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A Mourning Orlando Tells the World: ‘We Are Not Afraid’

Orlando shooting
Photo by Alberto Lammers

The nation’s worst mass shooting took place this weekend at Orlando gay nightclub, Pulse. Friends and family shared their remorse for the 49 dead and fears for the 53 injured. But already, the LGBT community is expressing strength together. 

ORLANDO--Javie White typically dances Saturday nights at Pulse in Orlando. But this weekend, he gave up his dancing shift to bartend at another nearby club. So the young go-go dancer wasn't on his box next to Pulse's entrance when a gunman came in and opened fire.

"I've been crying home alone for seven hours," he says.

The other dancers--Asia, Gemini, Axel, Tracey--are safe. Their names are not on the list of 49 victims killed when Omar Mateen stormed the gay nightclub with a handgun and assault rifle.

But White's friend Drew is still missing. Juan, a bartender, was shot in the leg. The customer Juan was serving didn't make it.

White and his friends have gathered at Parliament House less than 24 hours after the attack. He is resilient.

"Orlando is the most tightly-knit gay community I've ever been in. We are here to support each other and we are not afraid," he says.

He hugs a friend, Tyler Block, who is barely holding together. Block found out only an hour ago one of his closest friends was killed. She had a 2-year-old son.

"For someone to come into my home and murder my family, it's beyond anything you will ever feel," Block says, trembling and eyes full of tears.

In a room behind Block, the midnight drag show went on as scheduled. The performers encouraged the thin crowd to be strong. They joked about getting drunk to cope as many in the audience stood by and embraced.

Three miles away, police have blocked off a half-mile stretch of Orange Avenue. Chris Enzo was standing outside the perimeter. His friend, Rodney, was bartending at Pulse. He was shot three times, but is expected to live.

Enzo arrived expecting to find a memorial. But he sees only rubberneckers and the blinding lights of the news cameras and the low, almost tranquil murmur of the reporters in the muggy night.

A tidy neighborhood of one-story bungalow houses sits off this stretch of Orange Avenue where, through the curtains, televisions glowed with the news broadcasts streamed just yards away.

"I thought there was supposed to be a candlelight vigil here, but no one has showed up. They're too scared," he says.

Enzo visited his friend in the hospital earlier.

"The entire walk to Rodney's room you just saw people in tears. In the parking lot outside, nothing but families crying," he says. "This loss hits everyone at home."

Angela Gurzi, who lives across the street from Pulse, had been calling her friend throughout the day. "All day, my calls just go straight to voicemail," she said. "I have no idea what happened to her. I just keep checking the list of victims and hopefully she's not there."

The city of Orlando is releasing the names of the victims through a website. The list grows longer as more victims are identified.

Gurzi frequented Pulse with her friends, and she imagined how harrowing the attack was for those inside.

"I can see people dancing in the back, and they might not have heard the gunshots," she said. "The music would be playing, and they would have just been bombarded. They wouldn't have anywhere to go."

Mateen held hostages in an hours-long standoff with police. He was ultimately killed after opening fire on officers outside the club.

Fear still has a strangle-hold on the mourners, whose friends and family warn them to stay in.

"You can't go anywhere as a group without worrying if something else is going to happen," Gurzi said. "I'm asking my friends to take it easy with large events until we figure out what's going on."

Kai'Ja Adonis performs at Pulse. The drag queen and mother of House of Adonis admitted she lost a friend in the early morning shooting. But she has pulled herself together with grace for younger people in the community.

"I cried all day. I'm done crying. I'm ready to be myself again," Adonis said. "I'm trying to be my funny, catty self for the kids."

Moving forward, she knows that safety will be a priority among those left behind.

"Everything's up in the air. (The police) don't want us to do things that put us all together," she said. "But no one is going to break us. No one is going to break this community."

Adonis smiles. She laughs and cackles as friends and bartenders pass by. But the shock is still there.

"I had known him for years," she said. "I just hung out with him last weekend. All I can think is, 'God, I just saw you.'"

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