In recognition of the three-month anniversary of the shooting at Pulse nightclub on June 12, Orlando community members gathered in the Morgridge International Reading Center at UCF on Sept. 12.
It was a mix of pride and tears in the Global Communications Room, as students, faculty, staff and those directly affected by the shooting passed a microphone and shared their stories.
“‘Love is love is love is love is love … love cannot be killed or swept aside,’” Karen Morrison, UCF’s chief diversity officer, opened the presentation with a quote from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2016 Tony Awards acceptance speech.
UCF’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion created the ‘Remember the 49’ event as a way to commemorate the lot 49 victims by urging the entire UCF community to take a 49-second moment of silence to reflect at 2 p.m.
“I remember going to sleep that night and thinking ‘this can’t be real.’ I think it’s good to reflect on what happened. We need to — to stop it from ever happening again,” said Alexis Martinez, a UCF freshman studying advertising and public relations.
Panelists included Stephanie Preston, a member of the clinical staff at UCF Counseling and Psychological Services; Maha Qureshi, president of UCF Muslim Student Association; Julia Lozada, a current UCF student and Carrie Moran, a UCF user engagement librarian and current president the UCF Pride and Faculty Association. Other guests who spoke briefly included Celia Ruiz, sister of Pulse victim Juan Ramon Guerrero, and Carlos Guillermo Smith, a UCF alumnus and governmental affairs manager for Equality Florida. Justin Andrade, a UCF LGBTQ+ services coordinator, served as moderator to the four panelists that spoke.
A quiet moment was shared among audience members as Smith asked those who had been affected by the Pulse shooting, or knew someone affected, to raise their hands; nearly one-third of the room raised their hands in silence.
“This goes to show we are all only one degree away from the effect of this shooting,” Smith said.
While the panelists shared their stories of discovering the tragedy and their feelings after, the sound of sniffling filled the room.
After the Pulse massacre, a wave of anti-Muslim efforts hit Orlando. The shooter had identified as a Muslim.
“The vigil was the first time I wore my headscarf in public [since the shooting], because I wanted to be identified as Muslim,” Qureshi said. “I wanted to show that Muslims stood with Orlando.”
Julia Lozada, a current UCF student, said they* had known many Pulse regulars. Lozada said they* stopped by Pulse the night of the shooting to give a friend a ride home. They* said that after chatting with some friends, dancing and making sure the friend had an alternative ride home, Lozada got in their car and started to drive away from Pulse.
“[I was] not 20 minutes away [from Pulse] and I start getting messages, snaps and calls from my friends at the club. I got a call from Alix saying, ‘There are bodies everywhere,’ ” Lozada said.
The hour event closed with the screening of a YouTube video titled ‘Keep Dancing, Orlando’ that featured several locations in Orlando and various members of the community dancing in front of them.
“After everything happened, I didn’t do anything,” Lozada said. “I went to the vigils … but I didn’t know what to do. I feel so guilty … I feel so much shame for not being there.”
Moran said the most important message she wanted to get across during the panel was that whatever attendees were feeling was okay.
“I know this didn’t end for you, it hasn’t ended for me,” Moran said. “I’m going to carry it with me forever. Some days it hurts, some days it burns, some days it’s just going to be there, but what I keep coming back to is love.”
UCF counselors offered debriefing sessions after the event for those in need. UCF’s Counseling and Psychological Services center offers independent and group therapy. Call 407-823-2811 or visit http://caps.sdes.ucf.edu/ for more information.
*Lozada prefers the pronouns their/them.