Barbara Poma, owner of the former Pulse nightclub, woke up on the five-year anniversary one of the worst mass shootings in US history to news of more mass shootings.
“There is a gun violence problem. There is a hate problem,” said Poma, the founder and executive director of the OnePulse Foundation, a local nonprofit created after the shooting. “Why is that how we’re solving problems? Through violence and through hateful acts. Why?”
On June 12, 2016, a gunman opened fire in the nightclub in Florida, killing 49 people on Latin night at the popular gay venue in Orlando.
And America remembered the massacre on a Saturday it reached its 267th mass shooting of 2021.
Four separate shooting incidents were reported across the country between Friday afternoon and early Saturday morning, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Gunfire claimed at least two lives and left at least 34 other people injured in Texas, Georgia and Illinois.
Not much has changed in America, Poma lamented, since the days the Pulse offered a safe and vibrant space for LGBTQ people, particularly Orlando’s queer Latino community. Even the parents of club goers were welcomed, said Poma, who will be spending time with victims and their families at memorial events throughout the weekend.
The White House on Saturday released a statement from President Joe Biden.
“Five years ago today in Orlando in the middle of Pride Month, our nation suffered the deadliest attack affecting the LGBTQ+ community in American history, and at the time, the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman,” Biden said.
“Within minutes, the Pulse nightclub that had long been a place of acceptance and joy turned into a place of unspeakable pain and loss. Forty-nine people were there celebrating Latin night were murdered, even more injured, and countless others scarred forever – the victims were family members, partners and friends, veterans and students, young, Black, Asian and Latino – our fellow Americans.”
Biden said he will sign a bill designating Pulse Nightclub a national memorial. “Pulse Nightclub is hallowed ground,” the president said.
‘So tired of hashtags and thoughts and prayers’
“It’s a ray of hope on a day that is very, very painful for me and for others,” Brandon Wolf, who survived the massacre, told CNN Saturday, referring to the national memorial. “Forty-nine people lost their lives at Pulse. We were thrust into the spotlight. Our pain was on every TV screen across the world. And it feels really good in a moment like this to be able to talk about having an ally in the White House.”
But the pain of the survivors and families of the victims has not been diminished with the passing of the years, he said.
“The people that I lost, they’re still gone tomorrow and the day after that,” Wolf said. “They’re still missing faces at my birthday party. There are still empty seats at my dinner table.”
Elected officials need to back up their words with action, Wolf said.
“I am so tired of statements. I’m so tired of hashtags and thoughts and prayers… while people in our communities are dying,” he said.
“Most of America wants to be able to go to a grocery store without being afraid they’ll find an AR-15 on aisle three.”
For now, though, words will have to do.
Many others on Saturday honored the Pulse victims as the scourge of gun violence sweeps the country.
“Our community will always remember the 49 angels taken on this day five years ago,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer tweeted. “We send our love to their families, friends and all those who lost someone special to them on June 12, 2016.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, tweeted: “Five years ago, an ISIS-inspired terrorist took 49 innocent lives at Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub. Florida honors the memories of those who were murdered on one of the darkest days in Florida’s history.”
The NBA’s Orlando Magic said in a tweet: “We join the LGBTQ+ community in honoring those victims by spreading love, kindness and compassion throughout the Central Florida community. #OrlandoUnited.”
The Pulse gunman, who authorities said had pledged allegiance to ISIS, died in a shootout with police the day of the massacre.
The club hasn’t operated since the shooting and a memorial with a museum and education center is being constructed on the site.
“I really want my elected officials to show up to work, to grow a spine and to do the things that need to be done to keep our communities safer,” Wolf said.
CNN’s Natasha Chen, Kevin Conlon, Melissa Alonso, Julia Griggs, Haley Burton contributed to this report.