Brandon Wolf was having a hard night. Just after deciding with his love interest, Eric Borrero, that they wouldn’t be in a relationship, Eric wanted to go out that weekend as friends. That Saturday, despite dragging along his close friends, Juan Guerrero and Christopher “Drew” Leinonen, as a buffer, the air between them at the club was tense and frustrating.

But Leinonen took on the role of peacemaker. “One thing we don’t do enough is remind each other how much we love each other,” he said. “So I’m going to be the one to say to you, ‘I love you.’ I love you all,” he said.

It was the greatest blessing amid the darkest curse that Wolf was given this moment with his friends — just before a gunman began to spray the pulsating crowd at the club they were at with bullets.

Guerrero, Leinonen, and 47 other people died because of the shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Nearly one year ago, it entered the history books as the deadliest mass shooting in American history. Beyond the victims, family, friends and community members like Wolf have felt the ripple effects of the devastation.

Photographer Cassi Alexandra has been working for the last year to capture all their stories. She titled it “We are family” to underscore how much the community means to each other in the face of tragic circumstances. Some also identify themselves as “family” as a way of saying they are part of the LGBTQ community.

On a superficial level, Pulse Nightclub was just another club. Its walls were a mishmash of patterns — from lush red curves that mimicked the movements of the undulating crowd, to a sparkly black. But those walls were special because they delineated a safe space — spaces where its members not only feel welcome, but also see reflections of themselves in the crowd.

The space no longer exists as it once was. But, as captured by Alexandra, it still survives in fragments within the survivors, families and anyone else who chooses to continue fighting for acceptance in the face of hate.

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