Somber memorials on anniversary of Florida nightclub rampage
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Three years after a gunman massacred 49 people and wounded many others at a gay nightclub in Florida, the anniversary was observed Wednesday with somber memorial gatherings and proclamations, including one that had to be issued twice.
In a proclamation, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered state flags to be lowered to half staff and asked Floridians to pause to remember the victims of the 2016 shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. But he initially made no mention of the gay or Hispanic communities in the proclamation honoring the 49 club-goers who were killed on Latin night in the deadliest attack on gay people in the U.S.
Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani of Orange County criticized the Republican governor for the omission, calling the proclamation, “straight-washed.”
DeSantis later tweeted that the state mourns the loss of life from the attack that “targeted the LGBTQ and Hispanic community, and Florida as a whole.”
Several hours later, his office issued a “corrected version” of the proclamation that said Florida wouldn’t tolerate hate toward the LGBTQ and Hispanic communities.
“Staff made an error in the previous version. The governor has directed that the proclamation be re-issued, including a direct reference to our LGBTQ and Hispanic communities,” said Helen Aguirre Ferre, the governor’s communications director, in an email accompanying the revised proclamation. “The governor stands in solidarity with the LGBTQ and Hispanic communities who were attacked during this horrific act of violence at Pulse three years ago today.”
When asked about the omission at a bill signing in Jacksonville, the governor said he wasn’t involved in drafting the original proclamation.
“When someone said that this wasn’t in there, I said, ‘Well, then put it in there.’ So we fixed it,” DeSantis said. “Obviously, we flew the flags at half staff and that was the reason we put out the proclamation. Sometimes these things happen and you’ve just got to correct it.”
Later in the day, DeSantis and his wife, Casey, visited Pulse and laid bouquets of flowers outside the nightclub.
In the U.S. Senate, Florida’s two Republican U.S. senators introduced a resolution honoring the 49 people killed on Latin night. The resolution, which passed with unanimous consent, noted that the massacre was “an attack on LGBTQ community, the Hispanic community, the city of Orlando, the state of Florida and the United States.”
Gunman Omar Mateen was killed after a three-hour standoff by SWAT team members. He had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. At the time, the Pulse massacre was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. However, another mass shooting the following year along the Las Vegas Strip became the deadliest when 58 people were killed.
In Orlando, churches were ringing bells 49 times at noon, names of the slain were read at a midday church service in downtown Orlando and a Wednesday night memorial service was planned outside the Pulse nightclub, which has been closed since the shooting in June 2016.
Some survivors and friends gathered at the club shortly after 2 a.m. Wednesday to mark the exact time the shooting started.
Pulse owner Barbara Poma has established a nonprofit to open a memorial and museum at the site. About $14 million has been raised for the $50 million project. Six design firms have been selected as finalists and the winner will be chosen in the fall. The permanent memorial and museum are scheduled to open in 2022.
Associated Press writer Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida. contributed to this report.