In June of 2016, Chuck and I were living in Clermont, Florida. Clermont is a suburb on the southwest side of Orlando.
On the morning of June 12th, at 2:02 AM, our world and community would be so much different than the night before.
A Morning of Panic
Like much of the world, we woke up to the horrific news of a massacre at the PULSE nightclub in Orlando.
We use the word massacre – not shooting, not an ‘incident,’ it was a massacre. A gunman, whose name we swore never to speak, hunted down people in the nightclub and murdered them with an assault rifle.
As we reached for our phones to check on our friends, we both saw that we had slept through our phones, blowing up with text messages. Friends across the country who were up and heard the reports coming in reached out to us in a panic. We, in turn, did the same thing and were relieved to hear that our friends were all safe.
49 Names To Be Remembered
That night, and in the days that followed, 49 amazing lives were taken from us. Nearly a hundred others were injured, and all of us had our lives changed in immeasurable ways. Five years later, as we write this, watch videos and look at photos, we are both brought to tears.
A Night of Solidarity and Love
The following night, thousands of people gathered at the Doctor Phillips Performing Arts Center in the middle of Orlando.
Chuck was there with friends of ours. They light candles, left memorials, church bells chimed 49 times, and there was not a dry eye. Every possible emotion came out. We were a united city, a united community, and we were Orlando Strong.
Memorials and remembrances popped up across the globe. Our friend Brad, in San Francisco, sent us a photo of a memorial in his neighborhood. Buildings were bathed in rainbow colors, and tributes to the lives taken spanned the globe. We were all Orlando Strong.
The Night at Lake Eola
Later in the week, a public memorial was held at Lake Eola in the center of Orlando. The estimates of people in attendance range in the tens of thousands. We arrived early and sat in the amphitheater. We cried as prayers were offered and friends of those lost spoke, and a rainbow appeared over the lake.
Following the candle lighting, we made our way around the lake. There were reporters and cameras everywhere. People were handing out flowers, water, and hugs to complete strangers.
There Are Angels Among Us
In the days and weeks that followed, there were funerals and more memorial services. A well-known hate group planned to make an appearance at the funeral of two young men – Juan and Drew.
Several local theater groups joined together to create immense ‘angel wings.’ These wings, worn by angels in white robes, were wide enough to create a barricade to shield the friends and loved ones from the hateful chants of this group.
Hundreds of us gathered to assemble between this group and the church – we sang songs and shared our love for those we lost and their loved ones in mourning.
A Goodnight Kiss
Not everyone knows, but every night at the close of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, long after most of the guests have departed, there is a Goodnight Kiss. Cinderella Castle is illuminated, the park lights are dimmed, ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ is played, and guests are thanked for coming.
But, the night of June 18th, thousands of Cast Members, visitors to Orlando, and locals gathered in the Hub and down Main Street U.S.A. as the lights dimmed. People held flashlights, glow sticks, and lights from their cell phones as the announcements began.
However, at the end of the usual closing, something remarkable happened. No one moved. The usual upbeat closing music began and then stopped abruptly. Everyone stood in silence for what seems a lifetime. People cried and hugged and walked away in silence – mourning for those we lost.
We All Came Together
The tributes and memorials went on and on. People lined up in the Florida heat to give blood, memorials grew at the sight of the Pulse Nightclub, and we continued to remember those 49 names.
Actor and comedian Leslie Jordan came to a local Clermont theater to perform to raise money for the funeral of one of the victims. He could not have been more kind or sincere. He stayed forever taking photos, sighing autographs, and sharing kind words with the friends and families who were also gathered.
Five years later, we remember those lost, the lives taken too soon.