ORLANDO, Fla. — The Central Florida community and others from around the nation are paying tribute to the 49 people killed three years ago at Orlando's Pulse nightclub.

For the first time, there wasn't a private ceremony, but instead a public remembrance at the Pulse interim memorial on Wednesday night.

Three years since the attack at Pulse nightclub, people still return to the site at 2 a.m. to pay tribute to the lives lost in the terror attack.

"I was just driving in my car the other night, and it has been a really long year, and then I realized, 'Oh my God, it has been three years. I can't believe it's three years,'" Pulse owner Barbara Poma said.

Orange County Sheriff John Mina, who was the chief of police in Orlando three years ago, told Spectrum News, “Orlando and Orange County showed we respond with love, not hate. We remain united, and also I think it is important to say the men and women of law enforcement are here to protect this community and risk their own lives like they did that night”

The schedule included reflections from community leaders and local spiritual leaders, as well as songs and programming to honor the victims, survivors, and first responders.

During the ceremony, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said the attack was the darkest day in Orlando’s history, but the community continues to show to this day they are "Orlando United."

Dyer and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings read a joint proclamation declaring June 12 a day of love and kindness.

"I think we talk about it, this third year as being kind of a transition year for people," Poma said. "Some of them are hesitant, want to be left alone, (and) they may not come. They're not sure what they want to do, which seems like a really emotional turning point."

Advent Health leaders said it’s also important to continue to serve the survivors, first responders, and others who continue to live with the invisible wounds.

Before working for the onePulse Foundation, Nikole Parker felt at home inside Pulse.

"For me, Pulse was my safe place, a place I frequented so much, and just that day, I'll never forget when your safe place is taken from you. It's a feeling you can't really describe. It's like a place that's still there, but you can't go anymore. And I'll never forget the amount of immense sadness that I felt," said Parker, now the onePulse Foundation event and community outreach coordinator.

Through that sadness, though, there has been determination to honor those lost and instill more change in replacing a temporary memorial with a permanent one.

Permanent Pulse memorial

By the end of October, Poma hopes to announce the design chosen for a National Pulse Memorial and Museum.

onePulse Foundation has selected six firms who are now working on designs for a memorial. The permanent memorial will include the nightclub site, as well as a museum blocks away, and a survivor’s walk that will represent the three blocks survivors went from the nightclub to the nearby Orlando Regional Medical Center the night of the shooting.

"We want them to have a place that they can come and pay their respects and bear witness to what happened, but they also want a place to leave with how Orlando responded," Poma said.

Poma says the design teams were directed to focus on themes the public expressed it wanted to be prevalent in the memorial during surveys collected.

“And those six words were really important, and they were love, hope, unity, courage, strength and acceptance,” said Poma.

The museum, by the way, would be located off-property, a two-minute drive to the corner of Division Avenue and Kaley Street.

Poma says she and the group hope to have both the permanent memorial and museum opened in three years, in time for the sixth anniversary of the shooting.

OneBlood has their big red bus set up outside of the Pulse memorial site. They will be there until 11 p.m. for people to donate.

Live Tributes