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Trial Begins For Widow Of Pulse Shooter

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Jury selection starts today in the trial of Noor Salman. She's the widow of Omar Mateen, the gunman who killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. She is accused of concealing knowledge of her husband's plans ahead of the June 2016 attack. WMFE's Amy Green has more.

AMY GREEN, BYLINE: It was Latin night at Pulse, and Ray Rivera was deejaying on the patio.

RAY RIVERA: This is the must-play song of the night.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUAVEMENTE")

ELVIS CRESPO: (Singing in Spanish).

RIVERA: There's quite a few songs that, you know, I used to play there exclusively and I play every once in a while now that, you know, when I hear it, it kind of brings me back to that day.

GREEN: First, he heard pops. Then, he saw people running. He lowered the music and exchanged looks with the bartenders. Finally, he turned the music off.

RIVERA: And that's when just all chaos broke loose.

GREEN: A gunman had opened fire in the club. Forty-nine people were killed and dozens more wounded during his three-hour rampage. Omar Mateen declared an allegiance to ISIS before officers gunned him down in a shootout. His widow, Noor Salman, is charged with obstruction of justice and providing material support to a terrorist organization. She has denied any involvement.

BARBARA POMA: For me, it's personal.

GREEN: Pulse owner Barbara Poma opened the nightclub in memory of her brother, who died of AIDS. She wants to attend the trial because she wants to hear Salman's story.

POMA: It's hard for me to say I want her to be found guilty since I don't know all the facts but part of me does just because someone should have responsibility for what happened there.

GREEN: Brendan Wolf was in the bathroom at Pulse when the shooting began. He lost two friends on the dance floor, but he won't be at the trial. He's more interested in holding lawmakers accountable for what he describes as inaction on gun violence.

BRANDON WOLF: The healing process is not going to come from sending one person to jail. The healing process will come when we finally have a real, genuine conversation about the things that are killing us and we enact laws and legislation and deliver funding and research to the areas that we need to to stop the problem from happening again.

GREEN: The trial is taking place just two miles from Pulse. A private courtroom is available where family members and survivors can watch a TV feed of the proceedings. Mental health providers and translators are on hand. Laly Santiago-Leon points to an old photo of the cousin she lost in the shooting, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon. It was taken at a theme park not long after he moved to Orlando from Puerto Rico.

LALY SANTIAGO-LEON: He's wearing a Rasta hat with long dreads, and then I'm wearing a big disco - what I call a disco wig. And we were just laughing away.

GREEN: It's one of her favorite pictures of her cousin, who everyone called Dani. He was known for his kindness, loyalty and infectious spirit. For Laly, he was like a brother.

SANTIAGO-LEON: I just miss him so much. We confided in one another about everything.

GREEN: Laly will be at the trial. She's asked for the opportunity to testify or submit an open letter to the court. She wants to serve as a voice for Dani.

SANTIAGO-LEON: I want to look at that person in the eye and explain, look what has happened. Look how this has impacted not just myself but so many of us. And we need to call that out.

GREEN: She hopes that by learning about what led up to the Pulse mass shooting she can start to understand why.

For NPR News, I'm Amy Green in Orlando.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIDES FROM NEBULA'S "HIGGS BOSON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.