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Wednesday, January 19, 2022
HELPING EACH OTHER GET THROUGH THE HURT —

The organizer of a vigil for the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting, Mitch Foster, 30, embraces Carlos Perez, 26, at Lake Eola Park on Sunday. “I needed to be surrounded by people who I knew were hurting as well, and that cared and that needed help, because I needed help,” Perez said.

ORLANDO — On Sunday, everyone was family.

People of diverse genders, ethnicities and sexual orientations mourned for their families, friends and fellow Orlando residents.

Andrea Miranda, a 21-year-old UF political science senior, stood just feet from the yellow tape that hung between spectators and a horde of local and federal authorities Sunday afternoon.

Miranda, who is living and working in Orlando for the summer, said her friend is a dancer at Pulse, where a gunman opened fire early Sunday morning.

Her friend, Miranda said, was not working when the attack unfolded.

ORLANDO STRONG —

Maria Matigas, a 20-year-old Orlando resident for three years, gives a speech at Lake Eola Park in Orlando following the Pulse shooting on Sunday. “I wasn’t raised in Orlando, but I’ve called Orlando my home for the last three years, and, to me, home means family, and family means taking care of one another, loving one another,” Matigas said. “So, to me, each and every one of you is family.”

“It was a relief to hear from him,” she said. “I’ve known him since high school.”

Her sister, 16-year-old Valeria Miranda, stood under buzzing helicopters and held a sign that read “#OrlandoStrong.”

“People were there to have a good time,” she said. “They weren’t there to do anything wrong, and they got punished for it.”

About two miles away, a crowd gathered at Lake Eola Park to light tealight candles on the water’s edge. Three flags flew at half-mast under the gray sky.

Mitch Foster, the event’s organizer, said authorities, who feared the possibility of another attack, advised him not to hold the vigil.

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Sarah Schumaker, 23, leads a group of mourning Orlando residents and visitors in lighting candles at the vigil held at Lake Eola Park on Sunday.

Despite the warning, about 200 people gathered to share stories and offer support.

“I know a lot of you have lost a lot of people, and we’re scared, and we’re unsure and we don’t feel safe, but we’ll make it because no one can take our home from us,” Foster said.

Carlos Perez opened the vigil with 30 seconds of silence, broken only by the occasional squawking of a goose or the crying of a crowd member.

Perez said the gunman shot his friend, who was in stable condition by 4 p.m.

“I don’t want this to be the end of anything, but the beginning of us staying together as a community and helping one another,” he said.

STANDING IN THE STREETS FOR SOLIDARITY —

Dani Hereboso, 29, holds a paper sign to show her support for the victims of the Orlando shooting at the gay nightclub Pulse, which is a few blocks down from her home. Hereboso said she was able to hear the gunshots from her own home and said that her “heart sank” when she first learned about the attack.

During more than an hour of speeches, Savannah Perry stood amid a semicircle of people and fought tears to deliver a message: Be kind every day.

At first, Perry said, it was hard to imagine someone would kill so many people. She then learned the attacker took her best friend’s life.

Perry said her friend was a sweet, kind-hearted man, and that he would want the community to find strength in the pain.

“Please don’t hold anger in your heart,” she said. “It’s a very, very bad thing what happened . . . but we need to take it in stride. We are a community of love; we are a community that is growing together and is being formed from this.”

Gray Caylor told the crowd they moved to Orlando in October and found a community that helped them become more open about their identity.

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From left: Shatera Woodward,  Akeem Collins and Tacloey Jackson hug in solace on Sunday evening after throwing 50 roses into Lake Eola to pay tribute to the lives lost during the Pulse nightclub shooting. “I was just there last night [Friday], and what if this would have happened while I was there?” Collins said. “I kept saying that over and over again.”

“It hurts, you know, more than anything to see this evil and this wickedness done to the community that has made me feel comfortable in my skin for the first time,” they said.

Caylor said the pain they felt Sunday morning gradually turned into a familiar feeling of strength and acceptance that they came to know during their short time in the city.

Such strength is found in all people, said Claudia Bucaro, a resident of Orlando for 10 years.

Children, Bucaro said, always have a favorite superhero, and, as people grow older, they realize it’s not possible to fly like Superman or crush villains like the Hulk.

Bucaro said she imagined herself as a superhero when the attack unfolded. Though it’s too late to save the dead, the community can harness its strength in the aftermath, she said.

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A crowd gathers at Lake Eola Park in Orlando on Sunday to remember those injured and killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting. Urban Art Orlando, a local artist’s street name, made 50 palm roses for each victim and gave them to people in attendance to throw into the lake.

“You were created to be the hero,” she said. “You have the ability to save the city, and I think, like everybody has shared today, it’s going to be by loving the person that is next to you. If you can change one life, you’re changing the world.”

Tacloey Jackson joined two friends, Akeem Collins and Shatera Woodward, to attend the vigil and throw 50 roses in the water — one for each person who died at the club.

“We don’t want to be remembered for the attacks,” Jackson said. “We only want to be remembered for how we came together as a community.”

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