This Powerful Photo Series Shares People's Personal Stories Of The Pulse Nightclub Shooting

"We were just enjoying the music."

The "Dear Orlando" photo series, released today on the one-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, features survivors, family members, and first responders giving their own accounts of what happened, and how their lives have changed in the wake of that night.

Daymon Gardner for Dear World

The series was created by Dear World, a group that shares people's personal stories through powerful portraits, including words written on the subjects’ skin. Most notably, the group featured survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing.

The black-and-white images, taken by photographer Daymon Gardner, each feature one sentence from an individual's personal account. The stories come from inside the nightclub, from behind the closed doors of countless hospital rooms, and from the homes where families waited for news about their loved ones.

Daymon Gardner for Dear World

In his interview, Orlando police officer Omar Delgado described cell phones going off all around him as he entered the nightclub.

"Phones start ringing all over the place. The one that gets me is the one iPhone that was next to my feet that just kept going and going and going," he said. "I would see the caller ID, the picture. I was like, 'I know this person's never going to be able to pick up this phone again,'" he said.

"It took about two hours of a one-on-one interview before the Pulse subjects made it in front of a camera," the Founder of Dear World, Robert X. Fogarty, told BuzzFeed News.

Daymon Gardner for Dear World

"Sometimes they cried, sometimes they laughed, but each one, without a shadow of cliche, told us that they get up each day, put one foot in front of the other, and no longer take life for granted," Fogarty said of the interviews, which took place over four days in May.

Pictured above is Mina Justice, whose son, Eddie Justice, was killed in the attack. She described going straight to her son's apartment after hearing about the shooting.

"I went to his apartment. I went in and I was like, he's here, I see shoes," she recalled. "I wasn't there more than ten minutes and the FBI called."

Fogarty refers to the sentences on the subjects' bodies as "the lede to the story only they can tell." The messages act as an invitation to learn more about each person's personal story, he explained.

Daymon Gardner for Dear World

"When things like this happen and they don't happen to us personally we all watch in awe," said Fogarty. "The people it happens to become characters in a narrative that they can't control and never asked for."

Orlando Torres, a Pulse survivor, remembered kissing his friend on the way to the bathroom. "Us guys in the gay community, we kiss each other on the cheeks hello. That's what us Latin people do."

Daymon Gardner for Dear World

"The last person that I saw was Anthony Laureano. I saw him and I kissed him hello," he said in his interview. "I was in the hospital bed when I saw his picture pop up as one of the 49."

Jaimee Hahn, an ER nurse at Orlando Health who regularly works the night shift, recalled the walk from the elevator up to the surgery unit in the operating room — a walk that she learned takes exactly four minutes.

Daymon Gardner for Dear World

"It's a short elevator ride, 30 seconds maybe. Get out and it's one set of double doors. Right there. Hit the button on the side. Doors open up and the doctor is standing there. She's got her stuff. She's ready," Hahn said in her interview.

Rodney Sumter, who was working as a bartender that night, couldn't get his children out of his head as the shooting began. His son visited him in the hospital on Father's Day, just a week later.

Daymon Gardner for Dear World

"My son comes in. He brought me all these little gifts he made in class. Then I read his paper and I broke down," Sumter, who was shot four times and was the very first patient admitted to the hospital, said.

"My son's a really big DC Comics fan. He loves superheroes. He made this poster:

Batman is smart,
Superman is fast,
the Hulk is strong,
but my dad is my favorite superhero

Ray Rivera, a DJ playing that night, described the long and difficult road to healing with his family.

Daymon Gardner for Dear World

"You can probably tell by the bags under my eyes, I have a hard time sleeping," Ray Rivera, a DJ playing that night, said during his interview.

"Honestly, it's been a rough year. I go to counseling. I think it's more the fact that I don't take anything for granted anymore. Sometimes my son will want to do something or my wife will want to do something. I'm just so tired. Now I make the time to actually say, 'Okay. You know what? Let's go ahead and go.'"

Fogarty hopes that the stories of resilience and strength, under the worst possible circumstances, will stay with people long after they read them. “A person’s ability to adapt, grow, and fight is absolutely incredible."

You can read and watch the stories behind the portraits here.


Daymon Gardner photographed the Pulse series for Dear World. A previous version of this post misspelled the photographer's name.