Love And Mourning Hang Over Orlando

Jun 18, 2016
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to start today in Orlando where 19 of the 53 people who were injured in the Pulse Nightclub shooting remain hospitalized at the Orlando Regional Medical Center. Sixteen have been discharged. The city remains in a state of mourning, vigils, memorials and funerals are now happening several times a day around Central Florida. NPR's John Burnett is on the line with us from Orlando. John, thanks so much for joining us.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: So tell us about the atmosphere there.

BURNETT: Well, you encounter these ceremonies to remember the dead everywhere now. They're happening, you know, two, three, four, times a day. You meet friends and family of these young people who died in the nightclub, and they're just trying to draw some meaning from this utterly senseless death.

This morning, there was a big funeral for a man named Drew Leinonen at Saint Luke Cathedral in downtown Orlando. And it was really quite a scene. There were five protesters from a notorious anti-gay church, but they were met by hundreds of counter-protesters. We're going to play a little piece of tape here. You can hear the counter-protestors singing "Amazing Grace."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Though shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind. It is abomination. What part of that don't you people understand? It's very plain language...

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Singing) Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.

MARTIN: Did you get a chance to talk to some of the people who were there? And what was on their minds?

BURNETT: Well, you tend to meet people from all over the community. They didn't necessarily know the dead person. It's just in this traumatic time, they have this need to show a sense of solidarity. I want you to hear now from Nina Travieso. She was also at this morning's funeral. She was holding a sign that says Orlando strong.

NINA TRAVIESO: We're a part of this whole community, and we want to stand strong and together and let the families know that we're here for them. I didn't lose anyone personally, but I feel like they were still a part of my family because I have two children who are a part of the LGBT community, and I love them with all my heart. And so these 49 that passed and the ones that were injured were like my family, too.

MARTIN: So tell us a little bit more also about the mood of the city now six days after this shooting.

BURNETT: Well, last night I went to - there's a little town northwest of Orlando called Apopka, and they had a vigil for a 30-year-old Mexican man. His name's Miguel Angel Horonato. He'd worked in his father's fajita restaurant. He was one of the first ones killed in the nightclub. It was held in a public city park, you know, steamy hot trees festooned with Spanish moss, and, of course, Miguel Angel was, you know, among those 95 percent of the victims who were Latino. And it was the same thing.

Most of the people in the park didn't know him, but they had this need to respond to their community that had been violated, that had been attacked, almost like New Yorkers felt after 9/11 and to show the sense of unity and the grief.

And just real quickly, Michel, for contrast, there's all these tourists who continue to come into Orlando to the theme parks here, and I see these firework shows outside my window at Disney's Magic Kingdom. And so there's just this chasm between these two experiences now. On the one hand, the visitors are coming to the theme parks and on the other, just this overwhelming despondency that so many Orlando citizens are experiencing.

MARTIN: John, before we let you go, forgive me for asking, but how is the city handling the need to hold all these services, all these burials, at once?

BURNETT: Well, it is sort of overwhelming in the historic cemetery in town, Greenwood, actually has set aside this whole plot just for the victims of the nightclub shooting, whose families want them buried there. Of course, a lot were Puerto Ricans, and they'll go back to the island to get buried but - and it's this beautiful space under this huge live oak tree overlooking one of - a placid lake, which are all over Orlando. And they're donating the burial money for the plot. So that's what's happening now. Orlando is remembering and burying its dead.

MARTIN: That's NPR correspondent John Burnett in Orlando. John, thanks so much for speaking with us.

BURNETT: It's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.