While the Pulse nightclub was well known as a gay establishment, residents of Orlando, Fla., said it was a welcoming place for all. Eddi Anderson walked the streets of downtown Orlando on Sunday with a picture of Luis Vielma, a 22-year-old straight man who had gone to Pulse with friends Saturday night. Vielma posted a message on social media on Saturday, saying, “This should be interesting.”
Late Sunday, Vielma was confirmed to be one of at least 49 people who police say was shot and killed by 29-year-old Omar Mateen.
“I’ve known him since ninth grade,” Anderson said. “He was hanging in the area with a big group of friends. It was the first time he had ever gone.” Vielma lived in Sanford, a city just east of Orlando.
Saturday night's "upscale Latin night" at Pulse may have drawn a higher percentage of non-LGBT attendees than normal, several local people said. William Colon and Miriam Rivera, a straight couple of Puerto Rican heritage, almost went to Pulse that night and decided last minute to go to a different club in downtown Orlando.
The shooter must have known the layout of Pulse when he decided to target the club, Rivera posits. While other gay establishments in Orlando, like the popular Parliament House, are wide open with numerous exits, Pulse is more confined. “It’s hard to get out,” Rivera said.
Mateen may have considered an attack on M Hotel and Revere, another Orlando gay club. The owner, Micah Bass, told The New York Times that Mateen recently sent him a Facebook friend request even though the two had never met.
So while Mateen's intense homophobia contributed to him targeting a gay nightclub, some of his victims were straight people who thought nothing of spending their Saturday night celebrating life with LGBT friends.