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Pulse shooting anniversary: Survivors soldier on for gun reform

Several events were held on Saturday to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, in which a gunman killed 49 people and injured dozens. At the time, this was the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history and immediately prompted calls for gun laws. NewsHour Weekend’s Ivette Feliciano speaks with two survivors about how the events of that night changed their lives.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Commemorations are underway today in remembrance of the victims and survivors of the Pulse Nightclub mass murder.

    Five years ago today a gunman opened fire on the gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida killing 49 people and injuring more than 50.

    At the time, it was the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history and immediately prompted calls for gun safety legislation.

    In a statement released today, President Joe Biden called the Pulse Nightclub "hallowed ground" and said he will sign a bill in the coming days designating the location as a national memorial.

    For more on the Pulse Nightclub shooting half a decade later, Ivette Feliciano recently spoke with two survivors of that attack about how they are coping after the tragedy and the work they are doing to prevent future gun violence.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    In the early morning of June 12th, 2016, Patience Carter, now Patience Murray, joined the ever-growing list of Americans whose lives are forever changed by a mass shooting.

  • Patience Murray:

    I wasn't supposed to make it out that club, I know the last, the final bullet, was meant for me. The final bullet was definitely meant for me before the police came through the wall. So that was no accident and that was divine timing.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    Patience Murray, and her friends Tiara Parker, and Akyra Murray, were at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Around 2 am, a gunman armed with a handgun and semi-automatic rifle, opened fire in the club, killing 49 people. Patience Murray was shot twice in the leg and her friend Tiara suffered a gunshot wound to the stomach. Akyra Murray didn't make it out that day.

    We first spoke to Murray a year after the shooting and she was struggling with survivor's guilt. But five years since the incident Murray says her faith has helped her get to a better place.

  • Patience Murray:

    This five-year anniversary hits different. And a lot of different ways, because this is the first year that I truly feel present for it. And truly grateful to be alive.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    In the time since the shooting, Murray has written a book about her experience at Pulse, Survive Then Live, and spoke with federal lawmakers about enacting stricter gun laws. She currently serves as the Outreach Director for the Gun Violence Survivors Foundation.

    And she's not the only survivor whose life has been shaped by the shooting.

    Brandon Wolf was also at Pulse nightclub that fateful morning, along with his friend Christopher Andrew Leinonen and Leinonen's partner Juan Ramon Guerrero. Wolf was the only one to make it out alive.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    How do these anniversaries land for you emotionally?

  • Brandon Wolf:

    There always seems to be one moment where it hits me, my best friends and I call it the ugly cry moment where the weight of the anniversary falls on your shoulders and you really start thinking about the people that you lost. And I'll be honest with you, I was in New York City this week and my flight to New York City was my ugly cry moment. So I'm a, I'm a ball of emotions.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    But Wolf has turned his tragedy into action. In 2016 Wolf launched the Dru Project in honor of his friend Andrew Leinonen. The organization supports LGBTQ youth across the nation through scholarships and providing funding for gay-straight alliances.

    In 2019, his activism led him to work for Equality Florida, the largest civil-rights organization in the state focused on LGBTQ issues. Following the Pulse shooting Equality Florida began to advocate for gun policy reforms.

  • Brandon Wolf:

    I really appreciate that the organization has built a gun violence prevention lens into the work that we do because gun violence is an LGBTQ issue. We know that violence against the LGBTQ community is all too common and we know that black trans women in this country are targeted disproportionately. And that becomes deadly, it becomes fatal when you add a gun into the mix. So, for us the work is about disarming dangerous people, it's about common sense gun safety reforms that a majority of Americans agree on.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    The same year he joined Equality Florida, he testified before the House Ways and Means Committee calling for gun safety reform.

  • Brandon Wolf:

    America is done with talk. They really, really want to see some action come from this body.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    Since his testimony, Congress has yet to pass any meaningful gun reform legislation.

    Despite this, Wolf continues to call attention to issues impacting gun violence survivors.

    Last week, Wolf and Equality Florida criticized the state's governor, Ron DeSantis who cut $900,000 in programs serving LGBTQ people, including $150,000 in funding for a local assistance center that provides support for those impacted by the Pulse shooting.

  • Brandon Wolf:

    There are currently 68 families or survivors or first responders who are being served by the Orlando United Assistance Center. They receive mental health resources. They receive employment resources, legal resources. All 68 of those families, survivors and first responders will lose that care if the funding isn't there. That's the real tangible impact.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    Wolf sees this as a setback but says he's not done fighting.

  • Brandon Wolf:

    I am deeply tired that I have to continue to relive my trauma like a tap dance for the country, begging for them to hear the things that I'm asking for and to take action on them. But don't mistake my fatigue for inaction, because though I may be tired, though my feet may hurt, at the end of the day, I made a promise that I would never stop fighting for the world Drew would be proud of, and I'm going to make good on that promise.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    For Patience Murray, observing the anniversary of when so many people lost their lives looks a little different now than it did a year after the shooting. That's because in 2020 she married the brother of her friend Akyra Murray, the youngest victim of the Pulse shooting.

  • Patience Murray:

    I allow my husband to lead us and allow him to guide us in which way that he wants to memorialize his sister and the rest of the 49. And for myself, so if I could just figure it out a little bit more and more and more with God is trying to show me that's the best way that I could spend the anniversary to me.

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