Orlando nightclub shooting that happened on June 12, 2016, was the deadliest mass shooting in the USA at that time. It took 49 lives and affected hundreds, if not thousands. Two years after this horrific tragedy, those who survived still carry it with them.
A year ago, a company called “Dear World” teamed up with photographer Daymon Gardner to create a photoshoot titled “Dear Orlando”, honoring the victims and their families. “Dear World honors the people who passed away, saved lives, comforted the injured and buried loved ones,” Robert X. Fogarty, Dear World founder, told Orlando Weekly. The project focuses on people who were affected by the horrific loss. It recounts experiences of those who went through the bloodshed, as well as people who helped the victims. Despite the tremendous loss, “Dear Orlando” shows that those who were lost are not forgotten and, above all, teaches us not to forget, as painful and horrifying it might be. Scroll down below to see the captivating photographs of “Dear Orlando” and read the stories.
You can find Daymon Gardner on the web:
#1 Batman. Superman. Hulk. He Said I Was His Favorite
“My son comes in. He brought me all these little gifts he made in class. Then I read his paper and I broke down. My son’s a really big DC Comics fan. He loves superheroes. He made this poster: Batman is smart, Superman is fast, the Hulk is strong, but my dad is my favorite superhero.” – Rodney Sumter, bartender at Pulse who was shot 4 times.
#2 I Wish They Could Have Answered Their Phones
“Phones start ringing all over the place. The one that gets me is the one iPhone that was next to my feet that just kept going and going and going. I’m looking at the wall, I’m looking at the opening and I looked down, I looked back up, looked down, looked back up. I knew what it was. It was a phone but it kept catching me off guard. I would see the caller ID, the picture. I was like, ‘I know this person’s never going to be able to pick up this phone again.'” – Omar Delgado, Orlando police officer.
#3 We Were Just Enjoying The Music
“You can probably tell by the bags under my eyes, I have a hard time sleeping. Honestly, it’s been a rough year. I go to counseling. I think it’s more the fact that I don’t take anything for granted anymore. Sometimes my son will want to do something or my wife will want to do something. I’m just so tired. Now I make the time to actually say, ‘Okay. You know what? Let’s go ahead and go.'” – Ray Rivera, a DJ at Pulse.
#4 Where’s My Night Night?
“I would text him “Night, Night.” And he would always text back, “Night, night, I love you.” But that night, there was no “Night, Night,” because I knew he was at the club. I had sent mine. And he sent me “I love you.” But he didn’t send his “Night, Night” because he was out. I saw in my mind, I saw him lying face down. I said “Wow, I understand where he is, he is lying face down.” Because in my mind I saw it. [T]hey told me, “We found that he was not alive, because we found his ID. We found him face down.” He took a piece of me” – Dimarie Rodriguez, mother of Jean Carlos Nieves Rodriguez who was a victim of the Pulse nightclub shooting.
#5 I Kissed You Hello, I Never Kissed You Goodbye
“Us guys in the gay community, we kiss each other on the cheeks hello. That’s what us Latin people do. I was happy to see him as I was going to the bathroom with my friend. ‘Hey, how you doing, Anthony?’ We hugged, I gave him a kiss. ‘Hope you enjoy your night and have a good night.’ I went to the bathroom. Within minutes, I started hearing all those gunshots. I saw him and I kissed him hello, I was in the hospital bed when I saw his picture pop up as one of the 49.” – Orlando Torres, a Pulse club shooting survivor.
#6 You’re Her, Aren’t You?
“Before Pulse, I was the mom who dropped you off and picked you up every day, made your lunch, made your breakfast, had dinner ready. A pretty traditional mom, I would think. I’d go to all your sporting events and had your calendar and kept you organized and on top of your grades and knew where you were, where you were going, your friends. Since June 12, 2016, I’m none of those things. I miss being a mom. It’s almost like being infamous, because it’s not what I asked for. I’m always going to be the owner of Pulse. I’m just always going to be that person. I’m always going to be her. I’ve had that conversation with them. ‘We’re always going to be those … We’re going to be that family forever.’ Not that it’s a bad thing, but it changes your life.” – Barbara Poma, the owner of Pulse nightclub.
#7 I’m Going To Get You That Watch
“I was in a coma for three weeks. On July 3rd, I woke up. The first person I saw was my mother. She was right there next to me because my mother never left my side. I remember seeing her and she started crying. ‘Where’s Javier?’ That was the first thing I asked. She didn’t say anything. She just stood quiet. A nurse came, other people came. We didn’t talk about Javier until the next day. I asked her again. That’s when she told me. ‘You have to be strong. Javier is gone.'” – Leo Melendez, survivor of the Pulse nightclub shooting, friend of Javier Jorge Reyes, who died that night.
