More than 100 people attended the community prayer vigil at Sunshine Cathedral Sunday evening, hearing from community leaders and moving musical performances from singers and musicians.
The vigil was organized after a man was killed and a second injured when a driver drove into the crowd at the Stonewall Parade Saturday evening in what police have determined was an accident.
“This is a time when all of our sister organizations should come together to hold, to hug, to embrace, to grieve, to show empathy, and eventually to laugh,” said Robert Boo, the CEO of the Pride Center. “At the end of the day, this could have happened to any one of us. So please pray to whoever you pray, hold your positive thoughts, and let’s embrace each other and make sure that we represent the community to the outside world as best as we can.”
Many community leaders spoke, broken up by musical performances from the South Florida Symphony Orchestra, Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida and Sunshine Cathedral, offering moving moments of reflection.
A common theme throughout the evening was addressing the fear that many felt in the moment after the accident, with some thinking that it was a deliberate act. The Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, the senior minister of Sunshine Cathedral, was at the parade with his husband, the Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin, and shared he had the same thoughts.
“I assumed because of the nature of where we were and the nature of who we are that maybe this was some sort of act of aggression,” he told the crowd at the start of the vigil. “It wouldn’t have been the first time, but it seems as if it were not another time, so we are glad of that.”
The driver is a 77-year-old man who police say had “ailments'' that caused him to lose control of his truck and accidentally crash into the crowd at the start of the parade. The truck stopped when it crashed into a plant nursery. It later came out that the driver, as well as the two people he hit, are members of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus and that the incident was not intentional. One man was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital and the second is still being treated at Broward Health Medical Center.
The chorus was not present at the vigil, but provided Boo with a statement on their behalf.
“As our chorus family mourns together, we thank the community for their love and understanding,” he read from a piece of paper. “We’ll grieve in our way and when the time is right, we will celebrate the life of our passed chorus member and offer gratitude to everyone who showed compassion and forgiveness.”
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis was greeted with standing applause, then addressed his earlier comments of calling the incident a “terrorist attack against the LGBT community” and “hardly an accident.” He said that he was walking to the front of the parade line to where Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Congressman Ted Deutch were when the truck broke through the barrier.
“My visceral reaction was that we were being attacked. Why not? Why not feel that way? I guess I should watch to make sure there are no reporters standing by when I have those feelings,” he said. “But that was my first reaction and I regret the fact that I said it was a terrorist attack because we found out that it was not. But I don't regret my feelings. I don’t regret that I felt terrorized by someone who plowed through the crowd, inches away from the congresswoman and congressman, myself, and others.”
Trantalis mentioned an act of vandalism that occurred earlier this week, when a man also driving a white truck defaced the new Pride intersection in Delray Beach.
Members of the Wilton Manors Commission also spoke and reiterated that the incident was an accident.
“This was an accident. A pure accident,” Wilton Manors Mayor Scott Newton told the crowd, flanked by Wilton Manors Vice Mayor Paul Rolli and Commissioner Chris Caputo. “We have to pray for the one that died and that’s in the hospital, but we have to pray for the gentleman that [drove the truck] — I don’t know if I could live with something like that if it happened to me. So please pray for all of them. It’s unbelievable.”
Newton shared that he spoke with a man at the parade who had asked the driver to please move his truck up a few inches, leading to the accident.
The hour-long vigil was closed by Rabbi Noah Kitty of Congregation Etz Chaim.
“In one of a tragically ironic turn of events, it was simply an accident and our community was just like regular folks,” she said before leading everyone in prayer. “It didn’t happen because we were LGBTQIA, or anything else. We don’t know why it happened. We know that it happened.”