Thousands gather in Orlando for first official vigil
Love conquers hate. Love drives out the darkness. Love won’t be extinguished.
More than a dozen people spoke during Monday night’s vigil in Orlando, but the message was the same: we will overcome the hate.
The bells from First United Methodist Church tolled 49 times -- once for each life lost. In between the tolls you could hear the crowd draw another breath, or sob.
“I’m proud of you for being here,” Orange County Teresa Jacobs told the crowd. “I’m proud of you for not being afraid.”
Calls for gun control were met with cheers. The cheers for the police were even louder.
“We will fight for your right to be who you are,” Jacobs said. “This is no longer your fight. This is our fight. This is America’s fight.”
Mayor Buddy Dyer, in a t-shirt with a rainbow heart, announced a yet-to-be opened fund for victims. Local organizations have already pledged more than $700,000.
Neema Bahrami and the rest of the Pulse nightclub staff, all wearing their club shirts, took the stage to thunderous applause and cheers.
“We are feeling the love and the love is here tonight,” he said. “We are not leaving. We are here to stay.”
He told the audience to physically spread the love and hugs rippled through the thousands of people in the crowd.
Hispanic activists chanted #SomosOrlando to the crowd, and Pastor Segudo from Iglesia El Caminaro called for no more violence.
“The latino faith community will not be silent,” he said.
Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith, told everyone the magnitude of the moment was just now hitting her.
“Nothing good at all will come from this. We will make good come from this,” she said
Orlando’s first openly gay city commissioner, Patty Sheehan, choked up when she told the crowd what she saw at “Orlando’s ground zero.”
“I have seen blood all over the streets and sidewalks of our city,” she said. “I have seen bullets on the streets of our city.”
Rev. Kathy Schmitz, of the First Unitarian Church of Orlando, prayed as the crowd lit candles in preparation for the tolling of the bells.
“You can extinguish a life, but you cannot extinguish love,” she said.
After the last bell, she told everyone “Be in peace my friends. There’s a long journey ahead, and we’ll be in it together.”