After 49 people were killed during the Pulse nightclub shooting on June 12, the deadliest mass shooting ever in the United States, some Orlando residents have found hope in the city's show of unity and generosity. Two months after the attack, signs of that community continue, with two local hospitals agreeing to forgive more than $5 million in medical debt on behalf of victims.
"I'm still trying to grasp the enormity of it, but at the same time it's really amazing how everybody is coming together, and it all happened in an instant," Eric Clough, a local carpenter, told The Christian Science Monitor days after the shooting. "This move to compassion shows how, for the gay community, this is going to make it stronger."
Now, two area hospitals have offered to forgive all of the Pulse victims’ medical expenses. One of these hospitals, Orlando Health, says that its share of the medical expenses totals more than $5 million, according to Tampa's Fox 13 News.
"Orlando Health has not sent any hospital or medical bills directly to Pulse patients and we don't intend to pursue reimbursement of medical costs from them," said the hospital in a statement. "We are exploring numerous options to help the victims of the Pulse nightclub tragedy address immediate and ongoing medical costs."
Florida Hospital, another area hospital that treated attack victims, also says that it has no plans to bill them.
Other potential funding sources could include the One Orlando Fund, set up by Mayor Buddy Dyer to assist victims, as well as fundraisers for individual victims and government programs such as Florida's crime victim compensation fund.
In a state sometimes called not "so much a community as a crowd," and a city where about two-thirds of residents are originally from out of state, unifying events after the shooting have helped some Orlandoans embrace a sense of community. More than 50,000 mourners attended a vigil after the attack, and more than $23 million has been raised for victims, as rainbow flags continue to dot the city in support.
Those signs of unity may fade, Virginia Tech sociologist James Hawdon told the Associated Press, noting that many communities grieving a tragedy return to normal between six and nine months afterwards.
"The increase in the solidarity is part of the grieving process, and so over time your life just gets back to normal," Dr. Hawdon said. "We need to continue with our lives, so people start getting back into our routines."
For now, however, the nightclub itself has become a gathering place for people around the country. The city is considering creating a permanent memorial at the site, as the Monitor reported earlier this month:
Pulse would not be the first memorial to the history of the gay rights movement. In May 2014, the National Park Service started an initiative to identify places and events important to the movement. Since then, several LGBT sites have been designated as National Historic Landmarks, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, or, in one case, designated a national monument: The Stonewall Inn, the location of the historic Stonewall uprising that is widely considered the birthplace of the gay rights movement.
Mayor Dyer has voiced support for a permanent memorial.
"Pulse is a shared experience that I've had so many people, after it, say something along the lines of 'I now truly consider Orlando my home. I always thought of myself as being from Pittsburgh,'" Dyer said, according to the Associated Press.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.