Survivors of the mass shootings at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub and a South Florida high school embraced Wednesday outside the club where 49 people were killed nearly two years ago.
“We’re all family,” said Neema Bahrami, who was an event manager at Pulse at the time of the attack.
Pulse survivors, wearing shirts that read “We Will Not Let Hate Win,” stood among Parkland survivors, whose shirts read “Kids First, Politics Second.” The Parkland group hung 49 white roses on the gate surrounding the nightclub, one for each of the victims.
The visitors from Parkland made a stop at Pulse to pay tribute to the nightclub shooting victims and show solidarity with its survivors and activists as part of their trip home from Tallahassee, where they had petitioned lawmakers to reform the state’s gun laws.
If stricter gun legislation had been enacted in response to the June 12, 2016, mass shooting at Pulse, the Parkland survivors argued, they would have been spared the shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14.
Stronger laws should have been in place even before the Pulse shooting, said both sets of survivors, including 16-year-old Annabel Claprood, who was in the first room the Parkland school gunman approached.
“This should have been changed after Sandy Hook,” Annabel said, referring to the 2012 massacre of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. “Pulse shouldn’t have even happened.”
She testified before state lawmakers Tuesday.
“We’re gonna get it done,” a Parkland survivor said to Bahrami.
“Thank you for keeping it up. It’s exhausting,” another Parkland survivor said. Bahrami held her hands, and they vowed to keep fueling the conversation about gun-control legislation.
State lawmakers rejected an assault-style weapons ban Tuesday, despite the group’s testifying in its favor.
“They just made a huge group of activists out of us who are teaming up with other activists. This community right here,” said Shelbie Seys, who has three children going to schools in Parkland.
Orlando knows their pain and the road to healing far too well, said Mayor Buddy Dyer, who was at Pulse on Wednesday to welcome the group. Dyer said he wanted to show the same love and support that Orlando felt from around the world after Pulse.
Orlando city attorneys have been to Broward County since the massacre, helping School Board attorneys there navigate some issues that confronted Orlando immediately after the Pulse shooting, Dyer said.
Dyer said he favors gun-control legislation.
“If the shooter in the case in Parkland had not been able to purchase that weapon during the course of the last two years, he could not have carried out the act that he did,” Dyer said. “I do support a ban on assault weapons moving forward.”
The nation watched as student survivors organized rallies and delivered compelling testimony. Students got in front of state lawmakers who were in their legislative session, an opportunity Pulse survivors did not have because the shooting occurred in June.
The session begins in January and ends in March.
Construction is currently under way on a “interim” memorial at Pulse that is meant to make it easier for visitors to pay their respects while long-term plans for the site are still being determined.
On Wednesday, Pulse survivor Luis Ruiz befriended Heather Davidson, director of public policy and advocacy for United Way of Broward County. They exchanged numbers and a hug before Davidson boarded the bus.
They stood together for a photo in front of the roses.
“We’re stronger together,” Davidson said. “This needs to stop.”