Tuesday was the second anniversary of what was, at the time, the deadliest mass shooting in American history at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. A two-and-a-half-hour drive southwest from the city, a group gathered to remember the victims and call for reforms to state and federal laws to prevent such a shooting in the future.
“I wanted to start out by actually saying, ‘Happy Pride,’ which seems weird," Lianna Hubbard said to the crowd. "This is supposed to be a mournful day, but it is the twelfth day of Pride.”
16-year-old Hubbard held a megaphone to her face outside U.S. Rep. Thomas Rooney’s office. This wasn’t the first time she'd rallied on the steps of the old county courthouse, and it probably wouldn’t be the last.
But, this one felt a bit different.
“This is actually my first Pride out," Hubbard said. "But, I actually didn’t go to any parades or any celebrations. This is my first Pride event.”
The “event” Hubbard was referring to was the die-in she organized in remembrance of the 49 people who were killed in a gay nightclub two years ago.
She remembers when she first heard the news.
“I was 14 years old. I wasn’t very interested in anything outside my own life. I was a pretty selfish 14-year-old," Hubbard said, laughing. "But, Pulse actually kind of hit me different than other shootings did.”
Hubbard says, growing up in the post-9/11 generation had numbed her to violence and mass shootings, since they happen so frequently in this country. But, the proximity of Pulse – less than 200 miles away – meant she saw the impacts on the community directly this time.
But, Hubbard is, admittedly, just a kid. She said so, loudly, when she called for specifically an adult – and one who knew how to use a lighter – at the start of the die-in. The couple dozen adults in the crowd all laughed, as she protested that the 49 candles needed to be lit for the victims; but, she’s “just a kid.”
The adults, like Jane Hunter, who have rallied behind Hubbard’s advocacy efforts in recent months, would argue Hubbard’s hardly “just a kid.” In fact, none of her generation is.
“When I was in school, our fear was that we’d have a nuclear bomb dropped on us. And, we used to get under our desks, and we used to have posters in every classroom talking about the flash of light and the big wind and so forth," Hunter said. "But, this is a lot more horrific.”
As the group laid in mock-death on the courthouse steps, Hubbard reminded them of the realities shooting victims may realize in their last moments.
“In an hour,” she began, "the news will reach your families. In seven hours, your politicians will post their thoughts and prayers. In a week, they will vote down a bill that could’ve saved your life. In two weeks…"
Eventually, Hubbard says, the public remembers the name of mass shooters, before it remembers the name of their victims.
When WGCU reached out to Congressman Rooney for comment on the die-in that took place outside his Punta Gorda office, he did not have the time for a radio interview, but said, in a statement, “I think it’s great people are exercising their constitutional rights.”