Early Monday morning, friends, family and survivors gathered outside the Pulse nightclub to remember the 49 victims who were killed six months ago during the greatest mass shooting in U.S history.
A moment of silence was held at exactly 2:02 a.m. on the six-month anniversary, the same time gunman Omar Mateen began shooting inside the nightclub on June 12.
Like many young LGBTQ individuals, Tiana Rodrigues, a Full Sail University media communications major, frequented the club. Going nearly five times a week, Rodrigues participated in the karaoke performances, amateur talent shows and dancing.
“I, like so many others, will never forget that day. I was shocked,” she said. “You were encouraged to be yourself; to be proud of who you were. It didn’t matter what you looked like or what you wore. Everyone loved you the minute you walked in the door.”
Six months later, the once welcoming doors are now surrounded by rainbow colored murals, candles and messages that reflect on a tragedy that reshaped the Orlando community.
The community responded quickly on June 12 and the days following to donate blood and offer counseling for those who were struck by the tragedy.
“I wanted to assist as a law enforcement officer, but the scene was so overwhelmed at the time, there was no place to add me,” Officer Rebecca Riley Storozuk said.
Storozuk came out as gay in 2009 to a small group of people, and she credits Pulse as a safe place to go to feel open and free.
Thinking of those involved in the attacks and the families learning of their loved ones identifying as LGBTQ only after they had been shot or injured, Storozuk was more determined than ever to accept herself as transgender.
“Pulse and the Orlando LGBTQ community accepted me before I accepted myself,” Storozuk said.
Students within the UCF community and the Orlando area are still coping with the tragedy. UCF maintains partnerships within the LGBTQ community so students’ needs are being met.
Resources such as LGBTQ Services and Counseling and Psychological Service, as well as safe spaces like Pride Commons and the Social Justice and Advocacy Lounge help people stay connected and show their support.
“I encourage students to seek and utilize campus resources and remind them that LGBTQ Services is certainly an entry point for involvement and reflection. I would also encourage them to talk through and share feelings with their close circle of loved ones to help process through this unfortunate tragedy,” said Justin Andrade, UCF LGBTQ Services coordinator.
Besides the 2:02 a.m. vigil, Orlando also honored the victims on Monday night with a ceremony called “Remembering Our Angels,” which took place at the club. The event featured speakers and performers, including the Orlando Gay Chorus.
According to Andrade, there are currently no plans for UCF to observe the six-month mark; however, plans are underway for a one-year anniversary observation to take place at UCF.
“We’re all still coping with it. I don’t know that you can stop coping with it. I think it’s important now and in the months that follow that people continue to focus on the love and strength of our city,” Rodrigues said.
Shortly after the vigil took place early this morning, the Pulse Orlando Facebook page posted a status that read: “This morning was very emotional. To the beautiful 49 we will never forget and continue to keep your pulse beating.”
Originally published Dec. 12, 2016