It took the National Park Service 46 years to memorialize New York’s Stonewall uprising in memory of gay liberation; Pulse is being memorialized in Orlando much faster and by a much larger community.
What a difference 47 years makes.
The Orange County Regional History Center moved Tuesday to preserve the 49 crosses made by Greg Zanis, an Illinois carpenter moved by the the June 12 massacre at Pulse nightclub, along with thousands of mementos laid as tributes to the victims in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
“To all those who are struggling to recover, our entire community stands with you,” Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said at the ceremony Tuesday. “We are showing the world that this community will not be divided.”
“We stand in unity with our LGBTQ community. We stand in unity with our Hispanic community. We stand in unity with all members of Orange County.”
The massacre of 49 people took place a month ago when American-born Omar Mateen started shooting in the club, which saw itself as a gay sanctuary, during Latin Night shortly before the club closed on a Sunday morning. Many of the dead were Hispanic.
Pulse strove to be more than the hottest party scene; the venue also served as a gathering spot for the LGBT community and educational events. The club has worked with organizations ranging from Breast Cancer Awareness and Make A Wish to Come out with Pride and Gay Games Orlando 2018.
“Our mission at Pulse is to continue to raise the bar of awareness and be a part of our community in any way possible,” the website said the night of the shooting.
Before he was killed the morning of the massacre, the barricaded Mateen called 911 to pledge allegiance to ISIS and other jihadist terrorist groups
FBI Director James Comey said investigators were “highly confident” the 29-year-old gunman, who had been investigated and cleared for terrorist links by the FBI, was self-radicalized through the Internet.
Mateen’s electronic devices showed searches for jihadist propaganda, including videos of ISIS beheadings and of Anwar al-Awlaki, an influential American-born imam who worked as a spokesman for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and was killed in 2011, according to one official.
ISIS sympathizers praised the attack on pro-ISIS forums, while the official online ISIS radio channel Al-Bayan described it as a “raid on a crusader gathering” carried out by “one of the caliphate’s soldiers in America.”
The city of Orlando — gay and straight — pulled together with supporters across the globe in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Residents turned out en masse a week afterward. There was a formal ceremony at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, where the bell tolled once for each victim, and at an impromptu vigil at nearby Lake Eola Park, attended by an estimated 50,000 people.
The mass gathering culminated a week of vigils around the world.
“It was the LBGTQ and Hispanic community that was targeted, and it was hateful and it was public,” said Chelsea Frost, an organizer of the Lake Eola vigil. “And I think it has to be public for the rest of the community to stand up and say, ‘We’re not OK with it, and we’re going to get behind them and provide them with the support and strength they need. We love them so we will conquer that hate with love.’ “
The crosses are being taken to a climate controlled environment to be preserved until a permanent memorial can be created. The history center also will preserve some of the other tributes left at makeshift memorials around the city — letters, notes, signs and other tokens — for the 49 killed and the approximately 50 injured during the attack.
The city of Orlando has announced other plans to ensure the dead aren’t forgotten.
It plans a paver garden as a permanent memorial. The names of the victims will be on stones placed around Lake Beauty Park outside the Orlando Regional Medical Center where the crosses had been placed.
Nine victims died at the hospital, where 28 operations were preformed on victims in the first 24 hours after the attack and 71 surgeries related to the attack have been performed to date, hospital CEO David Strong said.
Four victims remain hospitalized, Strong said.
The exact nature of the future county memorial is not determined, said Orange County Regional History Center Director Michael Perkins. But the power of the crosses, which Zanis had placed outside the medical center after driving them 1,200 miles from Aurora, Illinois, was indisputable, at least for many people, and especially for one mother.
Mayra Alvear, whose daughter Amanda was killed in the attack, was overwhelmed by emotion as she watched the crosses gathered Tuesday and helped pick up her daughter’s cross and load it into the truck.
For her, the crosses’ new home exemplified a beloved community.
“Everything was done with respect and honor,” she said. “Love wins. Love, no hate.”