Danny Rivero/Fusion

ORLANDO—There was someone hiding on the other side of the flagpole, but it was hard to make out who it was. As I walked towards the edge of the water, I heard her: a sobbing young black woman leaning on the pole, wailing the gospel tunes that were blasting out of her earbuds.

Advertisement

"I don't know nothing," she cried. "I'm trying to be positive, but if you don't hear from nobody all day, and they're always calling and texting you, and you're texting and calling but they're not picking up the phone…it's hard not to think about the worst."

The worst was truly the worst. The night before, 49 people were shot and killed in Pulse night club, a staple not only of Orlando's LGBT scene, but of young people of all stripes who like to dance. London, the woman who stood at the shore of Lake Eola in downtown Orlando, had a best friend who attended Pulse that night with her girlfriend.

Advertisement

Across the city, young people were mourning the dead, while many others searched desperately for information. By the end of the first night, police had only released the names of six victims. Monday morning, police released eighteen more names, and are slowly releasing more. Everywhere, people echoed the same sentiment: We're just waiting—an anxious, impossible anticipation—for word about who's alive. And who's not.

Elizabeth Siwica holds a candle at a vigil.
Daniel Rivero

Ivory McNeal, 28, decided to go to Pulse on Saturday night to celebrate a friend's housewarming. But at about 1:45 in the morning, he heard the gunshots.

"It happened fast and slow at the same time, it was just confusion," he said the following night, recounting how he escaped from Pulse through a patio door. "One of our friends that we were talking to got shot. Like, right behind us."

Sponsored

After the shooting, the small group surrounding McNeal still hadn't been able to go to sleep, though it was just past dusk the following night. The group had been scrambling all day to find their missing friends.

"There's a lot of people that are still unaccounted for," said Luis Ruiz, a friend of McNeal's who also escaped.

Advertisement

So far, the group knows that one person who was with them died. Two were injured, but have since left the hospital. And there are many, many question marks.

"We want more answers, we want to know where our friends are," McNeale said, tighly embraced by a friend on either side. "That's why we came out here—to show our face and bring support, but also to try to get more information."

Ivory McNeal (left), Luis Ruiz, and Ariel Hermina (right) all survived the shooting at Pulse night club in Orlando.
Daniel Rivero

For some time, it looked like the lakeside vigil in the downtown park was not going to happen. City officials asked the public to postpone public gatherings, because the city's law enforcement was stretched so thin dealing with the aftermath of the shooting. But they eventually allowed certain events to move forward as scheduled.

Advertisement

“The city was very nervous with us putting together this event,” said vigil organizer Mitch Foster. “I knew that I had to focus, I knew that I had to be strong, I knew that I had to put something together.”

Just the night before the attack at Pulse, Orlando was already reeling from the shooting of former "The Voice" contestant Christina Grimmie at another local club down the road, which left several others wounded.

“I could not believe this happened two times in our city,” said Foster, fighting through tears. “We needed somewhere to share our stories, we needed somewhere to grieve together, we needed somewhere to hug each other.”

Mitch Foster organized a vigil in downtown Orlando's Lake Eola Park.
Daniel Rivero

When Nikki Bowles, 27, woke up on Sunday morning, she had 54 text messages and 17 missed calls. People were calling her from every continent, checking to see if she was okay.

Advertisement

Advertisement

“And then I checked online to see how many people it was, and I realized: we weren’t okay,” she said.

Bowles explained that she still hadn’t checked the small list of names that were released, fearful of what it might mean. Chances are “more than likely” that she knows at least a few people who were there.

The messages started coming towards the end of Milka Derisma’s night. Out with friends, she had just gotten home at 4:00 a.m. when people started texting her, “Are you okay?” She didn't pay much attention to the messages.

Advertisement

“I thought they were just saying 'Did you get home?' because of drinking and everything, but then I woke up this morning and…wow,” said Derisma, 25, who was behind a police barricade a few blocks from the shooting.

Looking past the yellow tape to the big “P” on Pulse’s sign, she stood silent for a moment.

“You know, a lot of people go to that club whether they’re gay or not gay—it’s just a place to hang out—and the fact that such a horrendous action like that can happen is just horrifying,” she said. “You hear about it in other places, but I live here. That’s what makes it even scarier.”

Nikki Bowles attends a vigil in downtown Orlando.
Daniel Rivero

Kevin Hawk, a 23-year-old Canadian, stepped up to the front of the Sunday night vigil with something to say. He had moved to Orlando that very morning, having driven into the city mere hours after the shooting. As he paced back and forth nervously, he became emotional at the outpouring of support for the victims whom he never knew.

Advertisement

Advertisement

“You all should be proud of what you’re doing right now,” he said through tears, while the rain poured down on the crowd.

“It makes me proud to call this my home now,” he said.

Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.