Tragedy at Pride parade triggered trauma from Pulse nightclub massacre

Many in Florida shared Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis’ assumption when a driver slammed his pickup truck into a crowd during a Pride parade on Saturday night in Broward County’s city of Wilton Manors.

The incident triggered trauma. On June 12, 2016, a 29-year-old man killed 49 and wounded 53 at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. The shooter had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State. Fears of a second terrorist attack against the LGBTQ+ community in Florida resurfaced on Saturday.

Wilton Manors Commissioner Chris Caputo was on the float that was just in front of the crash. He said he noticed quickly that it had been an accident. He also witnessed how many of the people who were there jumped to speculate in panic.

“I could hear the comments of people who were reacting from the heart and thought it was terrorism,” Caputo said on Monday. “It’s easy to understand how the trauma we feel inside can create feeling fear and terror that lives within so many today,”

Fred Johnson, a 77-year-old member of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus, accidentally accelerated his truck and killed his 75-year-old friend James Fahy, a fellow member of the chorus, police said. Johnson wasn’t able to walk due to a health issue, so he drove behind them with a rainbow flag.

Brandon Wolf, who was born in Oregon and moved to Orlando in 2008, survived the Pulse nightclub massacre five years ago. He was in the men’s bathroom when shots rang out. There was blood and smoke when he and others ran outside to safety.

Wolf’s friends Christopher Andrew Leinonen and Juan Ramon Guerrero, Leinonen’s partner, died. He was the first survivor to testify before Congress and he hasn’t stopped advocating for gun control since. As a spokesman for Equality Florida, a political advocacy group, he continues to work for the civil rights of the LGBTQ+ community.

Wolf was heartbroken when he heard a driver plowed into a crowd on Saturday at the Pride parade in Wilton Manors. He understands the panic everyone felt.

“I am glad it wasn’t a hate-fueled violent attack, but there’s a reason our minds go there first,” Wolf said during an interview on Zoom.

Wolf, who studied political science at the University of Oregon, has said some members of the Republican party engage in political rhetoric that comes from anti-LGBTQ activists, some of whom preach religious extremism. Wolf has feared this hate can potentially incite violence.

Wolf has been a vocal critic of Gov. Ron DeSantis. Days before the painful anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre, DeSantis slashed funding for programs that serve the LGBTQ+ community. The funding was part of the state’s budget for health and human services. DeSantis also signed the transgender athlete ban.

Trantalis, the first openly gay mayor of Fort Lauderdale, is a Democrat who also stands against the hateful rhetoric. On Monday, he said he was apologetic for spreading misinformation, but not for feeling the terror after the tragedy.

Wolf said he understands Trantalis.

“We are all just waiting for that hammer to drop,” Wolf said.

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