When they woke up on Sunday, most Orlando parents had the same worries about their children that they had the night before — questions about summer camp or swim lessons — though the city was still reeling from Friday night, when a gunman approached 22-year-old singer and YouTube star Christina Grimmie and shot and killed her at a popular downtown Orlando venue.
Sunday quickly brought a new level of shock and sadness to Orlando residents, including myself, after a mass shooting in the early hours at Pulse nightclub left 50 people killed, another 40+ injured.
This time, the tragedy is in our city, where we have felt safe, where childhood is celebrated every day through the magic of Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, where fairy tales have happy endings.
As local news reporters — people who live in my neighborhood, whose children go to school with mine — flooded our television screens with their arms around parents crying and waiting to hear news about their own children who had been inside the club during the shooting, parents across Orlando held our breath in recognition that this happened here.
"Waking up to a trending hashtag of #prayforOrlando broke my heart this morning," mother of three and Orlando local Deanne Schulz wrote on her Facebook page Sunday morning. "We all need to remind ourselves and our children that Orlando is still as magical a place as it ever was."
For Julie Moore, a local mother of four children whose husband's work takes him to concert venues all over the country, the shootings felt personal and frightening. "It struck a deep personal chord for us," she told TODAY Parents. "I don’t know that I can even put into words what it was like to wake up the next morning to find out the horrific events that happened at Pulse — that just fourteen short miles from my home, the largest mass shooting in our history took place. As a mother, it shakes you to your core. For the first time in my children’s lives, I am actually afraid to go to an amusement park, a movie theater or a mall."
Tracey Levy-Smith, a mother of three in Orlando, reflected on how she can parent young adult children with this kind of terror in the world.
"I've had so many people ask me if I'm worried for my daughter's safety when she goes on a month-long trip to Israel next month," she said. "Am I scared there will be a terrorist attack while she's there? My answer is always the same: I am concerned. How could I not be? The fact of the matter is that I was worried when I dropped her at a concert literally blocks from the shootings on Saturday night, I'm worried about my older daughter's safety as she sits in her classes at college, and I'm worried about my youngest daughter when I drop her at the mall with her friends. There's never a time when I don't have an inkling of concern for their safety when I'm not there."
Even in the wake of this weekend's mass shooting, Levy-Smith said she will continue to let her children live their lives. "For me, there's really no other choice but to teach my children that being careful is important but living a life in fear isn't really living at all."
Mother of two Cindy Shepherd works as a physical therapist at Florida Hospital, where many of the gunshot victims from Sunday's shooting were treated. The hospital was on lockdown Sunday morning.
"You can feel the sadness and stress throughout the hospital," she told TODAY Parents. "No one ever thinks it could happen in their city. You can't help but think, What is this world coming to? But I have hope. I hope for a better future for my kids as I cannot let them live in fear. I will continue to teach them to be kind and to help those in need."
Madeline Perelmuter, 19, identifies as bisexual and has friends who frequent Pulse. Despite the fact that shooter Omar Mateen targeted the gay nightclub, Perelmuter's mother, Renee, told TODAY Parents that she is not any more concerned about her child's safety. "We live in a world right now in which I am proud to be raising my children," she said. "They go to middle and high schools where people are very accepting of who they are. I wanted to give blood yesterday and couldn't because the lines were so long with everyone else wanting to give.
"What happened in Orlando was an incredibly horrible event," she said. "I will not let that discourage me from knowing that my daughter will live a wonderful, happy life in this country. I choose to be hopeful and to believe that while there is always going to be evil, the love and the good in the world will always outweigh that evil."