Maritza, 46, survived the Pulse nightclub shooting that killed 49 victims and wounded 53 others on June 12, 2016.
For Maritza, her emotional scars run deep having lost her dear friend, Stanley, who was 23 years old when he was killed at Pulse.
“I saw him earlier that night right before the bullets went flying,” Maritza said. “He said he was going to get his hip-hop on at the other side of the club. He gave me a hug and a kiss and said, ‘I’ll see you next week.’ That night was the last time I would ever see him again.”
After the Pulse shooting, Maritza said she lost everything and became homeless for five years. She was living with her now 27-year-old son when the shooting happened but ended up leaving. She also has an 8-year-old granddaughter.
“I went through a mental breakdown,” she said. “I couldn’t surpass what happened. I was living from place to place and bouncing from hotel to hotel. The only thing I still have and never let go of was my doggy.”
Maritza wants to rebuild her life. She sought help from The LGBT + Center and Orlando United Assistance Center, which helped her secure housing. The agencies referred Maritza to The Mustard Seed of Central Florida for furniture assistance so she could make her empty house into a stable, functional home. Maritza also obtained employment at U-Haul.
“Thank you for everything,” she said while beaming with pride as she sat on the red couch she selected. “(This furniture is) going to be well used.”
Having grown up in Bronx, N.Y., and “the projects,” Maritza said her upbringing prepared her for “the worst.”
Maritza almost didn’t go to Pulse on that fateful day. She said she was planning to hang out with a friend at Southern Nights Orlando (then called Revolution). But when her friend “didn’t hit me up, I decided to go with a group of friends who were going to Pulse.
“It was Latin night, and we were sitting in the corner by the bathroom on the Spanish side of the club. We were just having some fun and living our lives. All of the sudden I heard shots. Friends thought it was part of the song. I was like, “Nah, I’m from the Bronx. That’s not part of the song.
“The DJ turned the music down, and that’s when you heard more shots and screaming,” Maritza continued. “My friend was having a panic attack. She was frozen. I grabbed her by the wrist, and I pulled her into the bathroom like she was a bag. I bruised her wrist, but she later thanked me for that. We were hiding out in the bathroom with about 20 other people, and I held the door shut. All I wanted to do was get my friends out and get them out safely. Unfortunately, I didn’t get all my friends out.”
Maritza said she still has triggers and can’t go to nightclubs because it causes anxiety.
“I can’t deal with fireworks either,” she said. “I replay that night every night.”
Maritza will be attending the memorial service Saturday at Pulse, which was designated as a national memorial by the Senate this week.
“Look for the rainbow,” she said. “It always comes out. Every year during the memorial service, it always comes out.”
June 18, 2021
The Mustard Seed is honored to be nominated for Best Local Charitable Group in Orlando Weekly’s Best of Orlando poll among so many wonderful nonprofit organizations!
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May 25, 2021
The Mustard Seed will close at Noon on Friday, May 28, and be closed Memorial Day Weekend. May we remember with gratitude and pride those who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives to protect our freedoms.