Monday, church bells will chime, the rainbow flag will unfurl, and Orlando will attempt to heal from an enormous blow. As the city prepares for the one-year mark of the mass shooting at Pulse, leaders plan to sound a message of unity and hope in the face of tragedy and pain. “We’re going to put together a beautiful tribute,” says Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan. “We’re calling it a day of remembrance.”
The day comes a year after gunman Omar Mateen started shooting patrons inside Pulse, an Orlando gay bar, in the early hours of June 12, 2016. Mateen would be killed by police after a lengthy standoff, but 49 others would die as well, making the attack the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history.
The city of Orlando and Orange County, Fla., have declared June 12 Orlando United Day: A Day of Love and Kindness. In addition to a series of events sanctioned by the city, including a ceremony at Lake Eola Park where the named of the 49 people killed in the attack will be read, there will be a several private events.
The Dru Project
Organizers of the Dru Project, named for victim Christopher Andrew “Drew” Leinonen, will host an official launch party for the organization on the eve of Orlando United Day. Leinonen founded a gay-straight alliance at his high school, and the Dru Project will honor his memory by creating curricula to share with schools across the state and by raising money for “Spirit of Drew” scholarships to those representing a desire for unity, inclusion and love. “We are doing everything we can to honor Drew,” says Brandon Wolf, vice president of the organization and a friend of Leinonen’s. “This is only the beginning.” The launch party will take place at the Abbey in Orlando from 6 p.m. to midnight Sunday.
At 2:02 a.m., exactly a year after the shooting began, a private vigil will be held inside of Pulse. Club owner Barbara Poma says this event will be primarily for families of the loved ones and survivors of the attack. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs will be in attendance alongside select community leaders, but members of the public, including the media, will not be in attendance for this event. Sara Brady, a spokeswoman for Poma, says this event will be among the most personally important to those closest to the shooting. The names of each of the victims will be read aloud, and those invited to the event will be allowed to stay until around 3:30 a.m.
A mural that may soon be traveling the country will be officially unveiled near the Pulse nightclub Monday. Pennsylvania-based muralist Michael Pilato and artist Yuriy Karabash have been working with Pulse survivor Christopher Hansen and other artists on a work that will celebrate the lives of both those lost and those who continue to fight for the community. The Inspiration Orlando mural includes pictures of victims, and Pilato says he worked closely with families to make sure the lost are represented as loved ones want them remembered. “Sometimes we have them smiling, but a family will want them to look more serious,” he says. “We will paint an image 20 times until the family feels we have it right.” Pilato feels a certain kinship to the parents, as his daughter Skye died of an asthma attack at 19; he says her memory was a big part of why he took the trek to Orlando to create this work of art. Hansen, who also is depicted in the mural, says the work provided tremendous healing and catharsis for him. “With stories of heartbreak and disaster and trauma, this shows we are going to get through this and turn tragedy into triumph,” he says. Hansen would like to travel the world with the mobile mural and share the experience. The art will also have an augmented reality components, where digital storytelling will supplement parts of the story.
A section of the famous Sea-to-Sea Rainbow Flag, originally draped on the Orange County Administration Building five days after the attack, will make its return to the iconic Orlando structure Monday. Jacobs requested the flag, which she referred to as a “sacred cloth,” to fly again in tribute to the shooting victims and in support of freedom lovers worldwide.
The 49 Bells project has called on churches around the world to chime their bells 49 times at noon Monday in honor of the victims killed in the attack. Several Orlando area churches will be among those sounding at noon, including the Reformation Lutheran Church, located just blocks from Pulse. The families of several victims have been involved in the effort. “As parents, we don’t want our children to be forgotten, and most importantly, we would love the support of spreading love, not hate, as a message for humankind,” says Mayra Alvear, whose daughter Amanda died in the attack.
The Orange County Regional History Center will present an expanded exhibition of images and items collected at the de facto memorial site set up at Pulse or sent to the city of Orlando. Curated pieces from the One Orlando Collection include community artwork and signs of international support. A digital collection of the many makeshift memorials and tributes to victims can be viewed now at the history’s center’s website. The gallery will display the physical artifacts for a week, with the collection viewable through June 17. Admission to the history center will be free. The center is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
Pulse Nightclub Reflections and Remembrances
A second vigil will be held at the site of Pulse at midday, this one with broader admission, though media access to the event will be limited. Between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday, community speakers return for a reading of names of the 49 killed and the display of 49 wreaths at the site. Violectric will provide music. The Angel Force, a group of Orlando residents who have regularly attended events in white robes with tall, flowing cloth wings, will also be present; the group originally came together as a way to create a barrier between homophobic protesters and funeral attendees after Westboro Baptist Church threatened to protest funerals after the attack. Organizers from Hang a Heart, which handed out stitched hearts after the attack, and Stars of Hope, a disaster response effort to heal communities through art, will also be present at this event.
Orlando Love: Remembering Our Angels
Elected leaders including Dyer, Jacobs, Sheehan, and others will take part in a one-year remembrance ceremony at the Lake Eola Park Amphitheater, which has been repainted since the attack in the colors of the rainbow flag. Musicians Olga Tanón and Sisaundra Lewis will perform at the event, and the names of the 49 fallen will be read aloud. “I hate the distinction of this being the largest mass shooting,” Sheehan says, “but also, the city came together in a way that showed us as resilient, strong, and amazing. Leaders of the church came and condemned the shooting. Never as an LGBT elected official did I expect to see that. It’s wonderful to see how we have come together in spite of this horrible tragedy.”
Pulse Candlelight: Moments of Hope and Healing
Community members are invited back to Pulse for a final on-site vigil at 10 p.m. Monday for prayers, live music, inspirational dance, and reflection. “It’s a day intended for reflection and to remember these families and survivors who were taken,” Brady says. “The entire city will be really focused on this one-year mark.” This event marks the last of three similar events at Pulse itself, and the last event officially sanctioned by the city and county governments.
One thing not happening Monday? Any fundraising for Poma’s new effort, the onePulse Foundation. That’s intentional, with Orlando United Day focused on tragedy, not exploitation. “It’s a day to try and heal,” says Brady. But the foundation will continue its work to turn Pulse into a permanent museum and a shrine to the 49 killed, 68 injured, and countless other impacted by the tragedy there last June. The foundation formally launched May 4 with a press conference in front of the club. Poma will serve as the foundation’s CEO and executive director. “I remain awestruck by how many people have stepped up and committed their hearts to this project,” Poma said at the event. “I am profoundly grateful to the members of the new board of trustees who have joined me to guide the future of this project.” That board includes local business leaders like attorney Earl Crittenden and Walt DisneyWorld president George Kalogridis, but also national figures like singer-actor Lance Bass and retired NBA star Jason Collins. Poma has already consulted with foundation teams behind similar memorials in Oklahoma City and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York. In addition to opening the memorial in 2020, the foundation plans to issue grants and scholarships in the names of the 49 killed in the attack.
Jacob Ogles – The Advocate