Barbara Poma originally opened Pulse in 2004 to honor her brother, John, whom she lost to HIV/AIDS in 1991. She wanted to create a space that would embody the loving and accepting spirit her brother had found in underground gay nightclubs.
At 2:02 a.m. on June 12, 2016 the lives of 49 revelers were tragically cut short, with countless others injured, in a violent hate crime committed by one man with a semi-automatic rifle. The club has been shuttered since the mass shooting, but now Poma is working to turn it into a memorial and museum to honor the victims and families of the shooting.
Poma has traveled around the country visiting other memorials to mass deaths on American soil. She met with the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City, as well as the memorial that commemorates the Oklahoma City Bombing. “They were very helpful, warning her about the positive and negatives in the experience of creating a memorial, explaining how many emotions come up,” Sara Brady, the spokeswoman for onePULSE, the non-profit organization created for this project, told HISTORY.
An interim memorial was revealed in May 2018. The site includes an interactive wall exhibit, lighted benches and a place to write and leave messages. The official memorial is still in progress. “It is community driven and will take part in three phases,” explained Brady. First, the board will construct a survey to send out to survivors and the families of the victims. Secondly, the same survey will go out to first responders, law enforcement and health care professionals directly involved. Lastly, the survey will be posted on the onePULSE Foundation website where the public can contribute their ideas, too.
While the memorial is the more immediate concern, the museum will be created in the years to come. “She wants to include the artifacts that were preserved. What the victims left behind,” Brady explained. There will also be an educational component “to teach against hate,” said Brady. “We cannot let hate win.”
Very few recent mass shootings have occurred at small businesses, but Pulse nightclub was just that. This wasn’t a government building, it was a husband and wife who owned a small nightclub that was created to honor a family member. The nightclub provided a safe place, and was part of the heartbeat of the LGBT community in Florida.
The one-year anniversary was marked with three memorials. One began at 1:45 a.m. Two mayors, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, were in attendance, as well as over 1,000 spectators. At 2:02 a.m., the exact time the lone gunman entered Latin night at Pulse in Orlando and started to fire his bullets the year before, the names of the 49 victims were read out loud. Earlier that morning, Poma turned the outside lights on for the first time since the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history took place the previous year. “We only had room for around 200 people in the building, there was a huge overflow. It was emotional and very beautiful. They invited family members up one at a time to say their loved ones’ names,” Brady said. The memorial was guarded by 49 people dressed as angels, in all white, who silently surrounded the perimeter of the club. There was another memorial later that day at noon, with the final one at 10 p.m.
Other venues in Orlando memorialized the victims of the Pulse shooting, too. The Center, an LGBTQ sanctuary in Orlando, revealed an art installation by local artist Lindsay Lynch that displayed the faces of each of the 49 victims. After the shooting, The Center became a central gathering place for the community looking to express grief.
In months after the tragedy, Poma had originally considered selling the nightclub to the city of Orlando for $2.25 million, but instead decided she would spearhead the mission to create a memorial and museum. To do this, she created the onePULSE Foundation to see it through, which has a task force made up of survivors, family members and individuals from the community. “Poma has been very clear, this isn’t her memorial, this is for the families,” Brady said.
In 2018, Governor Rick Scott officially declared June 12 as Pulse Remembrance Day in Florida.