A year later, victims of Florida club shooting honored at pre-dawn ceremony

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 12, 2017 12:03 AM

By Christopher Boyd

ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) - The names of the 49 people killed in a Florida nightclub last June will be read aloud on Monday in a pre-dawn remembrance marking the exact moment a year earlier when a gunman transformed a dance party into a chilling massacre.

The private reading at Orlando's Pulse nightclub at 2:02 a.m. is the first in a series of events at which victims' names will be memorialized with performances, prayers and candlelight vigils scheduled across the country on "Orlando United Day."

On the first anniversary of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, local officials have asked Americans to join in acts of "love and kindness" to honor victims of the three-hour rampage at the now-shuttered gay club on June 12, 2016, including survivors still reeling from emotional and physical wounds.

"Following the Pulse tragedy, we showed the world that Orlando would not be defined by the act of a hate-filled killer," Mayor Buddy Dyer wrote in a blog post, "but instead defined by our response of love, compassion and unity."

The gunman, Omar Mateen, 29, opened fire shortly after the last call for drinks on the club's popular Latin night. He gunned down patrons on the dance floor and sprayed bullets at others cowering in bathroom stalls.

Holding hostages during his standoff with police, Mateen claimed allegiance to a leader of the Islamic State militant group before dying in an exchange of gunfire with authorities.

His widow, Noor Salman, was arrested in January on federal charges of aiding and abetting Mateen's attempt to provide material support to a terrorist organization, and lying to authorities investigating the massacre. She was not present for the attack and has pleaded not guilty.

Along with the events in Orlando, vigils and rallies were planned across the United States in a show of solidarity with victims of the attack, which authorities called a hateful act against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

On social media, supporters sought to call attention to their legacy with a campaign using the tag #HonorThemWithAction.

The Center, an LGBT advocacy group in Orlando, asked supporters to post photos of their events so survivors and the relatives of victims can see they have not been forgotten.

"A big part of the healing process is to see, 'I am not alone in this,'" said Terry DeCarlo, its executive director.

(Writing by Letitia Stein; Editing by Frank McGurty and Dan Grebler)