Therapy horses provide healing after Pulse massacre

49 slain inside Orlando nightclub

By Louis Bolden - Investigative Reporter, Melodi Smith - Multimedia Journalist

ORLANDO, Fla. - June 12, 2016.

The initial reports of the Pulse nightclub shooting came into Chief Orange County Medical Examiner Joshua Stephany's office around 2 a.m.

"My initial information was multiple fatalities at one spot," Dr. Joshua Stephany told News 6 investigative reporter Louis Bolden.

The initial totality of incident was not initially known and when Stephany arrived to Pulse nightclub with members of the FBI, Orlando Police Department hazmat team, and other first responders the exact number of victims was still unknown.

The information was later revealed that 49 people had lost their lives in Pulse nightclub shooting, now making this the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

Stephany led his team at the Orange County Medical Examiner's Office in recovery, identification, re-unification efforts in the hours and day following the shooting.

The main goal for his team was to reunify families and perform all 49 of the autopsies, as quickly as possible and so they could begin their grieving process.

"Ultimately,  to get those people back with their families," Stephany said.

"We can never make those families whole again, but to speed up the process or more efficiently for families to get with their loved ones as soon as possible," he continued.

The reunification process took time and Stephany knew when he arrived to Pulse nightclub after the shooting, a phone bank needed to be set up for loved ones to call in.

Stephany told investigator Louis Bolden that usually six to eight people will call for one victim that was deceased or injured.

In the case of the Pulse nightclub shooting, Stephany said 20 people called for each person in the nightclub.

In the days after the autopsies were completed Stephany was in touch and spoke to between 25 to 30 families to let them know the autopsy reports would be released.

"I just didn't want them to find out the details of their loved ones from the news before they had a chance to ask their questions," Stephany said.

In the weeks following the shooting, the office continued to field calls for interviews and families and the stress of the event took its toll.

One thing that helped the members in the office cope were their animals. go a visit from an unlikely form of therapy to help them heal.

"Ninety-nine percent of our staff are animal lovers, they have dogs, cats, birds, fish, some type of animal at home. Most of my staff loves animals, so the days and rigors of the incident and constant stress," Stephany said.

Stephany a dog owner himself said his dogs provide him a sense of peace.

“I know when I go home those are my release. My dogs don't care what I do at work all day. They just want to be played with,” he said.

In an effort to brighten morale and give the office a bit of a release the office was visited by miniature horses from Gentle Carousel.

Magic and Sweetheart are two of the 21 American Miniature horses in Gentle Carousel fleet of therapy horses.

The horses have provided comfort to those in times on unimaginable grief and sorrow across the country including Newtown, Connecticut, Moore, Oklahoma, Charleston, South Carolina and now Orlando, Florida. The interaction with people and therapy animals is unique.

A reaction Gentle Carousel founder Jorge Garcia-Bengochea has seen over the past 20 years.

"When you see a little horse come in its enchanting. It makes people feel energized, feel compassion, they feel like they can do things that maybe they couldn't do before. And so we see some pretty amazing responses of people,” Garcia-Bengochea said.

Garcia-Bengochea said he witnessed this first-hand when a student in one of the classrooms in Sandy Hook Elementary schools Newtown, Connecticut told the horse what happened in her classroom they day of the shooting in December 14, 2012.

"We've seen that with the horses come out and greet people they feel like its okay to laugh, its okay to let your guard down,” he continued.

Small animals making a big impact in the city beautiful.

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