With tens of thousands of people packing Lake Eola Park and countless more watching remotely, Orlando gathered Monday night for a somber remembrance the 49 people murdered at Pulse one year ago, and a celebration of love and unity emerged.
This was largely Orlando’s LGBTQ community’s opportunity to come together in a mass remembrance and a look back on the year since the nation’s worst mass shooting occurred at Orlando’s popular gay nightclub. Joined by families of the victims and thousands of straight allies – many of whom might not have identified as allies a year ago – the night turned into the city’s statement to the world.
“We are one big family,” declared Pulse owner Barbara Poma.
Beginning with the Procession of Angels into the park’s amphitheater – 49 people dressed in white angel sheets who had protected the victims’ funerals and become the living symbols of Pulse – through words from Poma, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, through numerous musical and dance tributes, and ending with the readings of the names of 49 victims, to the toll of a bell, “Orlando Love: Remembering Our Angels” brought tears, hope and joy.
While sorrow sometimes took stage, including occasional cries of heartbreak from family members as names were called, much of the night called upon the world to look at Orlando as the light of acceptance and unity.
“One year ago tonight our lives in Orlando changed forever. From the families of the 49 beautiful, innocent, young people, lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, Hispanic, African American, and straight allies, all killed for being accepting and loving of one another. Sixty-eight were wounded, hundreds were traumatized,” Sheehan reminded everyone.
“Orlando came together as never before to show we are a community united in love,” she continued. “Pulse taught our community to open their hearts and minds to foster inclusiveness, acceptance, understanding, and compassion. To the families I say, we can never say we can replace your beloved children, parents ,and spouses. But we can honor their enduring legacy with love, the greatest and most powerful force in heaven and on Earth.”
Officials said 1,350 Pulse survivors and families of Pulse victims asked to attend the event, and were given priority seating in the rainbow-colored Walt Disney World Amphitheatre. The night was for them.
“I believe the Pulse story is not so much about the vicious act of hatred and terror by a deranged killer,” Dyer said. “I believe it’s a story about triumph, triumph of courage over fear, triumph of understanding over intolerance. And a triumph of love over hate.”
It’s a theme that came up time and again all day as Orlando marked the year since the massacre.
“Out of the darkness, Orlando rose as a beacon of light,” Jacobs said.