ORLANDO, Fla. — With flying colors, love won the day.
What You Need To Know
- Central Florida community honored, reflected on five years since the Pulse terror attack in Orlando
- Speakers emphasized love, strength, unity, understanding and the spirit of "49 angels" killed by gunman
- A short distance away, crowds gathered in front of the Dr. Phillips Center to watch it on a big screen
- The events capped Five-Year Pulse Remembrance Week, which honored victims of June 12, 2016
That word emerged as the prevailing spirit of the Five-Year Pulse Remembrance Ceremony on Saturday night.
“We come together as a symbol of strength and solidarity in the face of tragedy, forever proving that we will not let hate win and that we will out-love hate,” said Earl Crittenden, chairman of the board of trustees at the onePulse Foundation.
So it went Saturday night as survivors, families, first responders, government officials and onePulse leaders reflected on that night five years ago when a 29-year-old gunman who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State killed 49 people and injured dozens at the Pulse nightclub near downtown Orlando.
They did so from the site of the massacre in a private, invitation-only ceremony that pulsated with hearts, colors, photos and tributes to the 49 victims. Speakers emphasized — in addition to love — strength, unity, understanding and the spirit of the 49 who they call angels.
About two miles away, hundreds of people watched the ceremony on three big screens outside the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, which livestreamed the event for free as part of its Frontyard Festival series.
Speakers also emphasized rainbows, and as singer Jabari Clay opened the ceremony with "This is Me," a rainbow emerged from the clouds in view of Pulse spectators, prompting hugs and applause.
"For some, Pulse was their family," said Barbara Poma, CEO of the onePulse Foundation. "Pulse stands as a testament to the strong spirit and resilience of this Orlando community."
The event capped Five-Year Pulse Remembrance Week, eight days of community-focused activities that honored victims of June 12, 2016, the day of the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001.
The week of remembrance saw the U.S. Senate pass a bill to make the Pulse nightclub a national memorial, joining the House of Representatives’ passage last month and sending the legislation to the White House for President Joe Biden’s signature.
Through a Pulse memorial and museum, the onePulse Foundation aims to "do right by the people killed and all of those affected by the attack at Pulse, to bring light to their darkness, to create a legacy of love," Poma said.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings called the memorial and museum "part of the commitment that we made as a community, that we would never forget those 49 angels and survivors."
Crittenden, onePulse's board chairman, hailed a "mission to create a memorial that opens hearts, a museum that opens minds, education programs that open eyes and legacy scholarships that open doors."
He mentioned a second round of 49 scholarships that the foundation awarded based on "angels' interests, careers or aspirations."
He said the "49 angels sought the joy, love and acceptance of Pulse nightclub."
"Instead, they found hatred, and they never came home," Crittenden said. "They were straight, gay, Latin, black and white. They were mothers, they were brothers, fathers, sisters, daughters and sons taken forever."
He added: "In the aftermath of the one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern American history ... our community and the world came together to prove that love will overcome fear and hatred."
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer noted that the Pulse massacre "disproportionately impacted" LGBTQ+, Latinx, black and brown communities.
"And these are the same communities that are now getting targeted by dangerous … rhetoric and hateful polices — I hate to say it but especially in our state," Dyer said, " … and I want you to know that the city of Orlando is committed to continuing the work to ensure that every single person who calls our city home is equally valued, equally protected and has equitable access to opportunities to help them ... thrive in our community."
Saturday’s schedule also included a 49 Bells ceremony at First United Methodist Church of Orlando, whose bell tolled one time for each life taken.
One Orlando Alliance hails the 49 Bells ceremony as part of “Acts of Love and Kindness,” a movement of giving and good deeds.
Laly Santiago-Leon, “sibling cousin” of Pulse nightclub victim Luis Daniel Wilson Leon, said the 49 Bells to her symbolize “49 loved ones, 49 hopes, 49 heroes ... "
"They symbolize brothers, sisters, sons," she said. "They symbolize what has transcended in our community, which is a family."
Remembrance Week activities also included a Rainbow Run, an interfaith evening of reflection, a virtual community conversation, and a night of music and dance.
The week produced multiple stories of heart and hope, including three strangers who helped each other heal from the Pulse attack; eight straight performers who strutted their best drag getups to help raise funds for the onePulse Foundation; and hundreds of faith leaders who called on Florida lawmakers to pass more legal protections for the LGBTQ community.