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One Year Later, Central Florida Remembers Pulse Nightclub Tragedy

Hundreds gather outside Pulse Nightclub on Monday, June 12, 2017 to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the deadliest mass shooting in United States history, that took the lives of 49 people. (Meghan Mangrum/WUFT News)
Hundreds gather outside Pulse Nightclub on Monday, June 12, 2017 to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the deadliest mass shooting in United States history, that took the lives of 49 people. (Meghan Mangrum/WUFT News)

A year after gunfire, panic and fear filled Orlando's Pulse Nightclub, the Central Florida community came together to remember the lives lost, those who survived and the strength it found through love.

The City of Orlando and Orange County, in collaboration with Pulse Nightclub, declared June 12 "Orlando United Day," dedicated to honoring the 49 Pulse victims and the survivors of the massacre.

Last June, Omar Mateen, a lone gunman who pledged allegiance to the terror group ISIS, opened fire during Latin night at the club, killing 49 and injuring dozens. The year since the attack has been marked by an outpouring of donations to the OneOrlando fund for victims and survivors and community support, but also by legal battles over police records and a slow release of information as 911 call transcripts and police records of the night have been made public.

Nonetheless, Central Florida was determined to mark the anniversary, which also coincided with Pride Month and equality marches and rallies nationwide.

A seemingly endless number of events — late night vigils, memorials, a 5k race and more, filled the city this weekend, with more events planned throughout the week.

Before a remembrance ceremony at the nightclub, local officials gathered outside the Orange County Administration Building to unveil the Sea-to-Sea Rainbow Flag. The flag, which is a section of the largest rainbow flag created for the LGBT community, had previously traveled across the United States and has even hung at the U.S. Capitol.
"I can tell you candidly that ten years ago, I could never have imagined that we would be able to fly this flag or that we could do so without an outpouring of outrage and objections," said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. "I am also proud to tell you that we received one single comment of disagreement in a county 1.3 million large."

Mark Ebenhoch, executive director of Hope, Unity & Global Equality, Inc. in Key West, Florida shared the meaning of the eight original colors of the globally-recognized rainbow flag.

"Hot pink is for sex or sexuality, red if for life, orange for healing, yellow is sun light, green is for nature or harmony with nature, turquoise for art, indigo is human harmony and violet is for spirit," Ebenhoch said. "Notice that none of those colors mean hate."

The main event of the day was an official remembrance ceremony where hundred flocked to hear from local officials, honor first responders, listen to Orlando's Gay Chorus and pay their respects at the memorial that has formed outside the club since last summer.

In addition to local officials, Governor Rick Scott and Senator Bill Nelson visited the memorial Monday morning.

In regards to the Pulse tragedy, Nelson commented on how the Orlando community came together in the past year.

“It united Orlando and it united the country," Nelson said. "That is why you keep hearing the phrase 'Orlando Strong'  and that’s what you’re seeing here one year later.”


Last week, Gov. Scott declared Monday "Pulse Remembrance Day," directing flags to be at half-staff and for the entire state to observe a moment of silence at 9:00 a.m. Monday.

The common message from many who visited the club or attended the memorials was not of grief or sorrow, but of resilience and love.
“There's a giant feeling of love here today rather than hate or anger or even really sadness," said Mason Diehl, an Orlando resident whose girlfriend used to perform at Pulse. "Yes, there are people who are upset and yes there are people who are sad, but the amount of love that is going around us overpowering.”

Diehl's girlfriend, Kanimia Jodejuden, who used to perform as part of the dance group #SquadGoals at Pulse's Twisted Tuesdays was in Texas last year when she heard about the attack. Jodejuden remembers being afraid to attend some of the vigils and community events that occurred directly after the shooting.

"For me at least, I didn’t really know what to expect today," Jodejuden said. "I didn’t know if there’d be people you know breaking down or how the event would be set up. I personally didn’t go to any of the events last year because we didn’t know how many people were involved and there was so much information that wasn’t out."

Ryan Lilly, 29 of Ocala, also reflected on being able to gather as a community when remembering the day.

"It’s a lot of pride and support, but I’m a very seclusive emotional person, so I deal with my emotions alone and this has been very supportive and uplifting," Lilly said.

Other events planned for Orlando United Day include a ceremony featuring musical performances by Olga Tañón and Sisaundra Lewis at the Lake Eola Amphitheater at 7:00 p.m. and a vigil at Pulse Nightclub at 10:00 p.m.

Contact WUFT News by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org