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  • Writer's pictureZachary Blair

Pulse: How A Single Code Violation Led to One of the Worst Mass Shootings in US History

During the trial of the wife of the Pulse shooter, the FBI reviewed the shooter’s cell phone data and confirmed he planned to carry out mass murder at Walt Disney World on June 12, 2016. Disney Springs had a visible security presence. So, according to evidence, he decided not to kill there.

By 12:22 AM, and while still near Epcot, the shooter used his phone to Google to search for “downtown Orlando nightclubs.”

Pulse came up in the search results, along with another bar on South Orange Avenue called Eve Orlando. That's when the shooter made his way to South Orange Avenue, as Barbara Poma herself explains in the video clip from the Roach Show below.

The Pulse nightclub was never a planned target, nor did the shooter ever search for "gay bars," "martini bars," or "restaurants." Not knowing where to go to, he searched on Google specifically for "downtown Orlando nightclubs."

This is what brought the shooter to Pulse, where there was no security to stop him from entering the nightclub with an automatic rifle.

The problem is this: public records show that Pulse owners did not have the City's permission to operate as a nightclub. On numerous occasions over the span of years, the City of Orlando told Rosario Poma that Pulse was not operating in compliance with its approved use and needed to "comply with the approved Conditional Use Permit and convert the space to conform to the approved CUP floor plan" or "amend the existing CUP and request for CUP approval to allow a nightclub." Records show that neither of these ever happened.

This means that if Rosario and Barbara Poma followed the City's laws and if the City enforced the laws at 1912 S. Orange Avenue, Pulse would never have been a nightclub and would have never appeared in the results of the shooter's Google search on June 12, 2016.

And this is only one of the MANY issues that contributed to the mass shooting and caused the deaths of so many people when gunfire rang out in the nightclub, such as other code violations, unpermitted renovations, occupancy issues, and lack of security—all of which are documented in public records.

Because of the lack of security presence at the door, the shooter was able to walk into the nightclub twice. The first time to do recognizance. After 17 minutes, he left and retrieved his rifle from the car, and went back in — no one could see him carrying the long rifle as he walked across the front of the nightclub because of an unpermitted fence that the Pomas constructed for their unpermitted nightclub.

The Records

The Municipal Planning Board approved Pulse's conditional use permit (CUP2003-00012) on July 15, 2003 and provided owners with strict and defined restrictions for operating Pulse as a restaurant and martini bar. Below, you can read the Municipal Planning Board's agenda, which defines these restrictions and even includes a food menu for the restaurant that never existed.

Pulse Municipal Planning Board
Download PDF • 1.20MB

A document released by the City of Orlando dated May 6, 2004 states, "Staff review indicates that the permitted use, as approved by CUP2003-00012, was an eating and drinking establishment. Actual use as shown on building plans is for a nightclub. Nightclubs are considered Indoor Recreation, which require a separate conditional use permit."

CUP2003-0012 is the only conditional use permit on record with the City of Orlando related to the Pulse Nightclub. A separate permit was never issued and there are no records that indicate the Poma's ever applied for a separate permit.

Additionally, a handwritten note on a piece of pink paper dated May 10, 2004 states, "dance floor and stage removed" and "replace with bar setting and table setting." This never happened.

Two days later, Planning Director Dean Grandin wrote a letter to Rosario Poma that stated, "Please be aware that the use of the property must be consistent with, and meet the conditions of, the existing conditional use approval of the Municipal Planning Board." The letter (seen below) also noted how a nightclub could have an "increased impact of the use, especially in proximity to residential neighborhoods."

Grandin Letter
Download PDF • 240KB

Rosario Poma responded to this letter on May 13, 2004, claiming that "the floor plan shall be revised to remove the dance floor and indicate an acceptable seating and table layout in the area previously shown as the dance floor."

22 people were murdered on the dance floor on June 12, 2016. Rosario Poma lied to the City of Orlando and never removed the dance floor. Later, the Rosario and Barbara Poma actually expanded the dance floor without permits.

In 2010, after lying to the City and operating the business in violation for 6 years, Rosario and Barbara Poma heard from the City of Orlando again about violating their Conditional Use Permit—this time also noting illegal renovations and modifications made to the building without permits.

