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Univision Reenacted the Pulse Shooting and Victims Are Threatening Lawsuits

Univision Reenacted the Pulse Shooting and Victims Are Threatening Lawsuits

Univision Reenacted the Pulse Shooting and Victims Are Threatening Lawsuits

Some of those interviewed for the program say they were shocked by what aired this weekend.

Orlando Torres already knows what the horrors of the Pulse shooting looked like. He laid on the Orlando club's floor on June 12 last year, playing dead as mass shooter Omar Mateen fired shots around the club and poked at bodies on the floor. It's a story he has retold so many times he has lost track.

But he had no interest in watching Univision's dramatic reenactment of the event. "I don't need that," he says. "I don't think any victim needs that."

Now, Torres is considering legal action against the Spanish-language network, which spliced interview footage of Torres and other survivors into scenes from a dramatic recreation of the shooting for an episode of Cronicas de Sabado aired Saturday. The name of the episode, "Bano De Sangre," translates to "Blood Bath." That Torres spent much of the night of the shooting fearful for his life and hiding in a bathroom makes that name even more insensitive.

He's not alone in a sense of outrage. LGBT and Latino activists in Orlando unsuccessfully called on Univision to pull the report before it was aired Saturday, and they still demand rebroadcasts of the episode be canceled. The Pulse shooting claimed 49 lives in addition to Mateen, who was killed by police. It remains the deadliest mass shooting in modern history.

The network so far has not responded to any demands besides pulling some promotional teasers criticized as insensitive. Jose Zamora, Univision senior vice president of communications and news, released the following statement before the broadcast: "Univision News has set out to create a report that is deeply respectful of the many people whose lives were impacted by this tragedy and, at the same time, is faithful to the facts underlying this horrible crime."

After the broadcast aired, concerns were not allayed in Orlando. Hal Boedeker, television critic for the Orlando Sentinel, wrote that the show "lived down to its title." "The misguided hour contained so many reenactments that viewers may have thought they were watching a TV movie, not a news program," he wrote. He noted painstaking recreations of familiar black-tiled bathroom walls would make any viewing a traumatic experience for those familiar with the club's interior.

The show, narrated in Spanish and including Spanish language interviews, opens with images of a drag show in a gay bar at Latin night. Chaos erupts after shooter Omar Mateen goes to his vehicle to get a weapon. The expression of club-goers changes at the sound of a loud gunshot. Soon, crowds are seen huddled inside a Pulse bathroom stall. An actor portraying Mateen at one point shouts in English "You all should come out because you're all going to die." Shortly after, a woman is killed as several shots are fired through a stall door, and a man gets killed as more shots get fired over the stall wall. Cameras pan over dead bodies, eyes glazed over or laying in pools of blood.

Throughout the show, interviews with real survivors get spliced in with the reenactment, along with local news footage of the evacuation and police response the night of the attack. At one point, the report cuts to an interview with real survivor Angel Colon, then returns to the reenactment where a man and woman lay face down on the floor looking at one another. The point of view shifts to an overhead view of the woman's back, then back to the man as shots sound, and again back to overhead view as blood gushes from a gunshot wound under the woman's white blouse. Colon's voice continues to tell his own similar survival as the reenactment plays out.

Colon complained on Facebook that he did not sign any release for his image and interview to be used this way. "I was interviewed for the Univision and had no idea this was how it was going to be," he wrote. He also wrote that he was under the impression the show could not air if he and other interview subjects did not sign release forms.

MJ Wright, whose son Jerry died at Pulse, says she repeatedly wrote to Univision in advance of the broadcast begging the network not to go ahead with the program. "We felt like they killed Jerry all over again," she says. "And we do not believe for a moment this was a serious news report, but rather an exploitative attempt to make this tragedy shock entertainment." She also noted that as a voice of Spanish-speaking Americans, the fact the re-enactment came from Univision made the show a particular betrayal. "As Hispanics, we feel betrayed by Univision," she says. "As Americans we condemn such an irresponsible report at a time the media is under attack for veracity. And as humans we find Univision to have acted in an inhumane and cruel manner towards people who have already been attacked and suffered enough."

The report also included interview footage of Torres, tape he says dates back to the weeks after the shooting when countless media outlets asked him to retell his story. Torres says he was called for permission to use the interview and initially said that would be fine so long as it wasn't to be used on a reenactment show like Cronicas de Sabado. He was sent a release to sign but never returned it as rumors spread around Orlando that the reenactment would be broadcast. Now, he has spoken with attorneys about suing Univision.

Zamora did not respond to an email this weekend about allegations interviews were used without permission.

Many people connected to the tragedy refused to watch the broadcast. Norman Casiano-Mojica, a survivor of the attack, called the special "disgusting."

Ellis Rosa lost two friends in the shooting, Christopher Sanfeliz and Xavier Serrano. Like many, he wouldn't watch the showing on Saturday night. "I don't think I'm ready to watch that," Rosa says. "You can't reenact something like that." But he also knew dramatizations were inevitable. "They did it with 9/11," he says. "There's nothing much anybody can do about it."

Christine Leinonen, who lost both her son Christopher "Drew" Leinonen and his boyfriend Juan Guerrero in the shooting, called the broadcast outrageous.

"You would never think to do a graphic reenactment of the first-graders at Sandy Hook," she said. "Over four years ago and it would still be in very poor taste without any consideration for the victims' feelings."

She encouraged Pulse survivors and victims' families to send cease and desist letters to Univision asking the report not to be aired. "We can look into suing in the future. Or boycott Univision or boycott the companies that are airing ads during the segments. I wish they would stop airing it."

Carlos Carbonell, co-founder of the LGBTQ Alliance in Orlando, called Univision "disgraceful" for running the report and promised the community was "strategizing and will react."

Renae Jennings, who has been rallying online support for a boycott of Univision, says she knows multiple people impacted by the Pulse tragedy and says the Orlando community as whole has been hurt by the reenactment. "They chose shock value over the well-being of the victims/Orlando," she says, "and I want no part of it."

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