The UCF community has banded together in the wake of a mass shooting at Pulse nightclub this morning that left 50 dead and at least 53 injured.
The three-hour ordeal began at 2:02 a.m., when gunman Omar Seddique Mateen, 29, exchanged gunfire with three police officers outside of the gay nightclub. At 5 a.m., a SWAT team stormed the club and killed Mateen.
"Our biggest concern was further loss of life," Orlando Police Chief John Mina said at a press conference. "We exchanged gunfire with the suspect, and he was dead at the scene."
It is the second shooting Orlando has experienced this week; on Friday, 22-year-old singer Christina Grimmie, a former contestant of reality show The Voice, was shot and killed during a show at The Plaza Live by 27-year-old St. Petersburg resident Kevin James Loibl.
Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for Orange County today.
"You don't want this to happen anywhere in the world," Scott said. "It's devastating when you see how many people lost their lives and the impact on the families."
Members of the UCF community have reached out to the Central Florida Future to share their reactions to the shootings.
Gabe Friedman, a 2015 UCF alumnus, celebrated his 19th birthday at Pulse. It was the first club he ever visited in Orlando. He currently lives in New York.
"I am absolutely horrified. The fact that many people are using the shooters religion to list this as a religious-fueled terrorist attack is simply not true. This was a mass hate crime. Pure and simple. A man was uncomfortable with the community and used an assault rifle to kill and wound over 100 people. As a gay man, I shouldn't have to feel unsafe. Especially in a wonderful city like Orlando. This was a direct attack on the LGBTQ+ community, a community in Orlando that I have loved being a part of for my four years as a UCF student. Pulse was the first club I went to in Orlando to celebrate my 19th birthday over three years ago and it was a place of joy, pride, and a place where I felt safe as a gay man. Gay clubs, gay events, pride parades, etc. are supposed to be places where the LGBTQ+ community can celebrate their differences together and feel safe and unashamed together. They rejoice in being proud and being themselves. After the Stonewall riots in 1969, Pride month began as a way of using non-violence to help raise awareness of the LGBTQ+ community. A way of saying, there is strength in numbers. We stand strong and proud together. We are making great strides towards equality, but we still have miles and miles to go until every member of the LGBTQ+ community feels safe. My heart aches for my community and I send my love and condolences to every friend and family member [affected] by this incredible tragedy.”
Jean Valentin, a 2016 UCF alumnus, used to attend the club regularly.
"You know what is most terrible is that there are so many young lgbt people who frequent clubs. When I turned 18, I was there maybe two times a week. I would hate to think there are people younger than 20 dead. It is the reality though."
Danielle Hendrix, 2015 UCF alumna and former Central Florida Future employee, was at the show where Christina Grimmie was shot.
"I was at the Plaza Live Friday night when Christina Grimmie was shot and killed. As I was back out by the tour bus and barricades waiting to take photos with Before You Exit, security started running and yelling, 'Run! Run! There’s a shooter!' No one should ever have to hear those gunshots, or to have to run for their lives. The situation was even more sickening when I woke up to the news that the city I love and call home is now home of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. It’s time for things to change. Something has got to give. Use the hashtags and show support on social media, sure, but pledge to go out and make a difference. Pray hard. Go out and donate blood. Write to your state representatives. Whatever you do, make a positive impact. Before you exit, make a difference."
Steven Wentworth, is a 2014 UCF alumnus. He is currently in Maryland.
“Pulse was the first gay club I ever went too. This hits so close to home, literally. It feels wrong that I am so far away from everyone when this happened. I can only imagine what the families of those victims will go through, and all of my love and thoughts go to them.”
Stephanie Frosch, a UCF alumna, was active in Orlando's LGBTQ community. She currently lives in New York.
“It is absolutely heartbreaking what happened last night at Pulse. The Orlando LGBTQ+ community is one of the strongest, most unified, out there. I know we will only come back stronger. Sending all of my love to everyone in Orlando, especially to those who were out last night. I can't believe we live in a world where such terrible people try to shatter something so beautiful.”
Veronica Brezina, senior journalism student and former Central Florida Future employee, is an active member of Orlando's LGBTQ community.
“My heart goes out to all the unknowing victims in this terrible tragedy that's so hard to comprehend. These people were having a fun night with friends as they should. I personally would have never expected this sort of mass shooting in Orlando — my home. We will never get to know those 50 souls. The LGBT community and allies will always stick together and we will stand strong through this.”
This story will be updated throughout the day.
Jessica Gottsleben, is a 2015 UCF graduate who frequented Pulse since 2010 and is a longtime advocate and active member of the LGBTQ+ community at UCF.
"Pulse was my second home. Pulse was the place in which we could fearlessly be our most authentic selves and find the love we sometimes needed that day or week. My heart is breaking for my Pulse family, all of the victims and their loved ones. Our safe place, our home, our family, our peace of mind was targeted and attacked. My Pulse family and the larger LGBTQ+ community of Central Florida is made up of the strongest group of individuals I have ever known. I am blessed to have my Pulse family, and I know that we will get through this by supporting each other as we always do, and coming together as a community. Hate and intolerance are still very real, but we will never let them win, and we will stand strong together. When one of our family members hurts or struggles, we all hurt, but more importantly, we rally and build and support. We are all grateful for the outpouring of love we have felt for the victims and the Pulse family at large. The survivors and victims of this tragedy, and everyone in the Pulse family are fearless and selfless as fighters and lovers and helpers. Our hearts will always beat as one, in the face of adversity and even in the face of terror. Even one family member lost this week was one too many. We will not forget this tragedy and the beautiful individuals who were taken from us too soon as we move forward to fight for the rights and the safety of this community nationally, and the security of the city in which we reside. The victims will always be in our hearts as reminders for why we keep going and why we need families like our Pulse family. The unnecessary and unacceptable violence must stop, but today we continue to mourn as a family. My prayers are with everyone affected by this tragedy and my entire Pulse family today. One city. One love. One heart. One Pulse. And our Pulse is strong."
Bernard Wilchusky is the Editor-in-Chief of the Central Florida Future. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cameradudeman.