More than 100 people, including community leaders and one member of Congress, gathered Sunday night in West Palm Beach to pay tribute to the victims of Saturday night’s gay nightclub massacre - now the deadliest mass shooting in American history.
One attendee, Ariana Flemming, said she was devastated by the events, but that she had regained a sense of hope for the future after coming to the vigil.
“My community is hurting, but I know this will make us stronger than ever,” Flemming said. “You can take our lives, but you can't take our pride.”
The candlelight vigil, organized by local LGBT activist Eric Harazi, first emerged online in the form of a Facebook event after first news broke about the gunman who shot and killed 50 people and injured 53 more at the popular gay Orlando nightclub Pulse.
Later that night at 9 p.m., people gathered in front of the Harriet Himmel Theatre of City Place in West Palm Beach where speakers called for an end to gun violence, urged the LGBT community to stay strong and offered their deepest condolences to everyone affected.
“After I heard about what happened in Orlando, I knew we had to have some type of coming together as a community,” said Harazi just before the event began. “I thought this would be a great way to pay respect to the victims who were just going out to have fun.”
The shooting, as well as the murder of singer Christina Grimmie in the same city just one day earlier, has brought the issue of gun control back under the national spotlight. This was a key topic discussed by the guest speakers at the vigil.
Congresswoman Lois Frankel was one of the speakers who told the crowd of patrons that gun violence needs to end and that it starts by holding our elected officials accountable.
“It is time for congress and for our state legislators to stand up to the NRA and start doing something about this,” Frankel said.
According to Frankel, firearms killed more than 13,000 Americans last year.
Speakers that followed echoed Frankel’s call to action.
“We always say our thoughts and prayers are with you, but enough already,” said Jeri Muoio, the mayor of West Palm Beach. “It's not enough anymore… It's about time our Congress took action and banned assault weapons.”
The strong stances on gun control were followed by even stronger stances with the LGBT community.
“Lead your life with freedom, lead your life in open and love who you want to love,” Frankel said. “Be proud that we are all American.”
One patron, Imani Smith, who identifies as a transwoman, came to pay tribute to the victims and to show her support the community.
“We need to have respect and show respect. Show love,” said Smith who is still waiting to hear back from her friends in Orlando. “Please keep everyone in your prayers.”
At 9:15 p.m. everyone paused for a moment of silence for the victims.
Singer Raquel Williams ended the vigil with a rendition of “Amazing Grace” and “America the Beautiful.” The crowd sang along, some of whom began to cry.
Rainbow flags were being waved and candles were being raised as the crowd ended the night.
To see photos from the vigil, visit our Facebook page.