ORLANDO, Fla. — It’s been five years since the Pulse nightclub massacre, but for many of those victims and their families, it feels like yesterday. Forty-nine people were shot and killed and 53 others injured in a heinous mass shooting that would traumatize and victimize hundreds of people.
Amanda Grau was at Pulse that night. She and some friends decided to travel to Pulse in Orlando after a night out in St. Petersburg.
“We were like, you know what, let’s be spontaneous,” Amanda said. They were having a great time until she heard what she thought were firecrackers.
“So, then, when I turned around, that’s when I saw the shooter and I immediately threw down my drinks,” Amanda recounted. She began to run but was shot underneath her right arm. "I went down and I blacked out for a little while," Amanda said. After gaining consciousness, she ran to the bathroom and contacted her mother and brother.
“I just asked her, just send me a dot, something, if you’re alive,” said Phillip Grau, Amanda’s brother. “I’ll never forget. It was dot, dot, dot and I knew that she was still alive."
The original Pulse nightclub is still standing and though it isn’t open to the public, it serves as a memorial to honor those victims who were killed and injured.
Just this week, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed legislation designating the site a national memorial. The measure now goes to President Joe Biden who’s expected to sign it. Pulse will not be part of the U.S. National Park System, nor will it qualify for federal funding to build a monument. However, the nonprofit onePulse plans on building a monument and museum dedicated to the victims.
Meanwhile, there’s a controversy brewing in Tallahassee.
“Well, the fact that he did this as pride month begins and as we commemorate the Pulse nightclub tragedy, it’s just insult added to injury,” said Joe Saunders with Equality Florida, the state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization. Saunders was talking about Governor Ron DeSantis’ recent decision to veto funding to an agency that provides mental health services for Pulse victims and their families.
“That agency provides critical mental health services to people who’ve experienced some of the worst trauma they’ll experience in their lives," Saunders said.
Though they've defunded the program, the Governor’s office said they’ve increased total state funding for mental health services.
“It’s been a rough road. It took me a long time, extensive therapy," Amanda said, describing the last five years. Yet, she refuses to spend her second chance at life living in fear. “It shouldn’t matter who we love. Just, definitely be true to yourself. Definitely, don’t let this scare you by not going out and being out with your friends," she said.
Amanda’s brother, Phillip, feels a sense of gratitude to still have his sister, but gives his condolences to those families who weren’t as fortunate.
“I’m very thankful, but my heart goes out for the families that are still grieving," Phillip said. "You move on, but you never forget and the pain never goes away.”