The Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida, in June 2016 was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history until last year, when it was surpassed by the Las Vegas strip shooting. On the night that a gunman killed 49 people and wounded 58 others, one off-duty Orlando police officer, Adam Gruler, was actually on the clock at his second job working Pulse security. He was the first person to respond to the scene, and now, Gruler is a guest of honor at the State of the Union.
In the initial news coverage of the Pulse attack, you can see images of Gruler outside the club, firing in on the shooter. He called a signal 43, which means an officer is in trouble, and then he gave the responding officers information about where the shooter was. "He’s in the patio!" he told them. Then, with the two other responding officers, he helped clear areas of the club where victims had been shot down so that they could receive medical care.
Gruler was invited to the SOTU by his congressional representative, Democrat Val Demings. She's a former law enforcement official who knows Gruler personally from her time as Orlando's police chief.
But Demings doesn't mention gun control or mass shootings in her explanation for the invitation to Gruler. She acknowledged that she's "deeply proud of the courage he showed," but she's more focused on what he and his family did after the Pulse tragedy. The thing that had Demings most excited to bring him as a guest was his adoption of three more children on National Adoption Day last year.
"As Jaimi and Adam’s representative, I am overjoyed by the love and kindness they’ve shown as they grow their family in the wake of tragedy,” Demings told The Orlando Sentinel. “Like so many others in our community, Adam and Jaimi prove that in the end, love triumphs over hate.”
When Gruler and his wife Jaimi, a teacher, announced their decision to adopt, he acknowledged that the night of Pulse changed his outlook and ultimately helped make the decision. "I had to tell myself: I will not die tonight,” he told The Orlando Sentinel. “Going through something like that, it changes your priorities."
He and Jaimi initially only planned to adopt one child — that would have made seven, as both have three kids from previous relationships. But in the end, as they got to meet children through the foster system, they settled on three, bringing the entire gang up to nine.
"The experience allowed me to recognize the priorities of life,” he told Today. “It made me reorder my priorities and put family first. It gave me a clearer understanding of the amount of love we have to give.” They adopted twin girls and their biological brother. The couple had always wanted a daughter (their six other kids were all boys).
The Grulers' invitation to the State of the Union fit with many others who were invited by senators and members of Congress from across the country. Prominent local residents that give deeper understanding to a national issue were a big focus this year. At least three other law enforcement officers made the list, while many others have personal connections to the immigration debate, the opioid epidemic, and other difficult topics.