Edgard Robles stood teary-eyed at the edge of a rainbow-lit stage.
Images of the 49 people who lost their lives at the Pulse nightclub shooting one year ago in Orlando looked down on him. One tear rolled down his cheek. Then another.
Robles held a poster-sized sign of his best friend, Javier Jorge-Reyes, one of Robles’ seven friends killed at the nightclub on June 12, 2016.
He stood in a line of 49 volunteers who all carried poster-sized images of each victim. They ascended onto the stage one at a time at the AmericanAirlines Arena on Monday night, each reading a name to an audience illuminated by electric candles.
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The candlelight vigil commemorating the one-year anniversary honored each life lost at Pulse, the scene of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, when 49 were killed, 53 injured and thousands stripped of loved ones and friends. Omar Mateen opened fire on the Orlando nightclub’s crowd, which had gathered to revel in a themed “Latin Night.” Police killed Mateen after a three-hour standoff.
“I haven’t been back to [Pulse] yet,” said Robles, 31, of Miami. “I don’t know how I would handle it. It’s been really tough.”
Appearances at the vigil included Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, state Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami, and event organizer Victor Diaz Herman, the CEO of Miami-based LGBTQ group Pridelines.
Regalado said Miami must stand in solidarity with Orlando.
“Miami has embraced people who have suffered,” he said in an interview. “This city needs to take action to send a clear message. We are not going to tolerate this type of hate.”
The mayor then appeared on stage to address the modest audience, candle in hand.
“In Miami, we all look different and yet, we live together,” he said. “I’m here to light a candle and I’m here to say, ‘Never more.’’’
Richardson, the first openly gay man to win a seat in the state Legislature, said when he learned of the shooting, he drove to Orlando through the night and worked with Gov. Rick Scott to meet with members of the LGBTQ community.
“I continue to believe that nothing good came out of this, but I believe we can raise awareness,” Richardson said. “In the last legislative session, we didn’t have to fight any hateful bills. Pulse was on [the conservatives’] minds.”
Pridelines partnered with the Miami police department and the Miami Heat to organize the Pulse Day of Remembrance event.
“We want to engage our community in rising up and saying enough is enough,” he said. “We would hate for the lives of the 49 to be taken in vain. We, along with an entire movement across the country, would like to encourage people to go back into their community to fight bigotry and hatred with love.”
The Miami police LGBTQ liaison said the department’s involvement in the vigil had as much to do with short-term event safety as it did with long-term safety in the LGBTQ community.
“After Pulse, our mission was to reach out to our LGBTQ community and let them know that we stand by them, and assure them that they are safe,” said LGBTQ liaison and police spokesman Christopher Bess. “Pridelines [...] came to us about this vigil and with open arms, we agreed to collaborate with them to make sure this vigil is successful.”
The event also included a dance performance, a tearful rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and addresses from community leaders and organizers. Attendees decorated a message wall with inspirational quotes and painted a canvas donated by LGBTQ group OUT Miami.
The evening vigil ended a day of statewide observances in memories of the lives lost, including:
▪ At 2:02 a.m. — the exact time Matteen starting firing shots — the name of each victim was read aloud to the crowd of hundreds who stood outside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
▪ Florida’s U.S. senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio introduced a resolution in the Senate on Monday to honor Pulse victims.
▪ Flags around Florida were flown at half staff per the order of the governor and at noon, church bells throughout Orlando rang 49 times. At midday, a public service was held at the nightclub.
▪ In Miami, the Archdiocese rang the bells at St. Mary’s Cathedral 49 times at noon, commemorating each life lost. Later in the evening, the Pride Center in Wilton Manors held a Pulse remembrance flag-hanging ceremony at the center’s lobby.
At 8 p.m. Thursday, Trinity Cathedral, 464 NE 16th St., will hold an interfaith service honoring the Pulse victims. All are welcome.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Pulse: One year later