victim Xavier Serrano Rosado.

Alejandra Arcay, who lost a close friend in the Pulse shooting, told News4Jax that the future looks brighter 365 days after the massacre and they look to a future filled with moments of unity, hope and a belief that Orlando is stronger together.

"It's, personally, amazing," Arcay said. "Everyone is coming together. It's heartwarming."

Jeannine Williams used to live within walking distance of Pulse and was a frequent visitor. She had made plans to be there the night of the shooting but decided to go another nightclub.

"A year later I think the thing that is most important is this community and why I live here and why I'm so happy to live here," Williams said through tears. "The support we not only have from our city government. It's not fleeting support, it's not support on certain days. It's the way the community is. This is Orlando. This is why I just love living here."

Next door to the club, an anti-gay protester was pushed to the ground by an officer and handcuffed as the crowd chanted "love conquers hate." Local television stations showed police officers talking to two protesters with an anti-gay sign and wearing anti-gay slogans on their shirts, as the men argued with the officers that they had a right to be there.

An officer can be seen holding out his hand to keep one of the men from walking any further as the man pushes back against his hand. Moments later, the officer pushes the man back and the man falls down. Spokeswomen for the police and city didn't return an email or phone call, and it was unknown if the man was taken into custody or charged.

A steady stream of visitors came by the Orange County Regional History Center to see an exhibit of memorial items, including 49 crosses with the victims' names and photos attached.

"The crosses were incredibly impactful," said Monique Stewart, an Orlando resident. "I feel like every piece that they collected was deliberate and serves a point and it just ties back to remembering those 49 people and spreading love."

Mateen's wife, Noor Salman, is facing charges of aiding and abetting and obstruction in federal court. She has pleaded not guilty to helping her husband.

Senators offer resolution for Pulse victims

Nelson, and Florida's other U.S. senator, Republican Marco Rubio, on Monday introduced a resolution honoring the memory of the 49 victims who died in the nightclub a year ago.

Nelson spoke about the Pulse massacre on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Monday.

Earlier in the day, he attended a service at the gay nightclub in Orlando before flying back to Washington.

Nelson hailed the first responders who rescued patrons from the club and offered support for victims' families.

Jacksonville resident reflects 1 year later

A Jacksonville man took extra time to reflect Monday, one year after the attack at Pulse, because his best friend was one of the 49 people killed.

Amanda Alvear was a pharmacy technician, a sister and an aunt.

Jeffrey Mashland told News4Jax that he still regrets not meeting Alvear at Pulse one year ago, and wishes he could talk to her again.

"I had to work the next morning and she texted me, asking me if I could come out and celebrate Latin Night with her. Of course, I had to text her to tell her I had to work the next morning. I had to be up early," Mashland said. "If Amanda was here right now, I would honestly tell her in person, 'Thank you for being there for me. You've helped me out so much. You've helped me overcome my fear of coming out. You've done so much for me.'"


About the Authors: