Victims of Pulse nightclub massacre remembered 5 years later

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A visitor looks over a display with the photos and names of the 49 victims that died at the Pulse nightclub memorial Friday, June 11, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. Saturday will mark the fifth anniversary of the mass shooting at the site. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The 49 people killed in a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Florida were honored in Orlando and around the world on Saturday, the fifth anniversary of the attack.

City of Orlando officials say more than 600 places of worship worldwide tolled their bells 49 times to honor each victim who died in the Pulse Nightclub shooting. The First United Methodist Church of Orlando gathered loved ones and community members and read the victims’ names.

Elected leaders and activists said throughout the day that the people who died need to be remembered not just with words, but with actions. U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat who represents Orlando, said during a livestreamed national discussion hosted by a coalition of human rights and gun safety groups that she was inspired to run for public office following the tragedy.

“After five years, I still can’t fathom why someone would do this. How could their hate be so strong?” Murphy said. “But today I have an even harder time understanding why some politicians still refuse to take the most basic steps to prevent the next shooting.”

President Joe Biden said Saturday that he will sign a bill naming the nightclub as a national memorial. He emphasized in a statement that the country must do more to reduce gun violence, such as banning assault weapons and closing loopholes in regulations that enable gun buyers to bypass background checks.

Brandon Wolf, media relations manager for the LGBTQ rights organization Equality Florida, recalled being at Pulse the night of the massacre and losing two of his best friends. He said during the panel discussion that he has since dedicated his life to making sure they didn’t become a statistic.

“My job every single day is to defend our community against violence and hatred in every form it takes,” Wolf said. “This work is a constant reminder that the shooting at Pulse was not an aberration. LGBTQ people are still under attack.”

The deadliest attack on the LGBTQ community in U.S. history left 49 people dead and 53 people wounded as “Latin Night” was being celebrated at the club on June 12, 2016. Gunman Omar Mateen was killed after a three-hour standoff by SWAT team members. He had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

Dozens of survivors, family members of those who died and first responders were invited to a ceremony Saturday night on the grounds of the former club, south of downtown Orlando. The site has been turned into an interim memorial lined with photos of the victims and rainbow-colored flowers and mementos.

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