ORLANDO, FLORIDA - Grieving family members and loved ones gathered at Orlando’s Beardall Senior Center early Monday morning to seek final word on the fate of the victims of Sunday's massacre at Pulse nightclub, where 49 people were killed and another 53 were injured.
They came and went in pairs or groups at the senior center, just a kilometer and a half from the nightclub, their heads bowed low, shielding their faces from journalists' cameras. Many clung to one another. Some wore sunglasses to obscure tears.
"We need prayers for everyone,” said a Latino relative between sobs.
“No more hate," a woman rejoined, "or discrimination."
By daylight, 37 had heard the news they did not want to hear about the deaths of loved ones. More trickled in throughout the day.
Caring for community
A block away from Pulse, standing in front of the yellow tape that kept the club cordoned off, Terry DeCarlo, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Central Florida, talked about the “horrific” 24 hours he'd endured, which included only 15 minutes of sleep.
A crowd, mostly journalists, stood in the mind-numbing heat at Orange and Grant streets. Volunteers came by with water. Overhead, helicopters circled nonstop.
DeCarlo had not had time to process his own grief. He knew two people on the list of victims and said his heart was breaking, but that he'd mourn when he finally got home. In the meantime, he was involved with caring for his community, an effort that included providing counseling for anyone who needed it and raising money to help the victims of the massacre.
“Those families who have people in the hospital are not going to have to worry about a hospital bill,” he said. “Burial costs, whatever. Everything is going to be covered for those families of the victims in the club or in the hospital. The outpouring of love from around the world has just been incredible.”
By midafternoon, $1.5 million had been raised by what DeCarlo called "a massive ball of community" that had come together in the wake of the attack. DeCarlo said 100 percent of the money would go back to the families.
The LGBT community in Orlando is large and tight-knit. And since the attack, it has been joined by others.
Among those pulling together in the community were Muslims. Salaam Bhatti said the Muslims who lined up to donate blood, in queues that stretched for more than a kilometer, were horrified about what had happened.
Bhatti, national spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, which he said is the oldest Muslim organization in the U.S., said there is no place for hatred in Islam.
“You cannot go around hitting people in the LGBT community," he said. "You cannot go around hitting people because of their race or any gender, or anything."
Progress breeds evil
The question everyone was asking: “Why?”
DeCarlo had an answer. It had to do with the rapid progress of gay rights in the past year, including the legalization of gay marriage. DeCarlo said it brought out the evil in some people.
“Although the evil has always been there, as we get stronger, our voices get louder, the evil comes out a little bit more,” he said.
But he said violent events like the one at Pulse would backfire on their perpetrators, because they only make the community, gay and straight, stronger.
“We know that the people who were standing to the sidelines" while others marched to demonstrate support for the LGBT community "are now walking into the street," he said.
Volunteer Mark Gorodnick said he was proud of the strides his community has made but felt it was unfortunate that it took an attack to unite them. He's worried that the attention on the issue and the people affected will wane.
“A week or a month from now, is anyone even going to care anymore?” Gorodnick asked. “You have to hope that after everybody leaves, the community will still stand together.”
'Tomorrow's not a promise'
Orlando-area residents Tammy Fout, Gordie LaFaye and their granddaughter, Audrie, stood down the street from the cordoned-off shooting site, where they had come to say a prayer.
Fout said that upon hearing about the shootings, she felt chills and had trouble breathing.
"You just don’t expect it," she said of the violent attack. "You hear about it all over the world, but when it really hits where you are at, where you can come and see it like this, it does something to you.”
“Today’s here, tomorrow’s not a promise,” added LaFaye. “So always give thanks and be blessed for what you have."