WHAT HAPPENED? (1)
I cannot believe it has been 4 years since the Pulse Nightclub Shooting. I remember hearing about it so clearly, unable to pull myself away from my phone as more horrifying, heartbreaking updates kept coming through. Nearly a year after gay marriage was legalized in the U.S., nearly 50 people were killed for being who they were. It is one of the most horrible events I can think of in my lifetime.
On June 12, 29-year-old Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53 others in a mass shooting inside of an Orlando nightclub. Police officers shot and killed him after a 3-hour standoff.
The nightclub was hosting a Latin Night, and as such, most of the victims were Hispanic. It is the deadliest incident in history against LGBT people in the United States, and the deadliest terrorist attack since the September 11 attacks. Until being horrifically bypassed by the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, it was the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history.
THE KILLER (1)
The perpetrator was 29-year-old Omar Mateen, born in New Hyde Park, New York. He was raised Muslim, and at the time, lived 117 miles away from the nightclub.
He trained to be a prison guard from 2006-2007, but was terminated upon joking about bringing a gun to school. He tried to become involved in law enforcement but repeatedly failed, failing to become a state trooper in 2011 and failing to get into the police academy in 2015.
He worked as a security guard for G4S Secure Solutions since 2007 and raised no red flags. He had a firearms license, passed a psychological test and had no criminal record. After the shooting, the psychologist who supposedly evaluated him for his firearms license said she had never met him and didn't even work in Florida at the time. This clerical error got G4S a fine for problematic psychological testing.
Mateen married in 2009, but she left him a few months later, the divorce finalized in 2011. She said that he was mentally unstable and ill, disturbed and traumatized, and he was physically abusive during their short marriage. She also said he used a lot of steroids. Before the shooting, he married again and the couple had a young son together.
In the hours leading up to the shooting, while the club-goers were getting dressed and ready for a night out, Mateen was writing Facebook posts vowing vengeance for American airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, and searching content related to terrorism. During the shooting, he made a call claiming it was an act of retaliation for the airstrike.
Another element to the attacks was Mateen's homophobia. An unnamed police academy classmate claimed Mateen had asked him out in 2006 and the 2 had spent time at gay bars together, so he believed he was gay. He was also awkward and generally disliked. Another alleged former male lover claimed that the massacre may have been out of retaliation against Latino men when Mateen learned that a Puerto Rican partner may have exposed him to HIV. However, an autopsy showed that he did not have HIV. Witnesses also said Mateen had been seen at the club nearly a dozen times, where sometimes he would be loud and obnoxious and other times he would quietly drink alone. He used Jack'd, Grindr, and Adam4Adam to connect with gay men.
However, law enforcement officials believe he was not gay, and they had not found any photos, texts, apps, or cell tower location data to support any of the witness statements above, or to prove that he was gay.
He also really didn't like gay people. Mateen's father recounted that his son would get angry at men kissing in public. His father claimed he did not believe he was gay, though his ex-wife said that his father called him gay before. During his wife's 2018 trial, it was brought to light that Mateen had googled "downtown Orland nightclubs" once he was already in the area, speculating that he may not have originally chosen to attack a gay nightclub, he just ended up there.
THE SHOOTING (1)
It was Latin Night at Pulse, and nearly 320 people were inside. While the club patrons were drinking, celebrating and having a good time, Mateen was in a rental van outside. He got out, armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol, wearing a plaid dress shirt and cargo pants.
He entered the club at about 2:02 AM on June 12, 2016, and began shooting.
Officer Adam Gruler, an uninformed, off-duty officer working as a security guard, realized that his weapon would be no match to Mateen's, and he called for backup. Gruler shot at him, but in response, he began shooting more patrons, firing into bodies on the floor without checking if they were alive or dead.
Additional police arrived, but he continued to shoot. In less than 5 minutes, he had shot 200 rounds.
During the shooting, patrons sent text messages to friends and relatives. A recently discharged Marine working as a bouncer realized the gunshots were in fact gunshots before others did, and helped approximately 70 people escape the carnage. The scene was chaotic, with the loud music and darkness. People hid, people tried to help other people. Patrons hiding in the bathroom were shot at through the door, 2 killed. Some survivors heard Mateen say he had bombs stationed around the club, and they texted emergency services that there could be explosives.
100 officers were on the scene over the next 45 minutes. At 2:22 AM, 20 minutes into the attack, Mateen called 911 and referred to the Boston Marathon Bombers as his homeboys. He also spoke about people who had died in suicide bombings. He called 911 2 more times during the shooting.