#8 I Went To The Bedroom And He Wasn’t There
“I went to sleep. 2:06 a.m., I got a text. I love you Mom. I went to his apartment. I went in and I was like, he’s here, I see shoes, I wasn’t there more than ten minutes and the FBI called.” – Mina Justice, whose son, Eddie Justice, was killed in the attack. She described rushing to her son’s apartment as soon as she heard about the shooting.
#9 I Danced To The Beat Of Someone’s Death
“The first three shots: I thought it was music. I felt the bass in my body on the floor against that wall. I felt it. I saw it. I thought it was the music. Then glass shattering, the air filling with smoke. The flashing of the gun looked like a strobe light. Everyone getting down.” – Chris Hansen, a survivor.
#10 I Couldn’t Give Her The Answer She Wanted
“Leslie, one of our lead volunteers, didn’t know how to handle this one call. It was a mother asking where her son is. ‘Have we heard from her son?’ I took the phone. ‘Ma’am, I apologize, but at this time we have not heard from your son. But if we do, we will take down your number and call you back immediately.’ Of course, we never did. And that haunts me.” – Rob Domenico, a former board member of The Center in Orlando, a center for the LGBTQ community.
#11 In The Darkness Of My Hospital Room I Forgave Him
“I will never forget. But in order for me to do well for myself, for my family, in order to lift other people up, I want them to be able to at least talk to me, someone who went through tragedy. And forgiveness was part of the process. When you think of forgiveness, there is a specific thing that you have to forgive. There’s a specific person you have to forgive. So yes, it was in my head, this guy who did this. I forgive you.” – Angel Colon, a Pulse shooting survivor.
#12 But I Have To Leave, It’s Time
“I wake up. I’m not even crying. I’m smiling. Like I feel my lips at times, and at that time it felt so real, and I’ve never felt that before. I called his mom and she’s said, “I’m the only one who hasn’t had a dream of him”. She thinks that it’s because maybe he doesn’t want to hurt her more than she’s already hurting or something. Maybe she’s not ready to see him in a dream” – Luis Roldan, survivor of the Pulse nightclub shooting.
#13 Nowhere Left To Hide
“Throughout my life, especially when I was younger, I had nightmares where someone’s chasing me and I’m running and hiding. I find somewhere to hide, a closet, and sure enough I’m found. That night was just like that but this time it was real.” – Angel Santiago, a survivor.
#14 Small Towns Fade
“I remember I was carrying somebody’s shoes and shirt because I didn’t want them to get left behind. For whatever reason. I remember looking down and they were covered in blood. I just dropped them. I remember carrying Stanley Almodovar to the pickup truck where they were shuttling people to the hospital. He’s a regular of mine. He came in every Saturday. Drank gin and tonic every week. I said, ‘Keep your eyes open, keep your eyes open, keep your eyes open.'” – Kate Maini, a survivor and former bartender at Pulse.
#15 “Hey, Do You Mind If I Take A Photo With You?”
“I went back to work the very next day. All of my gay friends that aren’t law enforcement officers were going to all these events. They held vigils. They were all bonding together and grieving. It was difficult because I had to go right back to work. You go back into police mode and you’re not able to grieve like you should. It was a big part of my PTSD. Some of it came from resentment, not being able to grieve with my community.” – Alison Clarke, one of the first responders.
#16 Jonathan’s Face Turned Red And We Fanned Him
“The last time he saw him was outside the bar that night. He came early, he hugged and kissed him. He said, ‘I’m very happy as I met someone, he’s somebody.’ He went inside and that was it.” – Effrain Colon Ortiz, survivor
#17 The Beat Goes On J.A.M. On J.A.M. On
“We were friends since the seventh grade. We used to write our initials on everything. JAM. Josean. Amanda. Mercedes.” – Josean Garcia, survivor and friend of Mercedes Flores and Amanda Alvear, who died in the Pulse nightclub shooting.
#18 She Changed Into Jeans And A Shirt
“She had a dress on. That night she was joking with us and she said, ‘I’m going to change my clothes. I’ve got a bad feeling something might happen.’ Me and my brother went out so she said, ‘I love you guys so much.'” – Robert Pressley, son of Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, a victim of the Pulse nightclub shooting.
