South Floridians with Orlando ties speak out about nightclub shooting

SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE, FLA. (WSVN) - Sunday’s deadly mass shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando has left many in South Florida devastated, including those with ties to Central Florida’s LGBT community and the nightclub where the attack took place.

Police said at least 50 people were killed and 53 were hospitalized after Fort Pierce resident Omar Mateen stormed into Pulse nightclub and opened fire with an AR-15 rifle, at around 2 a.m. He was later shot and killed during a shootout with police officers.

The pride flag was lowered to half-staff at the Palace Bar on Ocean Drive in South Beach. There was a palpable sense of sadness among customers, as well as a search for comfort as they tried to make sense of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

Richie Rosario had been trying to reach his Orlando-area friend Jose on his cellphone all day long. “I called his cellphone, and it doesn’t respond,” he said. “It’s not like him not to call back.”

Rosario then broke down in tears. While he has not received confirmation, he believes Jose died last night at Pulse. “I’m hoping for the best, but it’s so difficult,” he said.

Missy LePaige, who delights diners and passers-by as one of the Palace Bar’s performers, told 7News the massacre has left her heartbroken. “The only thing that I can think of is that it can happen to us,” she said.

The shooting hit close to home for LePaige because she used to perform at Pulse. “I woke up and I said, ‘Every show that I do, I’ll dedicate to Orlando,'” she said. “I’m gonna dedicate it to Pulse. I’m gonna dedicate it to my family, my friends.”

Some of LePaige’s friends who survived the shooting described the horrors inside the nightclub to her. “They were locked in the dressing room, and they had to climb out of something to escape,” she said.

LePaige’s show of solidarity was echoed across South Florida. In Kendall, a blood bank that typically closes at 3 p.m. on Sundays stayed open in order to accommodate the people who showed up to donate blood. “It’s a massacre,” said a donor who asked not to be identified.

The donor told 7News she was waiting to hear back from her son, who had driven some friends to Pulse. He told her one of his friends escaped the shooting and another was shot in the leg. “And one of them is nowhere to be found,” she said.

Minutes after she spoke with 7News, she got the phone call confirming the missing friend did not survive.

As friends and families grieve, the public is looking for ways to help, and they are sending heartfelt messages to a heartbroken city. “We love you, we’re praying for you,” said LePaige. “Anything we can do, charities or donations, please don’t hesitate to call me, call the Palace. We love you so much. Thank you.”

And then she blew a kiss.

A hotline has been activated for relatives who need information about loved ones who may have been at Pulse at the time of the shooting: 407-246-4357.

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