Thousands gather in Orlando to remember victims of Pulse nightclub shooting

By: Alicia Turner
June 12, 2107

Mourners gather outside of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on the one year anniversary of the mass shooting attack. Photo: June 12, 2017.

ORLANDO, Fla. (WCTV) -- Monday was a truly somber day in Orlando, as mourners gathered to remember the victims of the Pulse nightclub mass shooting that took place one year ago. 49 people were killed in the attack on June 12, 2016.

Families of the victims say it's a day they never could have dreamed would be reality.

"Nobody should have to get a call saying you got to bury your child or you grandchild and for the reasons, it's just emotional," says Verannette Gibson, a family member of one the shooting victims.

Emotional, because Verannette is one of the people who got that call.

"I wouldn't answer my phone, because I said, 'no that's not here, that's not here.' I went online that night and they had ten names already listed. I went back online the next morning and her name appeared," Verannette says.

Her name-- Deonka Drayton. Deonka was Verannette's niece. She was only 32 years old.

"She was full of life, she was full of joy, she was full of love, she loved her family and her friends," Verannette recalls.

Despite the vibrant memories---Verannette says looking at her niece's picture on a memorial is still one of the hardest things she's ever had to do.

"We have to live with this loss and that's what makes this so hard. Her grandmother's sitting in the car and can't even walk over here, so I'm trying to get what I can for her, but this is hard," says Verannette.

Regina Morrow Robinson, a trauma specialist, tells us, "Approaching the actual anniversary date can be almost more difficult than the actual anniversary date and the ripple effects and the triggers that pop up and surprising ways creating disengagement."

Robinson is one of dozens of therapists on scene to help family and friends cope with the somber thoughts and feelings.

"How important are memorials like this? Extremely important because they bring people together. The pain of loss is healed with connection, and being able to talk to people feel the warmth feel the hugs share the pain and not feel like you have to keep it in. Rituals like this are hugely important to healing." Robinson says.

Healing that Verannette says will take a lifetime-- but she finds peace knowing that no one is letting the death of the 49 victims be in vain.

"Their stories are going to live forever now, everything they had to run from is now going to live forever and there isn't anything anyone can do about it," Verannette says.

Although the anniversary was a painful one for friends and family of the victims, seeing the entire nation commemorating those 49 lives lost helps those affected by the tragedy know they are not alone.