First, several key event organizers created a wooden rectangular memory board consisting of 53 hearts at the top to commemorate those who were wounded and 49 holes organized in neat rows ready to receive multicolored long-stem roses representing each person who died from the rain of bullets fired by one mass shooter early on June 12, 2016 inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
The local event’s staging area, including the custom board, was located under a rainbow flag that is waving throughout June in honor of worldwide Gay Pride month.
“I wanted something that would have visual impact,” said Gulfport City Councilmember Paul Ray, who emceed the event.
Second, Mother Nature provided a mixture of ominous rain clouds and brief thunder punctuated by patches of blue sky and a natural rainbow that arched over a portion of the city visible from Gulfport Boulevard South. It pointed northeast from Orlando to southwest toward the library.
Over 80 people attended the ceremony.
Officially, June 12 has been named “Orlando United Day – A Day of Love and Kindness.” According to the Orange County Florida government website, the 2016 Pulse shooting “is considered the deadliest incident of violence against the LGBTQ community in modern U.S. history. The tragedy is also considered the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States since the September 11 attacks in 2001.”
Jennifer Webb of Gulfport and Reverend Andy Oliver of Allendale United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg provided inspirational messages. Seven people teamed up to read the name of each person who was killed and together they placed 49 roses into the custom memory board.
In his opening remarks, Ray said, “The terror that these people were subjected to boggles my mind. Even after two years, I am still unable to wrap my head around the horror of it.”
Memorials have two purposes, said Ray. “We need to prove to ourselves and the others around us that not all people are evil. We also want to send a message to those survivors of the tragedy that they are not alone and that we stand by them even years after the event.
“I hope people keep in mind that we really need to care about each other. We need to look out for each other. That’s what it’s really all about.”