Monday, December 12, 2016

Six months ago, the massacre at Pulse changed Orlando forever

Posted By on Mon, Dec 12, 2016 at 9:59 AM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOEY ROULETTE
  • Photo by Joey Roulette
Six months ago, Orlando experienced one of its darkest days in history when a gunman took the lives of 49 people and injured 53 at the gay nightclub Pulse on June 12.

But despite the magnitude of the massacre and the unbelievable pain, the community stepped up to the plate time after time— either by standing in line at a blood bank, holding a candle at a vigil or giving the City Beautiful a rainbow paint job.

A lot has happened since that day last summer regarding the investigation, the physical site and the survivors still trying see a better day. Here's what we know so far.

THE INVESTIGATION:

The City of Orlando has slowly released audio and transcripts of calls made on June 12 to the city's dispatch center after being sued by several media organizations. The latest batch of 911 calls revealed the distress felt by victims trapped in Pulse as they waited for help from law enforcement officials.

The FBI have kept quiet on the case since they released a transcript of Omar Mateen's conversation with a negotiator. Last month, Mateen's wife, Noor Salman, told the New York Times she had no involvement or knowledge of her husband's plans and described him as "someone who angered easily, beat her often, and lived his life in secret."

In a separate incident this September, St. Lucie County Sheriff's deputies arrested and charged a man with arson after officials say he allegedly set fire to the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, which was attended by Mateen.

THE SURVIVORS AND FAMILIES:

Survivors of the massacre and families of the 49 victims have all dealt with the tragedy in different ways. Some people felt comfortable talking about what happened that day immediately, while there are reports of others who stayed home for months. The last hospitalized survivor of the mass shooting was discharged from the Orlando Regional Medical Center in September. Both ORMC and Florida Hospital announced they wouldn't bill victims for hospital stays and follow-up medical treatment.

In the immediate aftermath, Pulse survivors and families needed financial help from government officials, which was delayed because the FBI did not immediately share contact information it had collected with local agencies.

The OneOrlando Fund finally began distributing funds toward the end of the year, and by December, the fund announced it had distributed $27.4 million to the survivors and families. Each of the families of the 49 victims get $350,000 from the OneOrlando Fund. The 37 survivors who were hospitalized after the shooting received anywhere from $65,000 to $300,000 depending on how many nights they spent at the hospital. OneOrlando plans to disburse $29.5 million among 305 claims.

Some family members and survivors were joined by local officials to speak out in favor of gun control measures and worked to establish the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence in Orlando. Christine Leinonen, who lost her only son Christopher "Drew" Leinonen, called for "common-sense gun policies" to a somber crowd at the Democratic National Convention and campaigned for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

As the national media covered Pulse, most acknowledged the massacre had taken place in a gay nightclub on Latin night, but few recognized Pulse was a safe space for queer and trans people of color to be themselves. Although the 49 victims of the mass shooting were from different races and sexual identities, they were overwhelmingly composed of queer Latinxs. (Pronounced "la-teen-ex," Latinx is an all-inclusive, gender-neutral alternative to the more restrictive terms Latino or Latina.) Nearly half of them were Puerto Rican, but there were also Mexicans, Dominicans, Cubans and some undocumented people. QLatinx, a grass-roots community organization, arose after the tragedy to focus on helping people who live at the intersection of both the LGBTQ community and the Latinx community.

Pulse survivors were featured on several magazine covers, including the gay magazine OUT, the national LGBTQ magazine The Advocate and even our own cover at Orlando Weekly. They also made appearances on MTV's True Life, Viceland's Gaycation and musician John Legend's music video.

THE PULSE SITE:

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Orlando Police Department turned over the gay nightclub back to its owners in July. Immediately after, there were several break-ins on the property.

Nearby businesses on Orange Avenue, such as Dunkin' Donuts and Einstein Bros. Bagels, struggled to adjust to the new normal that comes with being neighbors to the site of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. Since law enforcement officials reopened the area, hundreds of people and elected leaders have stopped to pay their respects at the fence surrounding the site of the massacre, which has created parking issues and loss of trade for some.

After negotiations with Pulse owner Barbara Poma, the city of Orlando announced it had reached a deal to buy the club for $2.25 million and turn it into a memorial. The agreement fell through after some city leaders complained the price was about $500,000 above the property's appraised value. Poma decided not to sell the club and is thinking about creating a memorial in the sacred space. Recently, she also announced she wanted to open the Pulse club in a new location.

THE TRIBUTES:

In the immediate aftermath, hundreds made art dedicated to the victims of the massacre and have continued to do so in the past six months. Paint Strong Orlando, organized by local art supply store Sam Flax, debuted in September about 260 distinctive pieces from artists of varying skills that evoke the City Beautiful's resiliency on its worst day. Numerous artists dedicated musical tributes to Pulse, such as Sia, Tegan and Sara, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jennifer Lopez, and Broadway stars. Comic creators at DC Comics and IDW Publishing teamed up to publish the 144-page comic book called Love Is Love to benefit the victims. Orlando City Stadium installs Pulse tribute seats and the city of Orlando painted the Lake Eola bandshell in rainbow colors. Several murals have gone up across the city, including one at the Pulse site, and more are in the process.


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