ORLANDO, Fla. - Holding a black sign with a white ribbon that read Pulse #OrlandoStrong, Diana Nunez stood along Orange Avenue with tears in her eyes Sunday night watching and waiting.
The Gainesville college student was among the hundreds who found themselves at the scene of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history trying to find out if friends or loved ones were dead or alive.
“There is no reaction at all,” said Nunez, who frequents Pulse nightclub where at least 50 victims were gunned down early Sunday morning. “This is one of those moments where you have to sit down and wait and have some patience. At the end of the day, I try to stay as numb to the situation as I can.”
She opened her laptop Sunday morning and found out about the mass shooting at the gay club she goes to on “the regular.” She immediately jumped in her car and did the two-hour drive from Gainesville to Orlando.
Nunez broke down in tears when she got to Orlando and hugged her friend Caleb Collins, who was supposed to be at Pulse that night but got called into work instead.
“I feel very lucky but just more concerned about the families of the people killed,” said Collins, 24, who’s gay. “We’re slowly coping.”
As part of the healing, Collins said the nation needs to be more accepting of the LGBT community.
“I didn’t choose to be this way,” Collins said.
Nunez and Collins both have friends that remain missing.
“We have to try to stay positive,” Nunez said.
With red and white roses in her backpack, Angie Wiechart stood in the middle of the normally bustling Orange Avenue as she talked about how the Pulse shooting reminded of her the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“It makes you realize you are not really in a safe place,” said Wiechart, 41. “Brings life into reality. Brings terrorism close to home and reality. “
Like so many others, Wiechart wanted to place the flowers outside of the nightclub where as of Sunday evening dozens of bodies still remained. But she couldn’t.
The crime scene was still extremely active as federal, state and local law enforcement officers continued to piece together what happened inside the nightclub – a longtime staple in the gay community. Nearby neighborhoods, businesses and streets also remained shut down as of late Sunday night.
Neveah Heart, 29, and her two friends carried a gay pride flag as they waited at the scene of the Pulse nightclub shooting for any updates on the victims’ identities.
She almost went to Pulse that night too but decided against it.
“The situation is very heart breaking,” said Heart, who described Pulse as place where even a fist fight was a rare and unusual occurrence.
But she said the nightclub now needs to be torn down and turned into a memorial with all the victims’ names. She also talked about the need for nightclubs to have metal detectors. Many others in the community agreed with both of these sentiments.
Liz Robles got a call from her friend just before midnight to see if she wanted to meet up at Pulse.
But Robles couldn’t get a sitter for her daughter on such short notice.
“Thank God I didn’t go. That could have been me,” said Robles, 40, who was at Pulse two weeks ago.
Her friend who was at the club described to her the chaos and carnage inside the club.
“She said it was horrible. She’s still nervous. Still in shock. She’s not talking much,” Robles said. “This touches a lot of hearts. Makes us think differently. Do things differently. Just the thought of losing people. It does have a big impact.”
For Lesley Rossner, it is going to be a while before things are back to normal.
“Right now, I am scared. It will be a long time before I actually start going out,” said Rossner, 42. “In Orlando, things don’t like don’t happen.”
As of Sunday evening, she had three friends she was still trying to get in touch with who were possibly at the club when the shooting happened.
“My deepest sympathies to all the families. I hope my friends are OK,” she said. ”They are receiving a lot of support from the community. The community is outraged.”
She described Pulse as a “very happy environment” and a place you go to have a great time.
“Nobody is different in there,” she said. “We are having fun and we are all friends.”
Rossner said law enforcement had to have some type of warning that something like was going to happen in Orlando.
“I do strongly feel it was target because of their sexual preferences,” said Lesley Rossner, 42. “It’s absolutely disgusting. To have somebody just mark them. This was something was planned. … They did not deserve this. They absolutely did not deserve this.”