To Whom it May Concern,
We, the undersigned, are writing this letter to warn you about serious ethical issues surrounding the OnePULSE Foundation and its founder Barbara Poma.
After over three years requesting and analyzing public records, those documents reveal that the owners of the Pulse Nightclub (and founders of the OnePULSE Foundation) broke the law. Some of these issues even made front page news in the Orlando Sentinel.
However, we didn’t learn this immediately. In 2019, we began organizing against the OnePULSE Foundation after founder Barbara Poma began selling our tragedy as a tourist attraction. We were moved into action by Barbara Poma’s six-figure salary while victims were struggling to pay bills, her presentation to the Orange County Tourism Development Council, the $45M price tag for their proposed memorial/museum, and the OnePULSE Foundation’s blatant disregard for victims.
We were even more upset when we learned from a city official (whistleblower) that unpermitted renovations and code violations at the Pulse Nightclub hindered the escape and rescue of shooting victims on June 12, 2016.
Via public records obtained so far, we found blocked exit routes, an unpermitted patio where one victim was found slain, an illegally covered window, moved walls, an upstairs office that doesn’t exist on any building plans, illegally renovated bathrooms where victims were trapped for hours, and more. We even found that responding police officers had no building plans and had to hand-draw the layout on a wet piece of paper (wet from sweat) as they tried to locate victims trapped inside.
Records also indicate that the nightclub was overcapacity on the night of the shooting, as it was numerous nights before the shooting. Records also show that there was never an official criminal investigation into these issues. Instead, the City tried to hide what they knew and even redacted documents to keep this information from the public years after the shooting.
You can view all of these records and listen to the voices of Pulse victims/survivors at http://www.nopulsemuseum.info. We have also posted the records and videos to our social media platforms, including YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
In fact, these documents formed the basis of the 2019 49 Question Campaign, in which Pulse victims and members of the affected Orlando LGBTQ+ community demanded answers from the Orlando City Council. To date, those questions remain unanswered.
Again, there was never an investigation – but, in looking at the City of Orlando, you find plenty of conflicts of interests.
CONFLICTS OF INTERESTS
Instead of ordering an investigation, Mayor Buddy Dyer joined the Chairman’s Ambassador’s Council of the OnePULSE Foundation. Also represented on the OnePULSE Board is a member of the law firm protecting the City of Orlando from possible litigation (once presided over by City Attorney Mayanne Downs) – Board Chairman Earl Crittenden (an eminent domain lawyer who also works in the Office of the Mayor).
You can read about the conflicts here in The Nation.
In addition to the culpability of the Pomas and City that is documented in public records, there’s also the issue of the Poma’s greed. Following the shooting, the City fought to purchase the Pulse Nightclub from Barbara and Rosario Poma for a public memorial. They began negotiations with the Pomas who wanted $4M for the nightclub property, roughly four times its appraised value.
The City eventually agreed to $2.25M because it understood the importance of memorialization as a public project. However, the Pomas backed out of the deal and used their newly formed nonprofit to turn our tragedy into what is now a $100M capital campaign that pays multiple executives six-figure salaries.
In addition, in an effort to collect even more money, Barbara Poma has been spreading around sanitized, feel-good narratives that are false and misleading to the public. We fear that her nonprofit’s control over the history of the massacre will enshrine these false narratives in our nation’s history if the nonprofit is successful in building a memorial/museum campus. Here is a list of some of those false narratives:
Local reporting and public records show: Barbara Poma was not documented as the owner of the nightclub until AFTER the shooting. Pulse was the brainchild of a gay man named Ron Legler (this is documented here). Recorded business documents show Rosario Poma alone was the owner until November 2016, when the Pulse Nightclub was sold for $100 to two LLCs formed a month prior by both Rosario and Barbara Poma.
Additionally, under the leadership of Barbara Poma, the OnePULSE Foundation has used the 9/11 Memorial Museum model to honor first responders—often overshadowing the LGBTQ+, Black, and Latinx victims/survivors. However, when the World Trade Center was attacked, brave first responders risked their lives to save people. They rushed into crumbling buildings. Many even died doing their jobs.
However, at Pulse, this was not done by the Orlando Police and Fire Departments and, as a result, the massacre lasted 3 hours, with people trapped inside, shot, and bleeding to death. Reporting and medical analysis shows that many victims had “survivable wounds” and their deaths were preventable had police and paramedics responded sooner and been adequately prepared.
