Sept. 11, Oklahoma City experts shed light into future Pulse memorial process

Journalist Indira Lakshmanan moderated first community town hall

ORLANDO, Fla. – The future Pulse memorial and the eventual Las Vegas shooting memorial will have something previous tragedies have not: expertise from people who have been there, planning international remembrance sites.

The OnePULSE Foundation hosted the first Pulse memorial town hall Monday.

The  auditorium at the Orlando Repertory Theater slowly filled up as the event began at 6 p.m. onePULSE officials said the event open to the public "sold out" before the end of last week.

No two tragedies are alike, but the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas was brought up throughout the first round of discussions Monday, which began the public process of planning for a permanent Pulse shooting memorial.

The foundation selected a handful of experts who have designed, curated and involved their communities to form memorials for Sept. 11 and the Oklahoma City bombing to be a part of the panel that met Monday in the first town hall that will lead to a permanent memorial site for the 49 killed on June 12, 2016. 

Boston Globe journalist and political columnist Indira Lakshmanan moderated the panel.

“Orlando had nine years from Virginia Tech to become the worst mass shooting,” Orange County History Center curator Pam Schwartz said.

Las Vegas had 16 months to become the site of the nation's worst mass shooting.

Oklahoma City began planning its museum and memorial one month later. The site was complete by the fifth anniversary, Executive Director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum Kari Watkins said.

More than 10 million people have paid tribute since the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum opened in 2014. 

“Everyone has a right to memorialize the way they want to,” Indiana University history professor Ed Linenthal said. "Orlando will be living with this for a long time."

No matter what form the Pulse memorial ultimately takes, it's purpose will carry a heavy burden not only for Central Florida, but internationally.

“The goal is not to become an expert at memorializing stuff, it’s to prevent it from happening,” Linenthal said.

Dr. Jan Ramirez, one of the curators of the Sept. 11 memorial, said even after completion the sites will evolve as more people come forward with artifacts. As people visit the memorial sites, many more stories come out.

“These kinds of human artifacts place real people at the event,” Ramirez said. “This is about us. This happened to us.”

Ramirez said one widow waited 11 years to donate her husband’s favorite Western saddle to the Sept. 11 collection.

Schwartz said the thousands of items collected from the Pulse nightclub and after the shooting are supportive artifacts, including a cooler filled with water left at the site by Orlando police for visitors, then repeatedly filled with water by a nearby church.

“One day the cooler was just filled with signatures,” Schwartz said.

There is also the bathroom sink that survivors used to climb out of the building on.

Those items are proof that “this event truly happened to people,” Schwartz said.

The issue of including all groups -- families, survivors, first responders and the greater community affected -- has been a common priority all the memorial planners.

For New York City, it also became about including the victims after Sept. 11 -- people sick or who died because of the toxic materials they were exposed to, said Anthony Gardner, senior vice president of government and community affairs at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

More than 20 NYPD officers died on Sept. 11; now that number is more than six times that amount.

Gardner’s brother, Harvey, died during the terrorist attack. His remains were those that make up 40 percent of the victims’ never recovered. The memorial also acts as a burial site, he said.

In Orlando, inclusion means something different. Pulse owner and onePULSE Foundation founder Barbara Poma said she wants to hear from all people affected from the tragedy.

A public survey at onepulsefoundation.org will remain open until Oct. 31 to allow people to weigh in on the design and feel of the memorial. 

“Design does not begin until the survey is complete,” Poma said. After the survey closes multiple designs will be voted on internationally.

Questions were asked of the panel Monday night from attendees and online. A few minutes before the end of the first town hall meeting, Schwartz answered a question from Facebook about how to best be involved in the process.

“Come and help us connect with you,” she said. “We don’t know what we don’t know. Please come to us. Help us connect with you.”

All of the panelist said that the Pulse memorial process would not be easy, but it will serve a greater purpose through education, just as Oklahoma City and Sept. 11 memorials have been a place for younger generations to learn from.

“We have to figure out how to use history and science to tell these stories,” Watkins said.

On Monday, the Orlando City Council granted a temporary permit request to add a new fence and some more upgrades to the area around the Pulse nightclub.

The next town hall will likely happen in early 2018.

About the Author: