Orlando Club Hosts Dance Party Nearly 2 Weeks After Deadly Mass Shooting

Jun 24, 2016
Originally published on June 28, 2016 8:07 pm
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This morning we are following, of course, the historic news that the United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union. And we'll have updates on that story elsewhere in the show. Stay with us. But here in the U.S., last night saw a dance party in Orlando, Fla., that was more like a family reunion. The owners of Pulse nightclub, employees, patrons and friends gathered nearly two weeks after a gunman massacred 49 people at the gay club. NPR's Cheryl Corley has more.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Orlando, welcome to Latin night for Pulse.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: The dance floor this night was a restaurant's parking lot about two miles away from the nightclub. There were flowers, rainbow flags, artwork and, of course, music and dance. But this was a night of remembrance, a fundraiser and a determined celebration. Robin Maynard with the nonprofit pulseoforlando.org says the LGBT community is moving forward.

ROBIN MAYNARD: No man with a gun is going to put people back in the closet. No amount of hate is going to make us afraid. We're going to come out and celebrate and dance and move forward and laugh and love and be Orlando strong. That's who we are.

CORLEY: The owner of Pulse, Barbara Poma, walked through the crowd, hugging some, flanked by a security guard. Friends kept watch, too, protecting Poma as she softly talked to reporters about how she and the others are coping.

BARBARA POMA: We spent time yesterday all together sitting around a picnic table reading mail, and it was great therapy for all of us. So we just want to thank everyone for staying by us, and I hope that they continue to do so.

CORLEY: Nearby, Orlando Torres (ph) hugged his niece and two friends who had traveled from New York to be with him. They wore red T-shirts with June 12 on the front and the names of the 49 victims on the back. Torres, a promoter at the club, hid in the bathroom that deadly night and survived, untouched, playing dead after the gunman came in. He said he wanted to be at the street party to show his support.

ORLANDO TORRES: You know, hug all my friends that made it out and those that are happy to see me here just as well and, you know, I'm just on a mission.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TU SIN MI")

JEHU EL REY: (Singing in Spanish).

CORLEY: Michelle Benkowitz (ph) was waiting for her sister, a bartender at Pulse who had the day off on June 12. Benkowitz says there's been so much talk about why Omar Mateen, ultimately killed by police, came into Pulse wanting to kill. She says that might not even matter.

MICHELLE BENKOWITZ: What really matters is that we come together for the families, for the people that were affected by it.

CORLEY: What's next for Pulse? Mark Aistrake (ph), standing with his best friend Natalie Gonzales (ph) and her two daughters, says Pulse was such fun and such a community. It must be rebuilt.

MARK AISTRAKE: You wouldn't want them to rebuild something else. You'd be like, that's not right.

NATALIE GONZALES: Yeah, I think they should, and if they did I would be there. It would be hard. But then I would end up just having a blast. I would be there.

CORLEY: And yes, on Latin night.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORLEY: Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Orlando. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.