In fact, the Fire Station located across the street from the nightclub locked its doors to fleeing victims and remained on lockdown until about 2:13 AM, forcing units from other stations to respond as they watched victims run from the club and those unable to escape bled on the dance floor and in the nightclub’s bathrooms.
People were up in arms that it took 77 minutes to rescue the school children in Uvalde – it took 3 hours to rescue everyone in the nightclub in Orlando. Just as what occurred in Uvalde, the situation was changed from Active Shooter to Barricaded Gunman. There was documented police inaction and reckless response delays.
The response at Pulse has been publicly scrutinized (see here, here, and here) and continues to be criticized. These failures should never be erased in lieu of false praise at a museum, which is supposed to document facts.
By using her privileged position as “property owner,” Barbara Poma has stolen the memorialization process from the victims’ families and is collecting millions for a museum that will distort our lived history for future generations if it is built. Again, she has been able to do this while being sued by actual victims and survivors of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. Barbara Poma has publicly acknowledged rarely going to the nightclub, that mistakes were made, and that she was safely on vacation in Mexico while people were slaughtered at her business (victims included Mexican nationals).
In addition, the massacre at Pulse was not a hate-motivated crime targeted against the LGBTQ+ community and this matters for accurately understanding the shooting. This is well documented here, here, and here. However, the OnePULSE Foundation has chosen marketing slogans to solicit donations that do not align with these facts, using the horrific violence experienced daily by the LGBTQ+ community to collect money.
TURNING A MASS SHOOTING INTO A TOURIST ATTRACTION
The OnePULSE Foundation currently uses the memorial site to market the city of Orlando. Surrounding the vacant nightclub, the interim memorial has a wall of photos showcasing the City of Orlando with zero photos of victims. Not a single one. This doesn’t honor victims, but turns the massacre site into another marketing campaign for a known tourist destination.
Right now at Pulse, there is a gift shop just feet away from bullet holes and where dead bodies were removed from the building.
This nonprofit’s move to turn the Pulse massacre into a tourist attraction reflects the Board of theOnePULSE Foundation, where Disney executives, the CEO of Reservations.com, and a space tourism CEO fills boardroom seats rather than actual victims of the shooting.
In 2022 and with no other involvement in the tourism industry, Barbara Poma joined the Board of Visit Orlando—the city’s official tourism board—even as she backtracks the very goals she presented to the public (helping victims) while publicly claiming the project is not about tourism. She has changed her words, but not her actions.
The other false narrative propagated by the OnePULSE Foundation is one of unity. Victims have been suing and have been vocally opposed to the nonprofit and its proposed museum. Members of the LGBTQ+ community have also spoken out, many of whom are disgusted by the crass commercialization of the mass shooting by the OnePULSE Foundation, which includes that gift shop.
Many victims/survivors are also against the OnePULSE Foundation and its plans to build a $100M private memorial-museum, because survivors still need financial help as a result of their mental and physical injuries incurred in the shooting. No money given to the OnePULSE Foundation goes to these ongoing needs. Instead, it goes to bloated executive salaries, land acquisition, and the ongoing exploitation of LGBTQ+ murder by someone who isn’t even a part of our community.
VICTIMS VOICES SILENCED
Our voices continue being silenced by both the City and the OnePULSE Foundation as they cover up the documented facts and profit off the massacre. The nonprofit uses marketing slogans that prey upon horrific violence done to our community and pulls at our heartstrings (“Love Always Wins” and “We Will Not Let Hate Win”) to overshadow the division the OnePULSE Foundation is actively creating. Through their exploitation of our pain, the nonprofit is continuously ripping open a wound that will never fully heal.
You may have heard the recent news about Sandy Hook families successfully suing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for his harmful lies. Barbara Poma is also spreading and personally profiting off lies surrounding a mass shooting. And further, public records show that she and her husband have some culpability in the injury and deaths of the 102 Pulse victims who were wounded or killed. This is egregious.
Before you blindly support the OnePULSE Foundation, please know that victims are still seeking their day in court with the nonprofit founder and Pulse Nightclub co-owner Barbara Poma. You can keep up to date on the legal process by visiting the Orange County court records website. Search for Barbara Poma using the First Name and Last Name search fields and click on Premise Liability Case #2018-CA-006102-O. It should be the first result.
We are not against a memorial at the site of the shooting, as it has been designated a National Memorial by Congress. However, it should be led by victims and not the Pulse owner who broke the law in ways that hindered escape and rescue of their patrons during the mass shooting. Rather, it should be operated by an objective third party: the National Park Service.
Why is the responsible party in charge of memorialization and remembrance? Why have they been getting paid while being sued by victims? How were they even allowed to start a nonprofit using the names, faces, and stories of the victims whose families are suing?
A PUBLIC MEMORIAL ALREADY EXISTS
We want to acknowledge the incredible work of out-and-proud City Councilperson Patty Sheehan, who built a public memorial park in Orlando that is accessible to all and recognizes all 49 murdered victims. This, while the OnePULSE Foundation spent hundreds of thousands on marketing and fundraising to collect millions of dollars using the names, faces, and stories of victims – despite being asked not to by victims’ families. It’s been over 6.5 years since the shooting and the OnePULSE Foundation has not yet even broken ground for their proposed memorial.
For all of these reasons, we are asking you not to support the OnePULSE Foundation. We ask instead that you support memorialization projects that are led by mass shooting families. A public memorial led by victims is an approach supported by mass shooting victims/survivors from across the country.
Please share our letter within your organization and with other nonprofits, corporations, and individuals within your network, so that they can have this knowledge, know the facts, and not be beholden to the marketing spin developed for the OnePULSE Foundation by New York public relations firms. There are so many ethical organizations that have been misled, as have generous donors and members of our own community.
It is vital that this past violence and ongoing re-victimization is never overlooked.
Christine Leinonen, mother of Christopher Andrew Leinonen, murdered at the Pulse Nightclub
Tiara Parker, cousin of Akyra Murray (murdered at the Pulse Nightclub) and wounded survivor who was shot in the stomach
Keinon Carter, survivor who was shot twice (critically injured) at the Pulse Nightclub and pronounced dead
Norman Casiano-Mojica, survivor who was shot twice in the back at the Pulse Nightclub
Christopher Hansen, survivor who helped rescue other victims during the shooting at the Pulse Nightclub
Amanda Bean, survivor of the Route 91 shooting in Las Vegas
Robin Harris, victims advocate and 2022 Florida House of Representatives Candidate for District 41
Johnny Sorman, victims advocate and member of the Pulse Orlando community
Ethan Hanna, victims advocate and member of the Pulse Orlando community
Shani Angela, victims advocate and member of the Pulse Orlando community
Neal Deschain, queer community member and advocate
Dr. Zachary Blair, Vice President, VictimsFirst and member of the Pulse Orlando community;
Anita Busch, President, VictimsFirst
The Community Coalition Against a Pulse Museum (CCAPM – Orlando, FL)
Dr. Zachary BlairVice PresidentVictimsFirst706-VICTIMS (842-8467)http://www.victimsfirst.orgfacebook.com/victimsfirstalways
[…] departure comes as calls to investigate Poma and the organization grow louder from many of the Pulse victims’ family members, who are horrified that she has […]
Thank you for this article. Please circulate it widely. The architects and Pulse Foundation members (lead by Ms. Poma) have taken their show for a $100 Million Museum on the road. They recently gave a presentation at the NYC AIA in downtown Manhattan. I understand that the professional audience at AIA was, as best, skeptical asking questions such as: ‘If Florida has a Don’t Say Gay Law how can a proposed Pulse Museum teach children tolerance about gay people, when it would seemingly violate that law?’ This Poma women is a shameless grifter seemingly contributing to the murder of gay… Read more »
This is just so sad. There’s no 100% correct way to do this that would make everyone happy. The owners clearly have some rights. I’m sorry to say that the real solution to prevent these kinds of massacres of innocent people is to have metal detectors, and lots of security well before people even get near the front door. Yes, the admission prices will go way up. It makes me nervous even in Weho, that so many clubs and bars are very exposed. I remember many years ago a resident proposed metal detectors for all clubs in weho (the discussion… Read more »
That’s a good thought! Metal detectors in airports why not bulbs? As far as the city council folks they have never have ever functioned in a reasonably normal community or city. They are extremely unsophisticated and don’t evidence the elementary skills of problem solving. They have a steady stream of “consultants” who appear to have little sophistication and a rather narrow point of view which seems to always agree with the City narrow point of view. When a consultant conflicts with the city there seems little chance of being rehired. The echo chamber of unsophistication and little problem solving. They… Read more »
I recently interviewed Barbara about the full story of PULSE NIGHTCLUB. You can view the interview at YouTube.com/GayBarchives #ilovegaybars I welcome any and all comments about this story.