June 12, 2016, started like any other Saturday night at Pulse, the beating heart of Orlando's LGBTQ community. It was Latin Night at the popular club. People were dancing, drinking, and having a good time. That was until about 2 AM, when Omar Mateen stormed the club and opened fire with an assault rifle, leaving 49 dead and another 53 injured. It was the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in US history.
One year later, driving through Orlando, it's impossible to forget what happened that night, because the reminders are everywhere. Rainbow murals in tribute to the victims, posters in storefront windows proclaiming "Orlando Strong", and even rainbow welcome mats at local chain hotels, have transformed the face of the city into a living memorial to the massacre. Pulse remains closed, but you can visit the site.
A fence surrounding the club is draped in black cloth that's been adorned with artwork. Wooden stars bearing the victims' names hang from a nearby tree, and rainbow teddy bears, statues of the Virgin Mary, and dried roses are scattered below a painted rainbow. At the back of the club, you see bullet holes through the fence—a reminder of the shootout between SWAT teams and Mateen, who declared his allegiance to the Islamic State terror group in a 911 call from inside the club. Mateen was killed.
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