ORLANDO — Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer told a crowd of hundreds at Pulse nightclub Tuesday night that the club’s legacy was not defined by the man who killed 49 people there two years ago — but by the community’s response.
“Pulse was a violent act carried out by a single individual, but the response to that act of evil and act of hate has been made up by thousands and thousands and thousands — maybe even millions — of individuals deciding to show what the opposite of evil looks like, and it looks like love,” Dyer said.
Dyer said it will be up to individuals to decide how to honor Pulse’s legacy, be it through political action, or urging others to vote, supporting a nonprofit or combating gun violence.
But Pulse “can’t simply be a memory of something terrible that happened,” Dyer said.
“It has to be more,” Dyer said. “Each of us has a responsibility and a duty to decide how we’re going to create the Pulse legacy, how we’re going to honor the victims, how we’re going to honor the families.”
Dyer was one of several speakers at an evening memorial service for the 49 people who were killed in a mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub, two years ago.
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said the tragedy of Pulse united Orlando around a universal principle: “We really are one people, and we really have one dream, and we have one goal as human beings, and that’s to be treated equally,” she said.
“Your loved ones, our 49 angels, they did not die in vain,” Jacobs told the crowd. “They absolutely did not die in vain, but the only reason they did not die in vain was because of our love and our resiliency, and we have to carry that forward every day.”
Dyer and Jacobs later stood together to read a joint proclamation declaring that each June 12 will be known as Orlando United Day: A Day of Love and Kindness.
Dyer also asked for a moment of silence for Orlando police Officer Kevin Valencia, who was injured in a standoff early Monday. Valencia is in critical condition but expected to survive.
The service began with a performance of John Lennon’s “Imagine” by the Orlando Gay Chorus, one of several musical elements of the evening event. Lance Bass, the former NSYNC singer and board member for the onePULSE Foundation, performed poetry.
Members of the victims’ families read brief statements about their lives and dreams, which were recorded and played during the service.
Barbara Poma, the nightclub’s owner and founder of the onePULSE Foundation, which is hosting the event, told reporters before the ceremony that the families of those killed and the survivors are “doing as well as can be expected” two years later.
“I can’t believe it’s been two years,” she said.
Nancy Ferguson, 54, was one of six people who attended the ceremony dressed in angel wings. “We’re here to show love and respect for the angels that we lost that night,” Ferguson said.
Adam Toronto, 37 of California, was in Orlando for work. Instead of going to Universal, he decided to come to the ceremony. “Moving, impactful, amazing,” he said of the Pulse memorial.
Toronto signed his name under the iconic Pulse sign.
Isaac DeJesus, 17 of Davenport, wore a transgender flag as well as several Pulse buttons and an “Orlando United” shirt. “It helped me knowing there are people who support you,” Isaac said of Pulse. “I can be me”
Also present for Tuesday’s ceremony was Shay DeGolier, who said she hadn’t been to Pulse since the massacre. She said the nightclub had once been a safe space for her, where she met her first girlfriend four years ago.
A gunman opened fire inside Pulse just after 2 a.m. on June 12, 2016, wounding dozens in addition to those killed. The massacre at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, though it was later surpassed by a mass killing in Las Vegas.
Pulse never reopened after the bloodshed, but the onePULSE Foundation recently unveiled a temporary memorial at the site and is working on plans for a permanent redesign of the site.