At 2a.m. Sunday morning, 29-year-old Omar Mateen of Port St. Lucie, Florida opened fire inside an Orlando gay nightclub called Pulse, killing 50 people and seriously injuring 53 more. After several hours, police have only released a handful of names of the confirmed dead, and many families and friends are waiting outside of Orlando Regional Medical Center for an update on their loved ones who were at the club for their popular Latin Night.
While only a few have been released to the media, several of the victims include queer women, according to our sources.
Pulse bouncer Kimberly “KJ Morris” was counted among the deceased. KJ previously worked in a Northampton, Massachusetts gay bar, Diva’s, and the city of Springfield held a vigil, praying for her safety earlier today. She often performed as drag king Daddy K, according to friend Lauren Thrutchley-Daniels, who met KJ through her wife, KJ’s former roommate 10 years ago.
“She had just moved [to Orlando] recently,” Lauren said, “within the last two months or so. She had moved out of Northampton and gone to Hawaii, and then moved to Florida to help her mother and grandmother. Northampton is a small town and tight-knit. She had a core group of friends in the area that are processing a lot of grief tonight.”
“She was an amazing friend, and cared so much,” Lauren said of KJ. “She loved to entertain and bring laughter and happiness to people. I have no doubt that she did everything she could to save as many people as she could last night.”
Sonia Parra and her wife have been to Pulse many times, praising their “great atmosphere and one of the best DJs.”
“We actually had gotten invited to go last night by our group of friends but at last minute, my wife and I decided to stay home,” she said. “It’s very scary to think that this could’ve been us and leaving our kids without moms, very scary!”
Sonia says five of her friends—all women—passed in last night’s tragedy, and seven, also women, are unaccounted for.
“We are really scared of what to do now,” Sonia said. “These clubs were a safe house for us, where we can go to be ourselves and now we aren’t even safe there. We are really scared to be out just us alone and with our children.”
“Everyone goes to Pulse,” says Orlando-based Steph Segler, noting there aren’t a lot of LGBT bars in the city. Because nearby Southern Nights has a Ladies Night on Saturday, most of her friends were there instead of Pulse, which tends to bring in women on Fridays.
At least one other woman is known to be missing, according to a tweet from an Orlando Sentinel reporter.
Sandra Kardona says she has also been to Pulse many times, including on Latin Night, and has a few people she knows that are currently in the hospital with injuries. “My older daughter is very worried that bad people can do something to her moms,” Sandra said. “I feel very nervous, but if we don’t keep with our lives, bad people will win.”
Omar Mateen pledged allegiance to ISIS in a 911 call to Orlando Police before the tragedy took place, and the incident is being looked into as a terrorist action, as President Barack Obama announced today during a national address.
“The things I’ve heard and read through friends of friends or from staff that were at the club, it’s heartbreaking to hear,” said Kia Hollingsworth of Orlando. “People I went to college with were in that club. People I’ve marched with in Pride parades were in that club. I feel like the media won’t be able to articulate that feeling.”
Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images
Steph Segler said she wished we’d know more about what happened during the hostage situation that went on for three hours, but realizes why it’s taking so long for the names of the victims to be released.
“If I were a parent, the last thing I would want is to find out that my son or daughter was killed via the internet,” she said. “Waiting for names to come out is so hard, but they seem to be very thorough about the situation and seem to be handling it with caution and respect. It sucks for the rest of us trying to figure out if someone we know was killed, but I would rather the parents and family find out first.”
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
This will undoubtedly shake Orlando’s community and already has.
“I’ve never been nervous to go out in Orlando as far as the LGBTxyz community goes but after this tragic event I think my girlfriend and I don’t necessarily feel as safe venturing out,” Steph said. “Our city has been such a positive place for LGBTxyz individuals between our pride events which we just had last week, and the support of Disney and the theme parks. Community support has always been up there. I’ve always felt safe in Orlando.”
“My partner and I are physically sick,” said Chris Dorschner, another frequenter of Pulse, who wants to attend a vigil tomorrow night but feels “reluctant.” She added: “We feel afraid and violated.”
Kia Hollingsworth also feels conflicted about going out to Parliament Club, an Orlando club that she noted: “decided to remain open tonight.”
“I thought about going and just being around my queer family,” she said, “but I decided against because I know my mom would freak out. I’m not gonna lie; I have some hesitation about it. My friends and I were discussing all the possible exits at Pulse, and there’s one room in particular—the black room—where we couldn’t envision the exit. And that’s what will be on my mind whenever I decide to go out clubbing again: ‘Where are the exits?’ And that makes me angry that I will do that, not because of fire hazards, but because of this.”
“It’s been such a long day,” Steph Segler said. “I think the majority of Orlando is still in shock about what happened. I’ve seen such an outpouring of love from everyone not just in Orlando, but around the world. It’s been such a comfort knowing that there are so many people who are supporting our city and the LGBT community. We are such a tight-knit community, and we won’t let this tear us down. We have grown closer and stronger through this and will continue to be strong for those who need us.”
We will continue to report news about this tragedy and encourage anyone who wants to get the word out about a queer woman missing in this tragedy to contact us so we can help in any way possible.
Update as of 10 a.m. June 13:
Update as of 9:26 a.m. June 14:
18-year-old Akrya Murray, a recent high school graduate, 49-year-old Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, a mother of 12 and two-time cancer survivor and 24-year-old Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan have also been confirmed as casualties. That brings the count of women to seven out of 49 victims.