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Orlando remembers, tries to recover, after Pulse killings

Crosses, one for each victim, line a walkway

Crosses, one for each victim, line a walkway Sunday, June 19, 2016, at a lakeside memorial in Orlando, Fla., memorializing those killed in the Pulse nightclub massacre a few blocks away. Credit: AP / David Goldman

ORLANDO, Fla. — In the week since a gunman burst into a gay nightclub here, killing 49 and wounding 53, a place previously known best as home to Disney World and other theme parks has more than lived up to its nickname — The City Beautiful.

On street corners, on windows of homes along shaded streets, and on the same lawn across from Orlando City Hall, where President Barack Obama laid 49 white roses to honor those who lost their lives, heartfelt memorials have appeared as residents continue searching for a path out of the darkness cast from Omar Mateen’s semiautomatic assault rifle.

All day Sunday, residents stopped by the Orlando City Hall memorial where Obama on Thursday had also made an impassioned denunciation of the easy accessibility of assault weapons and the destructiveness of bigotry.

Debbie Demars walked there at about 11 a.m. Sunday with her husband and two small dogs.

“There’s nowhere else I would be on Father’s Day,” she said. “I wanted to see these people who were so loved.”

Looking at the hundreds of items along with flowers, photos and mini pinwheels spinning rainbow blurs in the breeze, Demars said: “It’s very, very sad but it just makes you feel the goodness in people’s hearts.”

In a week of Orlando vigils both big and small for the shooting victims, a crowd estimated to be in the tens of thousands gathered Sunday night around Lake Eola Park in the city’s downtown. Mourners held white flowers, American flags and candles.

Sunday morning, many mourners appeared to have just left church services downtown before making their way to the vast City Hall-area memorial of flowers, cards and words of love and peace for the shooting victims.

A few carried babies, some pushed strollers and others walked with sons and daughters in their teens.

A poem left with the other mementos included a note crediting Samuel Goldberg, 11, as the writer.

“To Orlando, 49 angels rest in peace,

Up in heaven they had a feast.

In this beautiful city of light,

We will never forget this sight.”

Electric violinist Jared Burnett played throughout late morning from the front of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, just east of downtown. A longtime city resident, Burnett said “the community has just come together.”

Central Floridians have been struck before by natural disasters, but those were unavoidable. On the night of Feb. 22, 1998, 12 tornadoes touched down across the region, killing 42 and seriously injuring more than 260.

Less than 10 years ago, tornadoes killed 21 in nearby Lake County.

But nothing prepared police and residents for what happened at the Pulse nightclub.

A week later, officials with the Orlando Regional Medical Center said Sunday that 18 of the 44 victims treated there after the shooting remained hospitalized.

Of those, four are listed in critical condition, two are in guarded condition and 12 are in stable condition. Across the street from the hospital, victims’ family members and relatives of the survivors continued to gather Sunday at another memorial.

Friends wearing memorial T-shirts formed a circle there with three chaplains from the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team and prayed in Spanish for Juan Chavez Martinez, 25, one of those who died in the shooting.

And a bit more than three blocks south, FBI investigators continued searching for evidence inside the heavily damaged nightclub where responding authorities said police officers shot Mateen to death during a gun battle at the end of the predawn massacre.

Close to 90 percent of those killed during Latin Night at Pulse were of Hispanic descent.

About equal distance between the club and the hospital, flags from the United States, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Venezuela hung from 49 white crosses on a sidewalk overlooking Lake Beauty.

With AP

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