How a Local College Honors the Pulse Nightclub Shooting Victims

Read about how UCF, a college less than 10 minutes away from the location of the Pulse shooting, honors the 49 victims each year during Pride month.
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Juan Ramon Guerrero and Christopher Andrew "Drew" Leinonen died in the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, 2016. Each year since, their alma mater — the University of Central Florida (UCF) — has honored their, and the 47 other victims', memories in any way they can.

This year, UCF helped organize three events to encourage the community to remain unified in the face of hate and violence.

"We want to show people that, even through great violence, there is still this community that continues to thrive," UCF student and LGBTQ+ Services Coordinator Michael Nunes said. "We want people to feel connected to each other. We want people to feel less alone. We want them to know there is a community that loves them, accepts them, and is here for them in whatever they're going through."

Read on to learn more about how the UCF community continues to honor and remember the Pulse shooting's 49 victims.

A Pulse shooting survivor stands outside Millican Hall during the lighting ceremony. Image Credit: Courtesy of UCF Communications

'UCF Remembers' Vigil for the 49

LGBTQ+ Services held a vigil on June 6, where UCF administrators, LGBTQ+ community members, and student ambassadors talked about how to maintain unity. They lit Millican Hall, one of the most important buildings at UCF, in LGBTQ+ Pride colors to commemorate the lives lost to homophobic violence.

Alex Maldonado and Siara Tirado, members of UCF's LGBTQ+ student advisory group, Lavender Council, read aloud each of the 49 victims' names. Pulse nightclub owner and founder of the onePULSE Foundation, Barbara Poma, gave a speech on unity following the Pulse shooting.

"We had all of these people come together and talk about what Pulse meant to them and what community building looks like six years after Pulse," Nunes said.

'We All Have onePULSE' Blood Drive

The onePULSE Foundation focuses on memorializing the victims of the shooting.

UCF teamed up with onePULSE and Big Red Bus to bring a blood drive to UCF on June 8, where students donated blood for trauma patients.

"We held the drive to bring awareness that this is something really still needed in times of great tragedy, and we saw that after the Pulse shooting — people lining up to give blood even if they couldn't because they thought it was their duty," explained Nunes.

UCF students visit the Pulse Memorial. Image Credit: Courtesy of UCF Communications

Pulse Memorial Site Visit

UCF also hosted a guided tour of the Pulse memorial in downtown Orlando on June 9. The school drove students from UCF's downtown campus to the memorial and back for a debrief session.

Nunes said he wanted the memorial visit to remind students of the tragedy of the shooting while giving them time to unpack what it meant for the LGBTQ+ community in Orlando.

"As a university so close to Pulse, it was important because UCF is not just its own insular place. UCF is a part of the Orlando community," Nunes said. "It was important to recognize it because it affected us. It affected the LGBTQ+ community in Orlando and nationwide."

Ailed Sanchez, co-president of UCF's Pride Student Association, said the memorial also serves as a reminder and warning of what could happen again.

"Having these memorials makes sure that there's an awareness that this can still happen, especially since shootings are a more common occurrence," Sanchez said. "It makes sure we not only remember the people we lost but try to inform and avoid something like that happening to us again to the best of our ability."

onePULSE International Culture of Remembrance Symposium

The onePULSE Foundation held a symposium for Pulse remembrance at UCF from June 10-11. The symposium focused on remembering history to foster a better community.

Presenters included speakers from the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

Pulse Commemoration Mural

Created in 2017, UCF painted a mural of the UCF student and alumni who died at Pulse, Guerrero and Leinonen, respectively, on the Student Union.

Leinonen's mother, Christine Leinonen, told UCF what seeing her son memorialized in the mural meant to her.

"Drew loved UCF. He picked UCF. That was his first adult decision — where he was gonna go to school," Christine said. "For him to be sitting there inside UCF with his boyfriend like they're sitting there in the courtyard reading a book, that's such a lovely tribute."

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What Is Pulse Remembrance?

The deadliest mass shooting targeting the LGBTQ+ community occurred in Orlando, Florida, at the Pulse nightclub in June 2016 — Pride month.

The onePULSE Foundation holds Pulse Remembrance each year in honor of the 49 lives lost at the Pulse nightclub. onePULSE holds events each year to preserve the legacies of those who died. Many members and organizations within the Orlando community, including local colleges, hold events to honor the victims.

"It is an honor and a privilege to be one of the people working to ensure that we mourn and acknowledge the 49 lives taken at Pulse," Nunes said. "It's an honor, and a burden, and a privilege to continue to do these events and bring unity to the community."

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Portrait of Michael Nunes

Michael Nunes

Michael Nunes (he/him/his) is the student life coordinator for LGBTQ+ Services at the University of Central Florida. He is a current double alumnus of UCF, where he earned his bachelor's in psychology in 2016 and master's in counselor education - mental health counseling in 2018. He is a current Ph.D. student of UCF's sociology department looking to study resiliency within marginalized student populations.

Ailed Sanchez

Ailed Sanchez is a senior biomedical science and political science double major at the University of Central Florida. She also serves as the co-president of the Pride Student Association, an organization that celebrates and promotes the acceptance of UCF's LGBTQ+ community.