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What Should Happen with the Site of the Pulse Shooting? Three Years Later, the Debate Continues

The temporary memorial at the site of the Pulse nightclub. Photo : Matthew Peddie, WMFE
The temporary memorial at the site of the Pulse nightclub. Photo : Matthew Peddie, WMFE

Three years have passed since 49 people were killed at the Pulse nightclub shooting. Plans to build a memorial and museum are moving forward, but not without controversy. 

Myrlande Bebe is walking around the Orange County Regional History Center, carefully considering each of six wooden models.

One of these designs will become the Pulse Memorial & Museum.

“My kids' grandkids will know about him. Other people’s kids will know about him. Friends and family members will know about him. It means a lot to me.”

The person Bebe wants to be remembered is her son - Jason Benjamin Josephat, who was 19 when he was killed at the Pulse nightclub. 

She says a museum will help people learn about the lives of all 49 people lost on June 12, 2016.

Barbara Poma, the owner of the Pulse nightclub, says this moment has been two years in the making. 

A year after the shooting in 2017, the onePULSE Foundation sent out a survey asking for input on the future of the site. 

Poma says the community made it clear they want a museum. 

“It is important that they want their stories told. They want this.”

About an hour away in Lakeland, Christine Leinonen wants to remember what happened at Pulse in a different way.

Her son Christopher Andrew Leinonen was 32 years old when he was killed at Pulse.

“They’re using the shot-up building where my son was brutally murdered to bring people in who want to gawk at where my son was killed. That's obnoxious. As a parent, it makes me angry."

Leinonen says she’d rather the night club be torn down and the $10 million Orange County gave to the project donated to survivors and victims’ families.

She started the Community Coalition Against a Pulse Museum a few months ago. She says the group wants to build a memorial on the site. 

Group members like Zachary Blair grew up going to Pulse. Blair says both he and his partner knew people who died at the nightclub. He also wants to see a memorial that’s free and open to the public.  

“When the city of Orlando originally offered to buy the property from Barbara Poma, they planned to make a public memorial. And I think that's what should have happened. Instead, the owner has turned this into a spectacle. And it’s a very divisive project that's divided the community and continues to do so.”

A onePULSE Foundation spokesperson says the memorial will be free, but the museum would charge visitors a minimal fee that would go toward upkeep.

“But there’s no template that says this is the one and only right way to do it.”

That’s historian George W. McDaniel. He preserved mementos left behind after a shooting in 2015 at the historically black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina killed nine people.

He says whether Orlando decides to build a museum or not-the community will have to come up with a way to remember those lost but also support those left behind.

“It’s not either-or. But it's both, and I think you ought to help survivors and their families and the victims and their families. I also think there ought to be some tangible mechanism or place that people can come to for years on end.”

Poma is currently facing a lawsuit brought by survivors and victims' families that claims among other things there wasn’t enough security at the nightclub. 

Meanwhile, plans for a museum are moving ahead with a panel of survivors, victims’ families, and architectural experts choosing the winning design on Oct. 30. 
If you'd like to listen to the story, click on the clip above.

Danielle Prieur is a general assignment reporter and fill-in host at WMFE.
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