Local News

Locals honor, remember victims of Orlando nightclub shooting

Posted June 12, 2016 6:40 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 1:38 p.m. EDT

— News of a Sunday morning mass shooting that left at least 50 people dead at a gay nightclub in Orlando is having a deep impact on the gay and lesbian community in Raleigh.

A game of kickball at Raleigh’s Halifax Park served as a diversion for Tabor Winstead, who used to work at Pulse, the Orlando nightclub where Omar Mateen opened fire.

“You just get lost in the surrealness of what’s going on,” he said.

Winstead woke up to the news that that the fun-loving place where he worked for three years had become a scene of horror. Sunday afternoon, he was wearing an old employee T-shirt that said “Peace. Love. Pulse.”

“It was just a free for all, you came in to be yourself,” Winstead said of the club.

Winstead worked as a lighting designer at Pulse before moving back to Raleigh, where he grew up, last year. He recalls Saturday nights- Latin Night at the club- always drew a big crowd.

“To know that the faces that I used to see all the time, who maybe would come say hello by the DJ booth, they’re lying lifeless on the floor now as we speak,” he said.

As the City of Orlando began releasing the names of those killed Sunday morning, Winstead feared that people he knew may have been killed.

“You’re just numb. I’m numb,” he said.

James Miller, executive director of the LGBT Center in Raleigh, has also been to Pulse.

“When I saw it, it was just immediately a stone in my stomach,” he said.

While the shooting happened 600 miles away, he said the massacre feels so close because the LGBT community is close-knit, especially in the southeast.

“Orlando and Atlanta and Charlotte and Raleigh share a lot of the same people and a lot of the same energy and it hurt to the core to know that this could have been us, you know, this situation could have been us,” he said.

As the City of Orlando began releasing the names of those killed Sunday morning, Winstead feared that people he knew may have been killed.

“You’re just numb. I’m numb,” he said.

Miller said it pains him to know that the worst mass shooting in U.S. history targeted the LGBT community, which came together Sunday night to remember those killed and injured.

Several candlelight vigils were being held across North Carolina, including one at Legends Nightclub in downtown Raleigh.

The vigil took place in the parking lot for anybody who wanted to show support for the victims in Orlando and their loved ones. Many people in attendance said the private LGBT nightclub had a lot of similarities to Pulse in its layout and style of music.

Kelly Taylor with the LGBT Center of Raleigh said the plan was to show solidarity and simply make sure that members of the LGBT community are taken care of and feel safe.

“We have a lot of people who have a lot of feelings; who have grown up feeling discriminated against and unloved because they are gay, they are lesbian, they are bisexual, they are transgender and that’s not OK,” said Taylor.

Many people at the vigil admitted they grew up in places where being gay was something they kept quiet or said they had gay friends who have been in situations where they didn't feel safe, but said that what happened in Orlando will not cause them to shrink into the shadows.

"We have some strong people in this community, but as a group, that strength can be ten fold. I refuse to live my life in fear," one attendee said.

Vigils in Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Hickory and Wilmington were also held Sunday night.

"It's beyond frustrating to think we live in a day in age when you're not able to walk down the street and be who you want to be or, even worse, be in a safe environment or be in a club that is for your desires and not be safe in there is just a very scary thought," said Matt Cozzi with Legends Nightclub.