The SWAT team arrived, but they did not advance on the building because he had stopped shooting. One rescuer entered the building, asking the immense amount of people lying on the dance floor to raise their hands of they were alive so they could be taken out. Most of the injured had been extracted by 2:35, except for the hostages with Mateen in the bathroom, and the people hiding in other rooms.
At 2:30 AM, Mateen's wife, texted asking where he was, but he responded asking if she'd seen the news and told her he loved her. She did not know what was happening until 4:00 AM when police told her to come out with her hands up.
At 2:45 AM, Mateen called a news station and identified himself as the shooter, speaking rapidly in Arabic and claiming the shooting was triggered by a US-bomb strike. During calls with police, he claimed to have a bomb strapped on his body and a bomb in his vehicle.
At 4:21 AM, 8 hostages were able to escape out of a hole from a removed air conditioning unit that police had removed. When Mateen claimed to have explosive vests that he would put on 4 hostages, the officers decided to end their negotiations and go in. Mateen had not fired any shots since he stopped exchanging gunfire with police and 5:02 AM, when they began to go inside. Just before they entered, Mateen killed a man who sacrificed himself to save the woman behind him.
At 5:07 AM, SWAT officers breached the building by driving through a wall in the bathroom. They distracted him with flashbangs and shot at him. He was shot 8 times and killed at 5:17 AM.
Including Mateen, 50 people died in the attack and 58 others were injured, 53 by gunshots. Many suffered critical injuries and underwent live-saving surgeries. 38 of the victims were pronounced dead on the scene, while 11 others died in hospitals. 90% of the victims were of Hispanic background. The names, and just the tiniest glimpse into the people who they were, below.
THE VICTIMS (2)
Stanley Almodvar III, 23; You would know when Stanley entered a room. He can turn [my] mood by a conversation.
Amanda Alvear, 25; Family says she would want love to be spread, family kept close, and to have a good time
Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26; Died with his partner, whom he had just bought a home with. He was a great man who loved God.
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33; Helped to save lives every day at Florida's OneBlood donation center. A proud, compassionate gay man.
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21; He had recently immigrated from Cuba and wanted to love without apology
Martin Benitez Torres, 33; A student remembered for his big smile and constant happiness
Antonio D. Brown, 30; A captain in the Army Reserves who was a joy to be around
Darryl R. Burt II, 29; He was known for his colorful bowties and his affinity for making a positive impact on people.
Jonathan A Camuy Vega, 24; A member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists
Angel L Candelario-Padro, 29; A humble, respectful and studious Zumba instructor
Simon A Carrillo Fernandez, 31; Died with his partner, with whom he'd just bought a house. He loved to dance and travel.
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25; Kind and loving, cheerful, nobody else like him.
Luis D Conde, 39; Killed along with his partner with whom he owned a salon and spa, an exceptional person
Cory J Connell, 21; He was a good guy who loved everybody
Tevin E Crosby, 25; Ambitious, a hard worker, and a spreader of laughter and joy
Franky J Fejesus Velazquez, 50; A professional Jibaro folk dancer, and in the heart of his sister who loves him
Deonka D. Drayton, 32; Worked at the nightclub
Mercedez M. Flores, 26; A literature student who had many dreams for her life
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22; He was a happy person, and if he wasn't at
the party, no one wanted to go.
Juan R. Guerrero, 22; He was always this amazing person, who had just recently come out as gay.
Paul T. Henry, 41; A free spirit who loved to dance. He had an infectious personality and 2 children, 1 who recently graduated high school
Frank Hernandez, 27; His sister, who loved her big brother, made the 12-hour drive to ORlando as soon as she heard about the shooting
Miguel A. Honorato, 30; He was married with 3 children
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40; An outgoing salesman who was humble and always positive
Jason B. Josaphat, 19; He was willing to help anyone in need, and was just starting to chart his path in life
Eddie J. Justice, 30; He texted his mom "mommy I love you" before he was killed.
Anthony L. Laureano Disla, 25; A beloved drag performer who was a beautiful person inside and out
Christopher A. Leinonen, 32; He worked to get rid of hatred and violence in the world
Brenda L. Marquez McCool, 49; A mother of 11, a cancer survivor, an advocate for LGBT family members, and "like the mom of Pulse". She died protecting her son, who survived.
