ORLANDO (CBSMiami) — People from all walks of life made a pilgrimage to Pulse on Monday, the 1-year anniversary of the shooting that took the lives of 49 people and wounded dozens more.
There were people who lost a child, some of who intended to be at the club the night of the shooting and weren’t and many who simply wanted to pay their respects. On everyone’s mind — a promise to spread love.
Everywhere you turn at the Pulse Nightclub, which has become a memorial to the victims, is a story. Belinnette Ocasio-Capo came with her family to honor her brother Luis who is one of the 49 people murdered last June 12th.
“We’re just trying to stay strong,” she said. “He wouldn’t want us crying here today.”
She said her brother, just 20 years old, craved stardom.
“So full of love, full of life,” she said. “He loved dancing. He was going to college.”
At a ceremony late Monday morning, people gathered to remember the lives of those taken. They listened as the names of the victims were read and they listened to speeches and songs.
Early Monday morning, around the time the fatal shots were fired at the nightclub last year, survivors and family members of the 49 victims gathered for a somber ceremony, guarded by a force of 49 angels. Victims consoled each other and wept and remembered those who died in a hail of gunfire from Omar Mateen. Hundreds paid their respects with notes, painted stones and messages of love.
Forty-nine heart shaped bouquets represented each life taken by a killer inside the Pulse nightclub last June.
Mateo Guerrero knows he could’ve been another victim. A friend invited him to Pulse that fateful night but he decided to stay home instead. His friend was murdered.
“It’s a nightmare,” Guerrero said. “To be back here, it’s basically reliving that moment — 2 o’clock in the morning, they call me. This person was dead and basically everybody else. It’s really, really hard.”
The owner of Pulse, Barbara Poma, had her own message to the crowd.
“It breaks my heart that your sanctuary was taken from you but I know that we are resilient and I know that we will not let hate win,” she said.
This tragedy spurred many to action, including a trio of children who created the Hang a Heart program to help heal those hurting.
“We just want everybody to be happy,” said Victoria Salisbury, 11, who created the program with her siblings.
The somber occasion Monday was briefly interrupted by a pair of anti-gay counter protestors who tried to get on the grounds. One man was arrested. After his arrest, the crowd chanted, “Love conquers hate.”
“For him to choose today to spread this message is just wrong,” said Marie Miller.
Despite the interruption, this day belonged to those touched by this tragedy and those dedicated to preaching acceptance and the freedom to live as you choose.
“Love is the only thing that can help us all right now in these difficult moments,” said Ocasio-Capo. “At the end of the day, that’s all we have left — love.”