On June 12, 2016, into the early morning hours of Latin Night at Pulse in Orlando, Florida, Amanda Alvear enjoyed drinks and dances with friends. She would later hear, instead of the beat of the bass from the speakers, the rhythmic popping of gunshots coming from Omar Mateen’s semi-automatic rifle.

We know this not because Alvear survived the deadliest mass shooting in the modern history of the United States, but because she documented the tragedy via short video bursts on her SnapChat account before Mateen took her life.

The tragedy in Orlando, later chronicled in timelines by local and national media outlets, was first documented in real time by the victims, survivors and first responders confronted with terror that morning. Social media posts, primarily to Facebook and Twitter, along with phone calls and text messages to loved ones and emergency services, provided first-person coverage of the progression of the attack and act as memorials to lives lost.

The Attack

Just before last call at the club, around 2 a.m., Mateen parked his van outside. He called 9-1-1 to pledge his allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) before entering the club armed with his assault weapon, a handgun and rounds of ammunition. Surrounded by more than 300 club patrons, Mateen opened fire around 2:02 a.m.


Mateen exchanged gunfire with a SWAT lieutenant, who had joined an officer already on the scene, then barricaded himself inside a bathroom with clubgoers. While trapped inside the bathroom, victim Eddie Jamoldroy Justice sent his mother a series of text messages, asking her to “call police” because he was “trapp in the bathroom.” According to a timeline of the incident, reported by CNN, police also received communication from patrons who reported being trapped in a bathroom.

The first news of the attack came from the club’s Facebook page, in a warning posted at 2:09 a.m. “Everyone get out of pulse,” it read, “and keep running.”


Around 2:45 a.m., according to CNN, Mateen spoke to Matt Gentili of News 13 Orlando and took responsibility for the attack. He also posted to Facebook amid the attack, declaring, “Now taste the Islamic state vengeance, the filthy ways of the west.”

During the nearly three-hour hostage situation that followed, overseen by the Orlando Police Department (OPD), negotiators communicated with Mateen, who threatened to put explosive vests on four hostages. At 3:58 a.m., the OPD posted to Twitter: “Shooting at Pulse Nightclub on S Orange. Multiple injuries. Stay away from area.”

Almost two hours later, Mateen evacuated the bathroom and encountered police who had breached a wall of the club. Police and SWAT officers returned fire when Mateen shot at them, according to CNN, and killed him. At 5:53 a.m. the OPD again posted to Twitter, announcing, “Pulse Shooting: The shooter inside the club is dead.”



The Aftermath 

Facebook Safety Check 

Approximately five hours after Mateen was pronounced dead at the scene, area residents received notifications from Facebook. The feature, previously used during the attacks in Paris on Nov. 13, 2016 and the Fort McMurray, Canada wildfire which began on May 1, 2016, asked users to check in on the social media platform to confirm that they were safe following the shooting. The issuing of this alert marked its first activation in the United States.

The Missing

The faces of those missing, not yet reported safe or dead, appeared in the Facebook newsfeeds of users across the country. A photo of Kimberly ‘KJ’ Morris, a bouncer at Pulse, was shared nearly 3,000 times in the hope of locating her. “If anyone in the #Orlando area knows anything about KJ, or has heard from her, please reach out so we know she is safe #onepulse,” Lauren Thrutchley-Daniels posted as a caption. “Share this. Move this around.” KJ did not survive the shooting.


Father of Shooter Responds

The shooter’s father, Seddique Mateen, took to Facebook to announce his son’s death. In the video, spoken in his native Dari language, Seddique Mateen claimed he “did not know [of plans or cause] and did not understand that [his son] had anger in his heart.” In a video interview with the Washington Post, the elder Mateen added that he “[did not] think religion or Islam had anything to do with [it].”



Perhaps the most remarkable, lasting effect of the attack, aside from its real time coverage, was the sentiment shared by many posters long after Mateen had fallen. Statuses, tweets and photos commemorating the lives lost at Pulse (largely tweets featuring #PrayforOrlando, according to Keyhole) did not solely express grief, but united the LGBT community and allies in solidarity and support.



Top domains for ‘#PrayforOrlando’ via Keyhole

Photos featuring rainbows in many forms accompanied the trending hashtag in posts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

The Lin-Manual Miranda Speech

The Tony Awards ceremony, televised the evening of the nightclub attack, was dedicated to the shooting victims. Host James Corden began with a speech that echoed the solidarity expressed across social media – solidarity with the victims, their families and members of the international LGBT community. “Your tragedy is our tragedy,” he said. “Theater is a place where every race, creed, sexuality, and gender is equal, is embraced and is loved. Hate will never win.”

Winner Lin-Manual Miranda read a sonnet he wrote in memory of the victims. “We rise and fall / and light from dying embers / remembrances that hope and love lasts longer,” he said, before finishing with an echoing chorus of ” Love is love.” The feeling behind his acceptance mirrored the sentiment projected by Tweet Sentiment Visualization for #PrayforOrlando, predominantly active and alert, yet content with a feeling of being united.


Sentiment projection for ‘#PrayforOrlando’ via Tweet Sentiment Visualization

What It Means

The dissemination of the news of tragedy at Pulse upholds a significant change in news coverage and acts as proof of the rallying power that coverage can generate. Of posts captioned #PrayforOrlando, just over half consisted of original content and just under half were accounted for by retweets, according to Keyhole. In the case of the rapidly-unfolding events of that morning, great value came not only from media outlets who synthesized the coverage of victims, survivors and first-responders, but from the active engagement of platform users inclined to share.



Share of Posts and Sentiment values for ‘#PrayforOrlando’ via Keyhole.

Only 17.5 percent of posts captioned #PrayforOrlando expressed negativity, according to Keyhole. As with Florida Governor Rick Scott’s tweet, Corden’s speech, Miranda’s sonnet and the statements of so many others, these posts expressed – instead of anguish and frustration – solidarity with the victims from whom news consumers had heard the story of Pulse themselves.