A visit to the site of the Pulse massacre prompts tears, reminds that the community still stands strong

DAVID TAFFET  |  Senior Staff Writer

As each of us stepped off the bus at 1912 S. Orange Ave. in Orlando, we began crying.

I watched as each person ahead of me stepped on the curb was overwhelmed with emotion. When it was my turn and I looked up at the dimly-lit Pulse sign, standing at the site where a long gunman killed 49 people and injured more than 50 others at a gay nightclub a year ago, my tears flowed, too.

I couldn’t stop crying until we left, more than half an hour later.

The Pulse sign is eerie. While the building is fenced off and closed, the sign, which stands close to the street, remains lit a year after the carnage. But the light in the sign is dimmed in memory of the victims.

Pulse sits between an auto tint garage and a Dunkin Donuts on a busy street not far from downtown Orlando. The cross streets are residential. The setting reminds us this could have happened anywhere.

A shrine has grown around the fenced-off building where the massacre took place a year ago. Some signs hung on the fence carry a message: “Hugs not hate,” and “We will not be defeated.”

A yard sign by the curb reads: “Love your neighbor*

*Your black, brown, immigrant, disabled, religiously different, LGBTQ, fully human neighbor.”

There’s a list, preserved under glass, of the names — mostly Hispanic — of those killed. In another framed, glass-enclosed case are 49 individual pictures of the murder victims. A banner thanks local artists and the Menello Museum of American Art, which continues to document and curate the shrine.

Then there are individual tributes, reminding us this wasn’t just a faceless group of 49 people who died. They were 49 people each with families, each with friends, each taken from us too soon.

Beside a picture of Martin Benitez Torres, a message from his mother, Miriam, says, “Si dios me quita la vista, es porque me ha dejado ver todo lo bello del mundo,” which means, “If God takes my vision, it’s because He has let me see everything beautiful in the world.”

Flowers — both regularly-replaced real ones and artificial ones that are there permanently — acknowledge the loss. Beads are hung over the fence. A stuffed tiger guards one display. A rainbow mobile twirls in the warm breeze.

Hundreds of rocks decorated with designs and messages form a tribute garden: “Like pennies in a wishing well, these rocks were planted here to dwell. They’re beautiful in memory of our loved ones who are above.”

The message “I love you Chris Brodman” is written on one rock. Brodman was a survivor who died in September. “Colorado sends love” expresses solidarity. Many of rocks are painted with just hearts; words can’t express the loss.

A rainbow of doves flies across one banner. The message “Love more, hate less” sits inside a heart atop rainbow background.

Another Pride flag carries the message, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one remembers to turn on the light.”

Candles mostly have burned out, but a few still blaze.

Visitors leave messages. “One heart, One Pulse, Keep dancing angels,” Kimberly and Eileen wrote on Oct. 8. “Te amamos,” is written over and over, as is “Orlando Strong.”

The site feels surreal, but I wanted to read every message.

After photographing, walking back and forth and around the property, reading and rereading the messages and quietly paying tribute to those killed, we got back on the bus to go to dinner.

No one spoke on the bus.

Dinner started quietly, and we avoided talking about what we had just seen.

It was too horrible. There was nothing to say.

And anything we could have said would have just led to more tears.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 9, 2017.