A handwritten note dated July 9, 2010 states, "there is currently no kitchen or food service" and "per Tom B. there are no table/chairs as would be "typical" in a restaurant."

On July 28, 2010, Director of the Mayor's Business Assistance Team, Lillian Scott, wrote to Rosario Poma, "After a review of past approvals and issued permits, there are a few items that we would like to share with you. Our discussion would include the previously approved Conditional Use Permit [sic] and a conversation regarding certain exterior improvements that have occurred on the property."

This followed the City's extensive documentation of violations at Pulse, which stated, "The floor plan approved as part of the Conditional Use Permit (see attached) is not consistent with the most recent floor plan submitted with a fire permit — FIR2009-01036 (attached). The most recent floor plan submitted shows a dance floor, two sound/speaker areas, two bars, two lounge areas, and an office."

1912 S. Orange
Download PDF • 235KB

However, just like the first 6 years of Pulse's operation, the City of Orlando never issued a citation, never shut down the business, and never forced the owners to bring the nightclub into compliance. After operating unchecked and out-of-compliance for another 6 years, a shooter Googled "downtown Orlando nightclubs" and found Pulse operating as such in violation of its Conditional Use Permit.

To Add Insult to Injury and Murder

Pulse's Conditional Use Permit also states, "To ensure that the establishment remains and does not become a full or part-time entertainment establishment, cover charges and entry fees may only be collected on an occasional basis for special events such as live entertainment."

Pulse consistently charged nightly covers and victims of the shooting paid $5 to get into the unpermitted nightclub on June 12, 2016 and have their lives violently stolen.

To date, the City of Orlando nor any other regulatory or law enforcement body, has ever launched a criminal investigation into the Pulse owner's code violations and unpermitted renovations—despite records that show they obstructed the escape and rescue of shooting victims. One of the many violations, the 6-foot-fence that surrounded part of the nightclub, was written about in the Orlando Sentinel.

Instead, a group of city attorneys prepared documentation for potential litigation against the City for not bringing the nightclub into compliance, including a timeline of the violations at Pulse, which the City tried to hide from the public using an irrelevant statute S. 119.071(1)(d)1., F.S. to fully redact these documents. You can download this document below.

Permitting timeline 2
Download PDF • 198KB

The Mayor of the City of Orlando, Buddy Dyer, has been aware of the violations at Pulse and the City’s failure to bring the nightclub into compliance. Regardless, he still sits on the Chairman's Ambassadors Council of Barbara Poma's nonprofit, the OnePULSE Foundation, which seeks to turn the nightclub and surrounding area into Orlando's newest tourist attraction.

The OnePULSE Foundation's Board Chairman, Earl Crittenden, is an eminent domain lawyer who works in the Office of the Mayor, as well as for Gray Robinson—the same law firm that City Attorney Mayanne Downs was the President of when the shooting happened and who prepared the City's legal documents in preparation for litigation against the City in regards to Pulse's unpermitted renovations and code violations.

Spared from mass murder on the Walt Disney World property, the former President of Walt Disney World Resort, George A. Kalogridis, has also partnered with Barbara Poma and currently sits on the OnePULSE Foundation's Executive Council.

Barbara Poma continues to deny that she is trying to turn the site into a tourist attraction, even after she pitched this project for area tourism to the Orange County Tourism Development Council for a $10M tourism tax grant (that she was awarded) and in 2021 she was given a seat on the Board of Visit Orlando.

She is doing this even as victims of the mass shooting are suing her and her husband for negligence. Ongoing litigation brought by victims hasn't even stopped her from using her foundation to collect money using the names, photos, and stories of their murdered loved ones.

Rosario and Barbara Poma also refused to sell the Pulse property above market value to the City of Orlando for a public memorial park, making clear their effort to capitalize off the tragedy. Barbara Poma takes $150,000 a year in her role as CEO of the nonprofit she started.

Pulse's one and only, unamended conditional use permit (CUP2003-00012) can still be seen on the City's permit search portal (currently down for maintenance until May 3, 2021 at 4:00 AM). Other records related to the CUP, unpermitted renovations, and code violations can be found on the City's Pulse Tragedy Public Records website.


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