When Islamic extremist and first-class hater, Omar Mateen, walked into the Pulse nightclub in Orlando’s Sodo district he was carrying a variant of the AR-15 assault rifle and a 9mm semiautomatic handgun. And a smart phone. With the two weapons he murdered 49 club patrons and with the smart phone he repeatedly checked to see if news of his hateful slaughter was trending on the internet. Truly a massacre for the digital age.
This was, as you surely know, the worst mass shooting in American history and so much has already been written about it. And will be written about it. By media in Central Florida, all over the U.S. and, quite literally, all over the world. Even without delving into that nauseating social media aspect of this, it was a singular event in America’s history; it was our only mass shooting that was both an obvious act of terror and a clear-cut hate crime. Side note here: to those who think it was only the latter but not the former, I say: you’re blinded by your hate and homophobia. Try dropping your leather-bound, King James assault Bibles and begin your slow trek away from slavish obedience to the Levitical cult and toward the 21st Century. Do it. You’ll thank me later.
Many of us who live in Orlando followed the events in real time and were shocked to see it all unfold. Shocked, but not surprised, as that saying goes. I’ve lived in Orlando for all but a few years since 1961 and I’ve made my living directly or indirectly from the visitors who come here from every corner of the globe since my first waiter’s gig in 1977. Tourism is our lifeblood. And many of us have always dreaded the possibility that some day some murderous punk–or punks–would visit our tropical paradise and shoot, stab or blow up people and things, shocking and horrifying the world and making even the idea of coming back to this formerly-blissful place too awful to contemplate.
I’m not at all minimizing the human cost of Mr. Mateen’s savage and obscene act; the 102 people who were cut down at Pulse–49 of whom died–should never be thought of as bit players in a larger story about theme parks and tourist dollars. But because so many journalists and reporters have done excellent work covering that primary aspect of the attack, I feel it’s not inappropriate to make some brief observations about some of the ramifications for our part of Florida. We’re a bit more than two weeks from this sad, shocking spasm of hate and I want to focus on some takeaways about the events of June 12th for those of us who call Orlando home but were, mercifully, not caught in a madman’s sights that morning.
Because the scum-of-the-earth perp had his ticket punched by OPD’s SWAT Team, we’ll never know exactly what motivated him, or whether he chose the world’s premier vacation spot with some kind of specific intent. Meaning choosing Orlando to purposefully spoil this idyllic getaway spot for vacationers in the way that Bin Laden wanted to shock the world by thrusting a dagger deep into America’s financial heart and its seat of government. He did choose the September 11th targets in a purposeful and effective way. A plan that was purposeful, effective and evil. Very evil.
I don’t know if that was actually a part his sick terror plan in the lead-up to this attack. What I do know is that if he was hoping to strike a death-blow to our city and our region, he failed miserably.
The way Orlando has come together in the aftermath of this carnage is truly amazing. I love Central Florida and have known for more than half a century that it’s filled with some real first-rate examples of humanity. But even so, I’ve been surprised and taken aback–in a good way–with the ways in which our community, the nation and, yes, the world have responded to the tragedy of that morning’s events and rallied around our part of the Sunshine State.
The lives of Mr. Mateen’s victims have been thoroughly celebrated in the days which have followed the attack. Some of our local news outlets have really emphasized that aspect of the event and greatly humanized some people who did not get out of Pulse alive for those of us who did not know them. Many local media outlets have done fine work in that regard. Stations WKMG and WFTV led the way and the Orlando Sentinel produced truly excellent coverage all throughout this incredible and gut-wrenching saga. And they still are.
Those of us who are directly involved in the hospitality industry–as were many of the Pulse victims–have seen absolutely no sign that any of the thousands and thousands of folks, both in the U.S. and beyond who enjoy coming here are being cowed into staying away. I have seen, read and viewed many features and articles from so many sources which lead me to believe just the opposite.
We grieve for the victims of the Pulse rampage. And we honor them by moving forward with our lives and with our corporate life in this community. We honor them by refusing to be bullied, intimidated and terrorized.
It’s been said–not a few times–that Orlando will never be the same in the aftermath of this sad chapter in our history. That’s true. But around that intensely sad and shocking story, a greater story of community-building and transcendent love is being written. It’s a wonderful thing and one more bit of evidence that Orlando is an extraordinary place and her people care about one another in an extraordinary way. To see this so clearly only a few days down the road is nearly-miraculous and an invitation to move forward. To move forward together, carrying in our grieving yet hopeful hearts the memories of those lost and the determination that their deaths will not have been in vain. #OrlandoStrong