It's the deadliest violent attack against LGBT people in American history. Most of the victims were Latinx.
It happened on July 12, 2016, at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. Forty-nine people were shot dead, with an additional 53 wounded. Some of the dead were as young as their early-mid-20s.
In "Surviving Pulse: Life After a Mass Shooting", a new documentary produced by Nancy McBride and directed by Alexa Sheehan, some of the survivors share their stories.
"Pulse was a safe place to be" is the film's chillingly ironic opening line. There are many equally chilling moments in the film.
"Please tell the cops to come," a terrified male voice says in a whisper during a 911 call. "Please, they're going to kill us."
Sheehan and McBride offer no commentary during the film's 73-minute running time. No commentary is needed as the horrific memories of the survivors speak for themselves.
Keinon, a young Black man recalls the injuries he received: His pelvis, kidney, abdomen and small intestine all took bullets.
"I'm grateful I'm still here," Keinon says. He also addresses how insensitive some people can be.
"Dang, you ain't healed yet?" someone says to Keinon sometime after the shooting.
The film includes a lengthy interview with Shawnna, Keinon's sister. She recalls the terrifying aftermath of the shooting, when she didn't know if her brother was alive or dead. Finally, she's given the worst possible news: she's told that her brother didn't make it. As she approaches a gurney upon which Keinon lies under a sheet, she refuses to accept what she has just heard. She lifts the sheet and holds her brother's hand. He squeezes her hand and she realizes that he's still alive. She yells at the doctors who rush him into surgery.
Ramses, a young man from Honduras, speaks of the hate he was subjected to. After the shooting the Honduras media took a photo of Ramses and published it, naming him and identifying him as a survivor of the massacre. People in his country send him messages like "You should have died. You disgrace our country."
Ramses says that he goes to counseling every week. A title card reminds viewers that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed funding that would have gone towards counseling for dozens of survivors and family members.
Another 911 call is heard. "Yes, my son is shot in the club, in Pulse in Orlando, and he's still in the bathroom where he's bleeding, he got shot and nobody's going for him," says a male voice, fighting tears.
Of all the interviews in the film, the hardest to watch is Emily's, a mom who lost her spouse in the shooting. Emily wipes away tears as she recalls that terrifying, heartbreaking night.
"Surviving Pulse" is a difficult film to sit through, and yet it's essential viewing. Pulse remains one of the worst tragedies to hit the LGBT community, and it's important that it not be forgotten. The 49 people who died, and the 53 who were injured, had done nothing wrong. All they were doing was dancing on a Saturday night. They went out to have a good time and faced an unimaginable horror. This film gives the survivors a voice.
"Surviving Pulse: Life After a Mass Shooting" is now making the rounds at various film festivals. A distribution deal for a general release will soon be announced.
Read more at https://pulsedocumentary.com/.