Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Pamela Schwartz, the Orange County Regional History Center program manager, is conducting Oral history interviews with people associated with the Pulse incident. Neema Bahrami never wears red. Yet on the night of June 12, 2016, he wore a red shirt to his job as the Latin Night event organizer at Pulse. Someone joked with him that he should change his shirt since red is the cause of evil. Toward the end of the evening he walked to the front of the club to cash out. There are chains that hang over the entry. He didn't see the shooter enter the club. He thinks he must have entered by the back gate. He later learned the gunman's car was parked back there. Then he heard the bangs. There is a DJ that incorporates the sounds of gun shots into his music mix, but he was not the DJ that night. Neema looked into the dub and saw muzzle flashes. People ran toward him. A young boy fell on him. He gathered the employees up front and got out. There was a policeman right outside, who told everyone to go to Dunkin' Donuts. The gunman came to the entry at a glass waterfall and began shooting towards the cop. Neema wrote on Facebook "Omg I can't believe this please God." Followed by, "I am safe everyone give me a minute trying to make sure the staff and guest that are with me are safe."
When police arrived, they began firing into the club entry. Neema was concerned about friendly fire. Outside, he got a cell phone call from an employee still in the dressing room. He informed police that he was on the phone with someone inside. People inside had to live through three hours of the worst fear imaginable. Dancers hid in cabinets. he realized, that if an air conditioner unit was removed, then the employees could crawl out through a hole in the wall. He drew a diagram for police. There were nine employees trapped in that room. Police didn't take his advice. He says he was near the AC unit when he heard a loud explosion. Police had blown open a wall to the bathroom. Moments later, the gunman was shot dead.
Unharmed survivors were herded into a bus to go to the police station. Neema's interrogation took just 5 minutes. No phones were gathered as evidence. After the interrogation he was released with no ride, out into a sea of waiting reporters. His dear friend Eddie Sotomayor didn't make it out alive. When he finally got home Neema collapsed and cried. He sees signs of Eddie everywhere he goes. In the weeks that followed, a comfort dog sat in his lap. The dogs name was Eddie. A tree had the names of all 49 victims and, as he stood looking at the tree, Eddies name fluttered free and dropped to the floor at his feet.
The next day, he found a paper heart taped to his door. It said,"Love is free, hugs are free, we all love you." Because of this sign of hope Neema decided to create the Hang a Heart Foundation, which promotes love regardless of religion, race or gender. He feels that, if any good came from that horrible night, it is that people are learning to accept the gay community. It has opened peoples hearts. Churches invite them in to make paper hearts.
Neema has been traveling with Pulse club owner Barbara Poma to NYC Pride, Memphis Tennessee Pride, and Palm Springs Pride along with a endless string of fundraisers. He said, that if Barbara rebuilds, Pulse will be bigger and better than ever. He showed a photo of a gorgeous rainbow colored tree. "Wouldn't that be gorgeous in the club" he said. In the meantime his life is on hold. His only income is from donations. He is angry at officials who said they would help. He filled out form after form seeking help. However only people who were shot will eventually get funds.
One month after the shooting he returned to the club. In the empty space, he felt the souls touching him. The place was stripped bare. "They took the TV, they took the money." He walked into the dressing room and all feeling left his body. In the bathroom he could feel the trauma. There is no greater terror.