The pause during the telephone interview was long enough. It was followed by, “I can’t. It’s just too hard.”
Jackie Hoevenaar is co-owner of Accel Motorsports Inc., a used-car dealership just north of Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
Early Sunday morning, a lone gunman killed 49 people in the gay nightclub. Some auto dealers in the area have taken action, some bow their heads in respect and some, such as Hoevenaar, have trouble just talking about it.
At first it was surreal for Hoevenaar, whose store is less than a 10-minute walk from Pulse. She had just changed locations -- her old store was only two blocks from the nightclub.
“I turned the news on Sunday morning and found out about it, but they didn’t have all the information yet, so we didn’t realize the magnitude until Sunday night. I don’t think it really sunk,” Hoevenaar said, then paused for a few moments. “It didn’t get real until we headed into work on Monday.”
Hoevenaar said it was the everyday things that slowly made the shooting real to her: Satellites and news reporters filled the area; Orange Avenue, the main road, was closed, and Hoevenaar took the back road to work.
“It’s different when it’s in your area. You just don’t know -- it can happen in our town,” Hoevenaar said, trailing off.
About five miles south of the nightclub is an AutoNation Inc. Audi store. AutoNation, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is the largest new-vehicle retailer in the U.S. It has Chevrolet and Audi stores in Orlando and seven more stores in the greater area.
On Monday, a spokeswoman for AutoNation said the group sent an email to its entire staff, letting employees know that AutoNation will be donating an undisclosed amount to Equality Florida Action Inc., an LGBT civil rights organization. The memo said the donations will go directly to people affected by the shooting.
Part of the memo stated: “Today, all 26,000 AutoNation Associates across our country are united as we share a common grief, horror and outrage. And while no financial contribution will change the outcome, it is our hope that the families of the victims will find some solace in an outpouring of love, support and hope.”
Don Mealey Sport Subaru in Orlando made one of its homepage images a photo of the city with “#PrayForOrlando” written across and “Don Mealey Automotive Group” on the bottom of the picture.
The Subaru store’s general manager, Whit Gilman, said the store posted the picture to the site as a sign of respect but hasn’t decided on any strategy to help yet. Gilman said lightning struck his store a week ago, causing store system and phone line problems -- and distracting the store from focusing on much else.
Either way, Gilman said there hasn’t been much time to process the information. With only a couple days to figure out what to do since the shooting, the store “hasn’t had a chance to get involved.”
Eddie Mellul, the executive general manager at Subaru South Orlando, also said the time in between hasn’t given his staff much time to think.
“Obviously, we’re deeply saddened,” Mellul said. “Anything we can do, everything we can do, to show our support, we’ll do. It’s just happened.”
Mellul said he might try to meet with staff to talk about how to help, but for now, he will fly his flag at half-staff He also said he has not talked to Subaru, and he’s not sure whether the automaker has planned any outreach.
Subaru has long been a friend to the LGBT community, specifically marketing vehicles to it. The automaker has sponsored gay film festivals as well as placed products in TV shows such as “The L Word,” a show about a Los Angeles lesbian and bisexual friend group. Subaru could not immediately be reached for comment.
Raj Lally, president of the Central Florida Automobile Dealers Association, said the group’s directors had a meeting Monday evening and decided to make a $10,000 donation. He said he would use due diligence to make sure the money goes straight to those who are suffering -- victims and family members.
“We’re just very shocked by what actually happened,” Lally said. “Our thoughts and prayers are for all those that have suffered the anguish of losing their loved ones.”
Hoevenaar said she only hopes the real focus remains on the people affected by the shooting, and she hopes the community can move forward.
“For us, we just want to try to keep things normal, so you don’t let the evil thing in, I guess,” Hoevenaar said. “Everything’s changed, and, at this point, you want to try to keep business-as-usual to show whoever terrorists, or whoever, that life goes on and we’re going to keep fighting.”