I know this isn't the type of piece you'd expect to see on a site like this, but I need to talk about what happened in my city. If you somehow missed it on the news, there was a deadly terrorist attack in Orlando over the weekend.
The attack was on a popular LGBTQ nightclub called Pulse. A shooter named Omar Mateen entered the nightclub early Sunday morning and killed 49 innocent people and wounded 53 others, making this the deadliest mass-shooting in modern American history.
When I heard about the attack Sunday morning, my heart dropped. I know people who have gone to Pulse in the past. My friends could have been there. I could have been one of the people who lost someone. The whole morning I had friends checking in on me, as I was doing for them. I saw everyone checking in on Facebook and being marked as "safe." I was numb.
It was a day filled with confusion as people desperately attempted to find out the fate of their loved ones. I remember watching a mother cry on the news because she had not yet heard if her son had survived. Police described the incessant sound of mobile phones ringing inside the crime scene, as loved ones desperately tried to contact those who could no longer answer the phone.
It wasn't until Monday that it really sunk in. One of my friends knew a victim and posted that he had passed away, and in her post, she talked about all of the people marked as "safe." She talked about how none of us are actually safe from this tragedy because everyone who lives in Orlando - and beyond - now feels the effects of the attack. I couldn't agree more.
Next, survivors came forward with their stories of what they experienced from inside the club. These stories will stay with me forever. They have also released text messages that the victims sent to their loved ones as they were trapped inside the club. I cannot begin to imagine the fear they must have felt as they watched their friends die around them. These stories and texts will make what happened in Orlando real even for those of you who are lucky enough to be farther away from the scene of the massacre.
In the days since, I can physically feel the overwhelming sadness that has taken over the city. Every time I turn on the television I see more people crying, and I cry with them. I have cried so many times since the attack. So have many, many people I know. If the city, as a whole, feels this much sadness, I can't imagine what the families of the victims must feel as they plan 49 funerals. Can you imagine that? Forty-nine funerals and that number could rise, as there are still people in critical condition.
Over the past few days, my city has come together in ways I couldn't imagine. We have had numerous vigils, including one at UCF for the two Knights (the Knight is our school mascot) we lost in the attack. Disney even donated $1 million to a relief fund set up for the victim's families. A GoFundMe page set up after the attacks has raised over $4 million since Sunday. It's been touching to watch the outpouring of support for my home.
In these times, it is important to listen to our stories of love and tolerance instead of succumbing to hate. This city has shown how powerfully love can overcome hateful, senseless acts. People in Orlando and around the world are speaking out against homophobia, transphobia, and Islamophobia. The point is clear: Hate will only result in more attacks like the one that occurred here. I urge all of you to spread our message of love and tolerance wherever you may live; it makes a difference.
As proud I am of my city for how we have handled these unfathomable events, the wounds are still very fresh, and they will continue to hurt for a very long time for the residents of Orlando. For those of you living in other areas of the world, this will fade from your news channels soon, and likely many of you will push it to the back of your mind. I urge you to try and remember. Remember the stories. Remember the victims. Remember the first responders, doctors, and nurses. Remember my city, a city that has united in love and tolerance rather than in hatred and vengeance.