ORLANDO, Fla. – Orlando marked the first year since 49 people were killed and more than 50 others were wounded at Pulse nightclub Monday with love and kindness during a series of remembrance events on Orlando United Day.
“Orlando is proof that love always wins. Today you are going to hear the word love a lot, and that is our word of the day, love and kindness,” nightclub owner Barbara Poma said.
Thousands of Central Floridians and area visitors flocked to Pulse Sunday and Monday to pay their respects.
The one-year mark of the tragedy will be commemorated throughout the day with four services, the first starting right before the first shots were fired on June 12 in the nightclub.
The service behind the fences at Pulse was private only for survivors, victims' families and local officials. Other services planned throughout the day were open to the public.
Just after 1 a.m., volunteers dressed as angels walked through the parking lot and surrounded the nightclub. Dressed in white angel wings that helped provide provide privacy to mourners Monday, they represented the same people who protected family and friends in the days after the shooting last year and helped them mourn in private in the wake of the initial tragedy.
Soft music played and the angels held candles, their backs facing the club as family gathered behind them.
Poma spoke to the families and friends during the private ceremony.
Pulse mural, it looks absolutely amazing. pic.twitter.com/Ska9H5s5G5— Sachelle Saunders (@SachelleOnAir) June 12, 2017
“We gather here today in the name of love,” Poma said. The club will always be a sacred place to Poma and the families of vicitms, she added.
Family members then each took the stage to read all 49 victims’ names, starting at 2:02 a.m., the moment when the gunfire started last year.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Orlando police Chief John Mina also attended the private event.
Officials estimated more than 1,000 people gathered at Pulse Sunday into Monday morning to pay their respects.
Cheresse Uoung, who worked as a DJ at Pulse the night of the shooting, said the community's response means so much to her.
"It softens my heart, and warms my heart, to know so many people care what happened that night," she said.
Jim McDermott said he doesn’t want people to forget those who survived. His friend Chris Brodman escaped the shooting only to die from a brain aneurysm three months after the June 12 attack.
Help is still needed for those who are hurting, he said.
"We wish we could go back and save the 49, but we can't,” McDermott said. “But we can save the 53 that were injured and we can make sure that they are taken care of.”
"We've realized that it's time to come and see what everybody's come and seen," Evie Dunbar said. She lives just a few minutes down the road from Pulse and said she has probably driven past the nightclub, which is now a makeshift memorial hundreds of times, but had never stopped to see it until Sunday.
"Everybody's really come together," Matt Heavey, of Orlando, said. Heavey also went by Pulse Sunday for the first time since the shooting.
"We kinda embraced differences," he said. "We've embraced diversity that makes this city really gone forward."
49 angels have arrived outside Pulse. Incredible scene. pic.twitter.com/2bzqBoXmwg— Justin Warmoth (@JustinWarmoth) June 12, 2017
A second service was held at the club Monday at 11 a.m. There will also be an evening service in the heart of downtown Orlando at Lake Eola, where the city is expecting up to 50,000 people to attend. The fourth and final service will be held at the nightclub.
"I miss Pulse. I miss everything it stood for, " Poma said during the ceremony of reflection Monday afternoon. "I miss serving our LGBT-plus community in the way only a gay club can. It breaks my heart that your sanctuary was taken from you."
Later, the Orlando Gay Chorus performed Rachel Patten’s “Fight Song” outside Pulse for hundreds of people.
The 27-year-old group stepped up for the LGBTQ community after the June 12 tragedy, performing more than a hundred times in the last year.
The ceremony included statements from Dyer and Jacobs, and first-responders were called to the stage to be recognized for their service in the wake of the tragedy.
The event closed with a live performance of the song "Rise Up."
At noon, during the middle of the ceremony, 49 church bells rang in Orlando and around the world to honor the victims.
Several Pulse victims’ mothers were involved with finding churches to participate in the symbolic bell ringing.
Amanda Alvear’s mother, Mayra Alvear, wrote to the Pope asking for his help.
“We would like to request that Catholic churches all across the nation and even worldwide will ring their bells 49 times to honor those victims that perished on that day,” the letter read.
President Donald Trump tweeted at 12:58 p.m. that, "We will never forget the victims who lost their lives on year ago today in the horrific Pulse nightclub shooting."
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