Orlando natives show how they’re standing strong after the deadliest mass shooting in American history

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Wayne Lawrence/National Geographic

The mass shooting that occurred at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida was the deadliest hate crime in American history against the LGBT community and Latino people, leaving 49 dead and dozens wounded.

Less than a week after the shooting, National Geographic sent photographer Wayne Lawrence and reporter Melody Rowell to help tell the stories of how the LGBT community is coping with the tragedy.

“Now in Orlando, couples worry about their children, survivors grapple with guilt, volunteers try to stay busy. And yet, virtually all of the people we spoke to for these portraits speak of love, unity, and hope,” wrote Rowell. Ahead, 10 Orlando natives reveal how they’re standing strong.


Demetrius Spires

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Wayne Lawrence/National Geographic

“I was at Pulse the night of the shooting. I was on my way home. I was standing at the door when all of a sudden I heard gunshots and all that. And I ran out the door and I didn’t look back. My heart goes out to everybody that has family that was involved or killed inside that shooting.”


Amy Moshier

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Wayne Lawrence/National Geographic

“I hate the news. The news makes me sad. It makes me angry and I refuse to watch it, but then it happened in my hometown in a club that I used to frequent a lot when I was younger. I literally cannot put the news down. Since it’s happened, almost every day, I’ve been at the LGBT Center volunteering my time. While I’m volunteering, I feel like I’m doing something and the hurt doesn’t hurt as much watching all the love here in Orlando and everybody coming together. Gay, straight, black, white, Muslim. It’s really uplifting in this terrible time. This has done serious damage to our community. The gay clubs here really were a sanctuary for us, and now for something like this to happen in our sanctuary is very unnerving.”


Jorion Range, Ismael “Izzy” Vazquez, and Heath Marvin

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Wayne Lawrence/National Geographic

“It’s finally our turn to say something and say something loud now that the spotlight is on us,” Vazquez says.


Juna Esperance

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Wayne Lawrence/National Geographic

“I think it really hit everyone more, ’cause you know you hear it around the world, but you never think it’s going to be at a place where you lay your head at. So it just kind of makes you put things into perspective, that you never know when your last breath may be, ’cause it happened so suddenly.”


Terry DeCarlo and William Hoelsman

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Wayne Lawrence/National Geographic

DeCarlo and Hoelsman stand together at the Camping World Stadium in Orlando, after a soccer match against the Orlando City Soccer Club and the San Jose Earthquakes. The game was dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre, which occurred just six days prior.


Kevin Borelli

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Wayne Lawrence/National Geographic

“Everybody needs to be together in these times of need. Not just now but everyday. It can happen to anybody. It can happen anywhere as well. And to know that a specific community was targeted, it’s really heartbreaking and it’s just unreal.”


Xiomara Flores with her partner, Timisha Grandstaff, and their daughters, Kiele Mahina and Samadhi Grandstaff

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Wayne Lawrence/National Geographic

“Having two kids-one’s 12 and one’s 6-years-old-and now they don’t even know if they’ll have both parents coming home one day. They don’t know if we’ll be safe. They got treated differently at school before this even happened. So now this is even more of a wake-up call, and we really just need to be aware and protect our family, and just love each other. Like, carry no hate,” Flores says.


Michael Mandillo and his partner Eric Rivera Jr.

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Wayne Lawrence/National Geographic

“My hopes for the future is that this will allow our communities, LGBT, straight, allies, Christian, Muslim to come together for a common cause, and hopefully something good can come out of this tragedy,” Rivera says.


Alyssa Young

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Wayne Lawrence/National Geographic

“I’ve been going [to Pulse] since even before I was 21. It’s a place that the LGBT community can come and gather and express themselves and grow creatively, and no judgment. It’s a blow not to just the Orlando community but LGBT everywhere, so I think it’s horrible. I spend time with family. I’m very close with my family and processing it on my own time. Just digging deep and knowing that we can all come together and be unified.”


Willie Williams

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Wayne Lawrence/National Geographic

“This week I’ve spent more time with friends, with my Christians, which I self-identify as. Praying, hugging, kissing, saying that God loves you all. He loves us all. The Word says he sent his only begotten son and it was for you, me, everyone. That is what I’ll forever believe.”