Jean C. Mendez Perez, 35; A man full of joy who loved his family and friends above anything else
Akyra Monet Murray, 18; The youngest victim, a self-determined young woman, who was on vaction to Orlando
Kimberly Morris, 37; A bouncer who had just moved to Orlando to help her mom and grandmother.
Jean C. Nieves Rodriguez, 27; A big teddy bear and someone his friends and family could always count on
Luis O. Ocasio-Capo, 20; A passionate dancer who would always help out a friend in need.
Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25; An actor, dancer and proud Domincan studying law
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36; He was very artistic, and a goofball.
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32; A cheerful, religious man who loved to dance
Enrique L. Rios Jr., 25; A good, caring person who would have made the world a better place
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37; Killed along with his partner with whom he owned a salon and spa, an extrordinary human being
Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24; Had a husband and 2 young sons. Her smile lit up a room and her smile was infectious
Christopher J. Sanfeliz, 24; The most positive guy, the light of his family
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35; A professional dancer who helped others feel more comfortable being gay. He left behind a young son.
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25; A healthcare management student who had gone to the club that night with his best friend
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34; A lovely, kind guy who touched everyone who had the pleasure of meeting him.
Shane E. Tomlinson, 33; A lead singer in a cover band who was vibrant and charismatic
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25; Loved to sing and dance, filling everywhere he went with music
Luis S. Vielma, 22; He made people feel better by just existing around them.
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37; Died with his partner at the club, known for being full of life and his inspirational strength
Jerald A. Wright, 31; A great guy to work with who always had a smile on his face
The descriptions are from family and friend quotes. Please see reference number 2 in the references section for the full article about the victims.
The shooting marked Facebook's first run at its new feature, the Safety Check, where people could mark themselves as safe from different types of disasters.
The shooting prompted many places of mass gathering including businesses, malls, theaters, bars and concert halls to reexamine safety procedures, and increased security was offered at LGBT landmarks and events.
Immediately after the shooting, hundreds of people lined up to donate blood, which spotlighted the FDA's federal policy that disallows gay men from donating blood. Orlando Family Assistance Center was opened on June 15, which provided support to 956 people from 298. The city of Orlando offered free plots and funeral services to those who were killed in the shooting.
Equality Florida raised $767,000 in just 9 hours and have raised $7.85 billion, GoFundMe's record, with over 119,400 donors and an average donation of $66.
OneOrlando was established by the Mayor, and the Walt Disney Company and NBCUniversal donated $1 million each to the fund, which has raised $23 million since. Payouts from the donations would go to the families of the 49 killed, and then to the 50 victims who were hospitalized for 1 night or more.
On September 14, 2016, the City of Orlando pledged to pay $4,500 to make a fence around the Pulse Nightclub with a commemorative swap that would serve as a memorial to the victims. The City also announced plans to purchase the nightclub for $2.25 million with plans to turn it into a memorial, but the owner ultimately declined due to emotional attachment. The owner created the onePULSE Foundation and announced plans for a memorial site and museum slated for 2022.
Mateen's second wife, Noor Salman, was arrested for aiding and abetting and obstruction of justice. She was accused of knowing about the attack. Her trial took place in Marcy of 2018, but was acquitted on both charges. Her involvement is unclear, but a survivor of the shooting called her acquittal "devastating".
The outpouring of love and support after the attack was not just financial, and not just in Orlando. Florida governor Rick Scott ordered 49 state flags to be flown for 49 days with the name, age and photo of every victim beneath each flag. Obama called the attacks an act of hate and terror, and issued a proclamation to fly flags at half-staff. He and Joe Biden traveled to Orlando to visit the victims' families.
American Muslims condemned the shootings and offered their condolences and support to the victims. Many donated blood and contributed funds towards support reliefs.
People all over the internet, election candidates, politicians, foreign leaders, and celebrities shared their shock from the events, and vigils were held all around the world to mourn those who were lost.
I remember hearing about this shooting as clear as day. I remember the horrific stories coming out of people dying protecting loved ones, partners being shot together, children texting their parents that they loved them and were going to die. But I also remember the absolute outpouring of love and support. Millions of dollars in donations, lines wrapping around buildings to donate blood, kind words and support within LGBT+ communities. In one of the most horrifying things that has happened in our country, there was a sliver of a silver lining watching the world come together to support our LGBT+ friends and family and strangers from across the world.
We are in the midst of pride month which looks a little bit different due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the virtual outpouring of love, support, and pride are still widely felt, and the victims of this senseless act of hate and violence will never be forgotten.