There are moments that transcend all barriers and labels. All of us who call Central Florida home are living through such a moment. We’re supposed to be an economic development media company, but right now we’re like everyone else who lives in this region – we’re just trying to grasp the terror that came to our doorstep in the early hours of Sunday morning.
The attack at the Pulse Nightclub south of downtown Orlando is beyond horrific in scope, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. As of noon on Sunday, 50 were dead and more than 50 others wounded and in area hospitals. Authorities described the shooter killed by police at the end of the siege as someone apparently sympathetic to radical Islam.
That does not of course mean the American-born son of Afghan immigrants actually was a member (except perhaps in his own mind) of ISIS or any other terrorist organization. But, he pledged allegiance to ISIS in a 911 call, so we have some indication of the man’s state of mind. Comments from the shooter’s father indicate factors beyond religion may have been involved in the choice of targets, patrons of a gay nightclub. Perhaps President Obama came closest to capturing the situation when he called it an act of terror and a hate crime.
In time, facts will replace theories and a more complete picture will emerge of the whys behind this act. For the moment, the most important thing remains consoling those who lost love ones in the shooting and doing all we can as a community to keep the death toll from rising further. The consistent message from Orlando and Orange County authorities has been to pray and to donate blood. The response from Central Floridians has revealed the best in our community. Lines have formed at blood banks, and prayers resound in churches, in homes and on social media.
As we get more answers, we can expect more heartache, introspection and, sadly, even second-guessing. We also will have an opportunity to show the nation and the entire world the fabric of this city, region and state. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer captured this essence of what will pull Central Florida through when he said, “We are a strong community.”
We are. Terrorists want to disrupt the fabric of the communities they attack. And, whatever his ultimate motivation, Sunday’s shooter was by the nature of his actions a terrorist, pure and simple. He wanted not just to kill people but to permanently alter the lives of all who call Central Florida home.
In the wake of 9/11, then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani vowed that his city was open for business and stronger than ever. He was right. After the Charlie Hebdo magazine attack in France, Parisians showed their strength by rallying the world to the cry of “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”).
Strength and slogans alone can’t stop acts of terrorism. New York has had close calls since 9/11, and Paris suffered an even more brutal massacre after the Charlie Hebdo attack. But, shows of strength, solidary and a sense of community can absolutely stop terrorists from achieving their goal of destroying the societies they attack.
Je suis Orlando.
Photo Credit: Top courtesy of Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel.