Daily Egyptian

Orlando shooting victims remembered during vigil

By Annie Martin and Kate Santich, Orlando Sentinel

By the thousands, they came — to grieve, to celebrate, to connect, to declare: “Love wins.”

A massive two-hour vigil for the victims of the Pulse Orlando nightclub shootings Monday evening spilled over the lawn of the Plaza at the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center near City Hall, as thousands gathered to cry, embrace, remember and cheer.

“This is my therapy for the day,” said Jimbo Wood, 27, who lost several friends in the Pulse Orlando shootings and came to pass out white candles to the crowd. “I didn’t want to just sit at home and mope. To have busy hands has helped.”

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Others passed out water. Some brought flowers. A group of gay men in nun’s habits from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — the charity that grew out of the AIDS epidemic — came to reunite and bring comfort.

“We have hugs for those who need it,” one said.

For Kristen Peacock, the events of the past 24 hours had given her a resolve and sense of belonging she hadn’t expected.

“I came because I wanted to show that a horrible act like this frightens people, but it doesn’t polarize us,” she said. “I’m a transplant. I’ve been here seven years. But this has made me feel like: ‘This is my city.’ “

It was a common sentiment.

“I came to support Orlando, but not just to support a certain group,” said Rodrigo Almeida, 28, who came to Orlando from Brazil when he was 7. “I don’t discriminate. We are just one race living on this planet, together.”

As the names of the victims were read, an otherwise noisy crowd fell quiet, with the muffled sobs of survivors.

“Hearing these names echo off these buildings, it’s hitting me even harder today,” Nadine Smith of Equality Florida, which had organized the vigil, said afterward. “I find myself awash in anger, sadness — and also in pride.”

The night meant for healing and unity ended with tolling of the church bell across the street at First United Methodist Church.

It rang 49 times.

(c)2016 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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