49 Pulse victims honored at remembrance ceremony
ORLANDO, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - Roughly a thousand people turned out for a ceremony on the two-year remembrance of the Pulse Nightclub tragedy in Orlando.
An event honoring the 49 victims of the June 12, 2016 mass shooting was hosted by onePulse Foundation and held at the Pulse Interim Memorial site on Orange Avenue.
"I can't believe it's been two years," said Pulse owner Barbara Poma. "It's never going to go away," Poma said. "It's not something we're going to get over. It's something that will live with us forever."
That tragic day that took so many lives. Nicole Mattos misses her friend Luis Vielma,
"Two years later I'm finally to accept that he's in a better place now," Mattos added. "It's just really important to get some inner peace."
Now known as Orlando United Day, it has become a day of support from the community for those directly impacted by the attack, and for many it marks a day to spread love through acts of kindness.
“Pulse was a violent act carried out by a single individual, but the response to that act of evil and act of hate has been made up by thousands and thousands and thousands — maybe even millions — of individuals deciding to show what the opposite of evil looks like, and it looks like love,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.
But even Mayor Dyer admitted it was an especially emotional day, as the community still grapples with the deaths of four children, killed by their captor in a hostage situation that ended violently on Monday night.
"Today was equally, or probably more difficult, because of the four children that lost their lives the night before and our police officer that lays in critical condition at Orlando Health."
As those in the crowd embraced, they echoed the sentiment from many of the speakers that love conquers hate. Jeannette Lopez said she misses her friend Shane Tomlinson.
"Just to remember him and everybody else that we lost. Love is love," she said.
"It's amazing how much this city has come together," said NSYNC alum Lance Bass, who has shown his support, joining the board of the onePulse Foundation. "This literally hit home for me. I lived in Orlando for many years. It's where I discovered I was a gay teen, so it really hit hard."
Private morning ceremony held for families of victims
Earlier in the day "angels" lined the sidewalk surrounding Pulse, with their wings to provide privacy for survivors of the Pulse massacre and families of victims during a private remembrance ceremony.
“I'm here on behalf of my family for us to remember my cousin Luis Daniel Wilson Leon,” said Laly Santiago Leon, who lost her cousin in the attack. “When he first came here, one of the first places I brought him for the first time was Pulse,” said Santiago Leon.
She said it’s still hard for her to believe that the place Danny was happiest is now a place of sadness for their family.
“I will not lie today is a lot harder than I thought it would be.”
It was a sentiment several victims' families expressed throughout the morning. Santiago Leon left two permanent hearts etched in concrete out front during one of her visits to Pulse. She said she visits every month to reflect, but today was particularly hard for her.
“Just because there's the memories of the actual day and all the things that happened, and I was one of the ones present looking for him. For me, just a lot of reliving those memories of the weight and the desperation not knowing.”
She finds it’s a feeling that she shares with other victim’s family members.
“It's a mix of emotions. No lie, it's a little-by-little step, but it's also... there's a sense of healing, because there's so many of us there's this community. We're helping support one another,” said Santiago Leon.
That community and a promise she made are what keeps her coming back to the Pulse site.
“We can't let any of our angels and what happened here be “forgotten. I made a promise I will not let Danny be forgotten I will not let him be just a name etched in stone. His memories will live on and his legacy will as well,” said Santiago Leon.
Poma said she hopes to have a permanent memorial built in two years. She said the public will play a big part in the design.