Winter Park took a moment on Tuesday to reflect on the lives lost in the deadliest shooting in U.S. history – one month after 49 lives were tragically cut short so close to home.
It was a sobering scene in Winter Park’s Central Park as residents gathered in the rain to pay tribute to the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. Locals showed their love and support with blood donations to the Big Red Bus, while others sketched chalk drawings in a rainbow of colors on the sidewalk leading to the Emily Fountain, writing “love wins” and “Winter Park is Orlando Strong.”
Rain continued to fall over the grounds of Central Park, but that didn’t stop locals from showing up and paying their respects as city and regional officials spoke before an audience of the horrors Orlando faced just a month earlier.
“This loss is difficult to comprehend…49 friends and neighbors taken while most of us had slept,” Mayor Steve Leary said.
“There will always be those who seek to take advantage, those that seek to create a divide and those that see an opportunity in distress, but we’re stronger than that. We know that cohesion is stronger than divide and that oneness is more firm than fracture. Love will always overpower hate.”
The Orlando community was shaken to its core on June 12 when gunman Omar Mateen entered the gay Orlando nightclub Pulse and opened fire. Mateen swore allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, making last month’s shooting the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil since the Sept. 11 tragedy.
“It seems very fresh still,” Winter Park resident Alea Schroeder said. “I know it’s been a month, but it still hurts.”
“The wound is still there for the community, but it’s starting to heal.”
Unrest made headlines again with the recent deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota, both African American males killed by white police officers. The shootings led to several peaceful protests, though one Dallas protest led to further bloodshed as gunman Micah Johnson shot and killed five police officers while injuring 11 others.
Police departments across the United States have continued to receive threats – including Winter Park’s men and women in blue. Police Chief Brett Railey told the Observer the department has received three bomb threats since June 22.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that there has never been a time when your law enforcement officers need your support more than now,” Railey said. “As young people, who are the future of our profession, see that officers are being targeted by simply choosing the profession that they chose, I ask what person in their right mind would want to enter this profession. Your continued support can change this.”
“As we move forward from the tragic events of last month, I ask that we pray for our nation. I ask that we pray for the victims, the families and friends of the Pulse nightclub incident. And selfishly, I ask that we whisper a prayer for the men and women who are sworn to protect us from the evil of this world: our first responders.”
The sun didn’t peak through the dreary storm clouds Tuesday afternoon, but Winter Park’s Central Park received a glowing silver lining of another kind: 49 hanging globes of rainbow lights over the Emily Fountain. City Spokesperson Clarissa Howard said the lights will hang as a tribute to the Pulse shooting victims through the month of July.