ORLANDO, Fla. — On June 12, a gunman open fire in a crowded gay nightclub, killing 49 people and injuring 53 in the deadliest shooting in modern American history. The gunman, identified as 29-year-old Omar Mateen, later shot and killed himself.
We’ve been reporting on the ground in Orlando since Sunday. We spoke with people at an LGBT community center, a local mosque, a blood donation center and a vigil for victims of the shooting. We spoke with people in the Puerto Rican community and people on the street. Here’s what they said.
“[I’m afraid of] people judging me, or saying something to me, or possibly hurting me for what I’m doing, which is just showing the person that I’m with my love. We went out to dinner last night — my significant other and my friends — and just being close to him was scary.”
“We are not going to live in fear. We are not going to be forced back into the closet by one act of evil. I think that our hearts are broken, but our spirit is not.”
“It’s never fair to lose anyone, but that’s not a fair way to lose someone, let alone that many people at once. I’ve never been someone who’s okay with restricting gun usage, but that’s changed. I’m finally on the other side of an issue. Because this is out of control. This has to be a call to action; this has to be a change. This has to be a last time, or a step toward the last time, because clearly it’s not changing. It’s only gotten worse.”
Imam Tariq Rasheed
“We are tired of defending our community. Because it seems that the media or the community expects the Muslims to come out and explain why it happened. I have been here for 22 years… I have lived more here than I lived in my country where I come from. It’s my community, and I have done my part in making sure this community is beautiful and that this community prospers. Now, this incident happened, and it was very unfortunate, very bad. And we have nothing to do with this. We don’t know who this guy was, where he is coming from. The people and the media should not bring the religion of a terrorist into play, because terrorism has no religion, and in religion there is no terrorism.
“I started getting phone calls at 5 a.m. [on Sunday], because my family and friends know that I usually go every Saturday to Pulse. I had people yesterday say, ‘See, this is why you shouldn’t be going to clubs.’ No. It doesn’t matter if they were at a club or at a family reunion or at a local park or at a amusement park or driving in their car, anybody can come around and shoot you. It’s so accessible for anybody to get a gun and commit these horrific crimes.”
“You know, my first thought is always and sadly, ‘Please don’t let them be Muslim.’ Because, you know, we go through this more and more times each year, it feels like. When it was the Boston Marathon, I was sitting at a table with a bunch of non-Muslims. I‘d heard some people say, ‘What if it’s Muslims?’ And I’m like, ‘It’s not going to be Muslims, it’s not always Muslims.’ Then the next day, it turned out to be a couple of Muslims. I remember just, like, being sunk. I just wanted so badly for them to be wrong. For it to be just anyone else, anything else, any other reason, and just not that.”
“I’m a Christian myself, I went to church last night when it all happened. We’ve never prayed so hard for the shooter, because that’s what we believe in. We believe in love, we believe that everybody deserves a chance. And that’s what I wish everybody would just get through their minds: It’s not only lesbians, gays, Muslims, whatever it is — we’re all humans, we all bleed the same red.”
“It’s tragic, it’s tragic across the board. You know, we saw the act of what one person can do, but in the same day, within 12 hours, we saw the acts of what many can do together to really fight this incident and really try to come together and help each other. I think it hits home because a lot of Latin brothers and sisters were there. But we’re all one community at the end of the day.”