The 49 victims of the Orlando massacre were on the hearts and minds of the large crowd gathered outside Pembroke Pines City Hall on Tuesday night. By 8 p.m., approximately 300 people showed up to pay their respects.
The crowd was representative of the South Florida community as a whole – there were gay, straight, old, young, black, white, Latino all there for one purpose – to show their support for those who were tragically gunned down.
The city added the rainbow flag in front of city hall, it flew at half-staff.
Still in shock, those gathered cried, sang and prayed for those lost.
“It could have been any of us,” said Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis. “They were just 49 poor souls and one coward who had no moral compass.”
Local activist Michael Rajner who is also on the Broward County Human Rights Board has spent the week working to get visas for the parents of victims who live in Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
“I haven’t cried yet,” he told the crowd. “There is too much work to do to reunite the families of the victims.”
One speaker urged people not to talk about the shooter. “Don’t mention his name. Don’t write about him.” But some of those in attendance say it is difficult not to think about the motivation behind Sunday’s shooting. “I thought the LGBT community was in a better place,” said Luis from Miami Lakes. He and his partner came to show their support and were impressed by the turnout. “I think it’s amazing how we’re all coming together,” he said.
Juan Guerrero, 22, is one of the victims of the massacre. His cousin attended the Pembroke Pines vigil, surrounded by her friends.
While those killed and injured were remembered, there was also talk about how to stop this kind of senseless tragedy from ever happening again.
“It’s up to us as citizens of this country to say enough,” said Pembroke Pines Vice Mayor Carl Shechter. “We need to stop the sale of automatic weapons!” he shouted to thunderous applause.
Pembroke Pines Chief of Police Dan Giustino reminded the crown that the Orlando massacre was the worst mass shooting in the U.S. Still, he urged the crowd to remain strong.
“Creating fear is the terrorists’ motivation,” he explained. “We must not allow these actions to change our thinking. The key is to remain vigilant.”
After the speakers wrapped up, the names of the 49 victims were read as the crowd lit candles of hope, solidarity and love.
“There have been over 500 vigils since Sunday,” Rajner said. “It’s humbling to see how this violence has not divided us, but united us.”
Another speaker summed it up this way, “They can’t destroy us. We are strong. Whatever they do, we are going to be stronger.
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