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Orlando shooting: Pulse owner says club will honour lives lost in massacre

WATCH: Survivors of the attack at Orlando's Pulse nightclub give new details about how Sunday's mass shooting unfolded.

The Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla, the site of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, was named in honour of owner Barbara Poma’s late brother — and she’s vowing the club will “continue to be the heartbeat of Orlando.”

Poma, along with business partner Ron Legler, established Pulse in 2004 as a way of mourning her brother John, who died from AIDS-related illness in 1991.

She came up with the name Pulse as a nod to “John’s heartbeat” — to have a place where he could be “kept alive in the eyes of his friends and family.”

READ MORE: ‘Blood was everywhere’: Orlando shooting survivors recall scenes of terror

She wanted it to be a “safe, fun place to come and be who you are.” And it was, until early Sunday morning when gunman Omar Mateen opened fire inside Pulse just before the club was set to close.

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Speaking to NBC News in an interview that aired Tuesday morning, she said the club’s name will now honour the heartbeats of the 49 victims of Sunday’s massacre.

Poma recounted how she screamed in disbelief when she learned of the attack and was overwhelmed as the death toll kept rising — one of her employees was among the dead.

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Security guard Kimberly “KJ” Morris, 37, had only recently started working at Pulse. The Orlando Sentinel reported she moved to Orlando from Hawaii to be closer to her mother and grandmother.

“She was really good. She was a good fit for our family,” Poma told NBC‘s Matt Lauer.

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Poma described the staff and customers at Pulse as “family.”

“It’s not to just honour my brother anymore. It is to honour all the families affected. It is to honour the true spirit of Orlando,” Poma told NBC News.

She said the club will be rebuilt and will be a part of the collective healing process the city and its LGBTQ community have ahead of them.

“We weren’t just a place to work. You know, we worked together toward one certain goal, a certain mission, and we have to do it together, and now we mourn together,” Poma said.

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According to her story on the Pulse website, Poma’s older brother introduced her to the gay scene — which was still very much secretive and underground — when she was a teenager growing up in Fort Lauderdale.

READ MORE: Why LGBTQ pride and gay bars still matter

“To Barbara, John wasn’t gay. John was simply her loving brother that did her makeup, put highlights in her hair, and taught her EVERYTHING she need to know about fashion,” the story on the website reads.

Their family accepted John when he came out, something that “allowed Barbara to create unforgettable (and sometimes blurry) moments with her older brother.”

Poma said she has to return to Pulse and carry on with the club’s mission — to continue to be there for the community, the victims of the shooting and their families.

“We just welcome those families into our family and we just have to move forward and keep their [the victims’] hearts beating.”
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