#19 Our Last Meal Together Was Turkey Necks And Cabbage
“I boiled the turkey necks. After it was boiled real good and the meat was falling off the bone, I’d put some golden mushroom soup inside of the water, and it would be like a gravy turkey neck thing you put on top of rice and cabbage on the side. That was her last meal. Our last meal together.” – Emily Addison, whose partner Deonka Drayton died at Pulse.
#20 We Lost Our Safe Place. Let’s Not Lose Out Unity
#21 He Gave Me The License, I Found My Family
“I told Jean everything. I told him my first kiss. I told him everything before my mom because my mom is harder to talk to. Jean, he would tell me straight up. That’s one of the challenges I’ve been facing, that he’s not here because when you go from seeing somebody every day, sharing the same bathroom, waking up every morning, eating with him, it’s weird now because now you go to the house and it’s quiet. I’m never home.” – Valeria Monroig, sister of Jean Carlos Nieves Rodriguez, victim of the Pulse shooting.
#22 I Got To Hear Him Say “Papi, I Want To Be A Pilot”
“My nieces sent a desperate message: “Please answer. Please tell me what happened.” They knew it was true because it was all over the TV in Mexico. But they don’t know what happened until the Mexican consul opened phone line for all the families. The consul told me “Don’t worry. We’re going to bring your family. Who do you want?” I told my mom, my son, and they told me “Don’t worry. We’re going to bring them.” And they did it very fast. Four days later. Almost 11 years I hadn’t seen my mom.” – Javier Nada, survivor of the Pulse nightclub shooting.
#23 They Will Always Be Three
“Nelson, my son, died of cancer when he was 11… That’s my baby because I felt that since this happened, I have left him aside because it’s been about Amanda and I say to him ‘I’m so sorry baby.’ Before I lost Amanda, it was all him, every year since 2001, I never stopped crying.” – Mayra Alvear, mother of Amanda Alvear, victim of the Pulse shooting.
#24 Mami Estas Espectacular
“On the day of my wedding my son was so happy. He did my hair and makeup. It was his plan to make me look ‘spectacular’ on my wedding day.” – Magda Soto, mother of Luis Conde, who died in the Pulse nightclub shooting.
#25 We Called Him Ricky Martin
“The next day when they were giving the names, his came up. I was devastated. I did not know how to call his mom because he was the only son. I did not know how to call her or say, “Listen, I was there.” I did talk to her at the funeral. I apologized. She said, “Don’t worry. There’s always a reason. It was not your time.” She hugged me and then she said, “He was so cute.” – Samuel Maldonado, survivor and friend of Gilbert Ramon Silva Menendez, victim of the shooting
#26 I Got The Text From My Son “Dad, Are You Alright?”
“I come upon this massive scene. Hundreds of police officers. Hundreds of emergency vehicles. My commanders briefed me, ‘Hey, this guy went in here, started shooting right away. We have multiple, multiple people getting shot, maybe as many as 15 or 20.’ That’s what I was told at the time.” – John Mina, Orlando Police Chief.
#27 Chris Loved Britney Spears On Road Trips
“That night at Pulse, he was missing. We were celebrating our birthdays together. I didn’t know where he was. When I got outside of that I ran like crazy and I forgot I was with Chris. I went back. I didn’t care. I went back and I found him in the middle of the road, screaming. We hugged each other like we never hugged before.” – Ramses Tinoco, survivor of the Pulse nightclub shooting, friend of Chris Brodman, who died later that year.
#28 I Put My Manager Pants On
#29 My Voice Changed
#30 He Said, “You Gotta Come Out Of Your Eggshell”
“I’ve always been that insecure person due to my weight. ‘You got to get out your egg shell,’ he used to say. ‘There’s fatter females out there, they flaunt what they have and they’re very proud and they don’t care.’ He always wanted me to be happy with me.” – Marissa Delgado survivor of the Pulse nightclub shooting and friend of Stanley Almodovar who died that night.
#31 “Ok, I’ll See You In Four”
“It’s a short elevator ride, 30 seconds maybe. Get out and it’s one set of double doors. Right there. Hit the button on the side. Doors open up and the doctor is standing there. She’s got her stuff. She’s ready. I’m looking at him. He’s looking at me and we’re both looking at the patient. I’m looking at the monitor and the patient is crying. She’s asking what happened. She wants her mom. She wants her sister. ‘Somebody, please. Can you please call my brother? Can you?’ Yes. We’ll call them.” – Jaimee Hahn, an ER nurse at Orlando Health.
#32 It Came Over The Radio And They Didn’t Flinch
#33 I Am Mama Dee’s Son
Photo Credits: Photographs by Daymon Gardner and used with permission.