PULSE RE­MEM­BERED

Cer­e­mony honors victims, sur­vivors 3 years af­ter mas­sacre

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Ka­rina El­wood and Ryan Gille­spie

John Capo re­called one Tues­day night a few years ago when he went to the Pulse night­club to cel­e­brate his friend’s birth­day.

“It was our safe haven where we could come and feel safe for just a mo­ment,” Capo said. “That was my fa­vorite mo­ment.”

On June 12, 2016, that mo­ment was taken from him.

On Wed­nes­day, he stood in the mid­dle of Es­ther Street out­side the night­club, join­ing about 2,000 other peo­ple to honor and re­mem­ber the victims, fam­i­lies and sur­vivors on the third an­niver­sary of the shoot­ing, when a gun­man opened fire on the dance floor of the gay club, killing 49 peo­ple and in­jur­ing dozens of oth­ers.

Capo paused and searched for his words as a vi­olin be­gan play­ing in the back­ground.

“It feels like your stom­ach’s been ripped out of your heart,” said Capo, 50. “You just learn how to deal with it.”

Night­club owner Bar­bara Poma re­minded the crowd that it’s been 1,095 days since fam­i­lies were last able to hug their loved ones and sur­vivors’ lives were changed for­ever.

“That num­ber may seem daunt­ing. But to­day, day num­ber 1,095, you are still rising,” Poma said. “You are still proof that love wins.” A man in the crowd clutched a pink car­na­tion as he wiped a tear from the cor­ner of his eye.

Just a cou­ple hours ear­lier, Gov. Ron De­San­tis briefly stopped by the tem­po­rary me­mo­rial

in front of Pulse, promis­ing he would sign off on the $500,000 bud­geted for a permanent me­mo­rial at the site.

Af­ter look­ing at the rain­bow wall em­bla­zoned with pho­tos of the 49 who were killed in the gun­fire, De­San­tis and survivor Bran­don Wolf shook hands.

“It means a lot for you to be here, maybe more than you know,” Wolf said to De­San­tis. “This com­mu­nity feels like we need al­lies and feels like we need to be heard. I re­ally hope that this is a mo­ment to start build­ing that re­la­tion­ship.”

De­San­tis scrib­bled a mes­sage

on the large sign fac­ing Or­ange Av­enue: “Florida will always re­mem­ber these pre­cious lives.”

Later, at the Pulse re­mem­brance cer­e­mony, Or­lando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Or­ange County Mayor Jerry Dem­ings both spoke of the com­mu­nity com­ing to­gether af­ter the tragedy — the dead­li­est mass shoot­ing in the U.S. at the time, only sur­passed by the 2017 Las Ve­gas shoot­ing — and jointly de­clared June 12 “Or­lando United” day.

Dyer paused in his re­marks to note a rain­bow that had bro­ken through the clouds.

Peo­ple wore rain­bow ban­dan­nas and hats and wore T-shirts printed with “May we never for­get,” “Love is love” and “#OnePulse.” They waved flags and had painted faces. Al­most every­one in the crowd wore a small rain­bow rib­bon pinned on their shirts.

They wrapped their arms around each other while they lis­tened to the speeches and per­for­mances. And when the names of the 49 killed were read one by one, some cheered as their loved ones’ pho­tos ap­peared on the screens. Oth­ers fought back tears.

Jesse Marius, 50, has at­tended the me­mo­rial for the past three years with her fam­ily. This year she sport­ing a rain­bow Mo­hawk and a sign that reads “free mom hugs.”

“I know so many peo­ple that were raised to be­lieve that be­ing gay was wrong, and it was evil and it was a sin,” Marius said. “I learned dif­fer­ently and I want to pass along.”

As the event wrapped up, the crowd chanted, “We will never for­get.” Then a line of about 30 peo­ple formed out­side the Big Red Bus to do­nate blood.

De­San­tis touched off con­tro­versy be­fore he stopped by the Pulse me­mo­rial when he ini­tially didn’t men­tion the LGBTQ and His­panic com­mu­ni­ties in a procla­ma­tion Tues­day or­der­ing flags at half-staff to com­mem­o­rate the shoot­ing’s third an­niver­sary.

That drew ire from Demo­cratic law­maker Anna Eska­mani, D-Or­lando, who called for an apol­ogy.

By Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, De­San­tis’ of­fice is­sued a new procla­ma­tion, ac­knowl­edg­ing that Florida “will not tol­er­ate ha­tred to­wards the LGBTQ and

His­panic Com­mu­ni­ties,” and blamed it on a staff er­ror.

De­San­tis said “we fixed ev­ery­thing” as re­porters asked him about the procla­ma­tion, though he didn’t take any more ques­tions as he was ush­ered into his ve­hi­cle.

“It feels like your stom­ach’s been ripped out of your heart. You just learn how to deal with it.” John Capo, for­mer Pulse pa­tron

JOE BURBANK/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL PHO­TOS

A me­mo­rial quilt is held up dur­ing the tolling of the bells and read­ing of the names at First United Methodist Church in down­town Or­lando on Wed­nes­day on the third an­niver­sary of the Pulse night­club mas­sacre.

Jen­nifer Foster, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the One Or­lando Al­liance, em­braces survivor Joshua Lewis as victims’ names are read Wed­nes­day.

STEPHEN M. DOWELL/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL PHO­TOS

Bar­bara Poma, owner of the Pulse night­club, is com­forted by Florida Rep. Car­los Guillermo Smith as the an­niver­sary of the shoot­ing that killed 49 victims was marked.

Florida Gov. Ron De­San­tis and his wife, Casey, carry flow­ers to the site of the night­club in Or­lando on Wed­nes­day.

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