The Columbus community nearly filled a local church to remember 49 people who died in the Orlando, Florida, nightclub shooting, quietly listening as a bell tolled for each victim as their name was read.
And in a spirit of remembering that Columbus is an inclusive community, the Rev. Howard Boles asked the more than 300 people at the Tuesday remembrance ceremony to also remember the perpetrator of Sunday’s shooting and his family in their prayers.
The vigil participants at First United Methodist Church in downtown Columbus encompassed all age ranges, from children to retirees, and those from a diversity of faiths — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and more.
Members of the LGBT community and their families were there, too, grieving for those in Orlando who lost loved ones and family members.
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Ariane Miller, Columbus, said she attended the vigil because her younger brother is gay, and she goes to places similar to the Pulse dance club with him.
“It could have been one of us,” she said. “I wanted to come out and show our support — to support everyone we care about. We have friends in the LGBT community, and this is just shocking.”
Fifty-three people were injured in the Orlando nightclub attack and 27 remained hospitalized as of Tuesday afternoon, including six people in critical condition, according to national news reports. Many of the victims were Latino, and the shooting took place in an acknowledged gay bar, leading some people to surmise the shooting was as much a hate crime as a terrorist act.
Tim Green, who has lived in Columbus for about three years, said he attended the vigil because he was a gay man and because he was an American.
Saying he was devastated when he heard the news about the shooting, he said he knew he wanted to be part of something that would be in memory of the victims. But he said he had no idea that so many people in Columbus, from so many backgrounds, would come together to mourn and remember them.
“I never imagined this many people,” he said. “It’s a beautiful sight.”
April Fletcher, Columbus, described the shooting as a senseless act.
“My heart just breaks for these families,” she said. “I feel for all of them.
Organized in just hours after the Sunday morning shooting, the gathering featured speakers from the Columbus Human Rights Commission, including commission Chairman Ian Kohen and commissioner Sameer Samudra, a Cummins employee. Boles and the Rev. Felipe N. Martinez, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, each gave a message.
Pride Alliance board member Rachael Spadone, who organized the event, opened the vigil by sharing her reaction to the act of violence in Orlando and her gut reaction to stand up for those who were gunned down.
“Our humanity lies toward making our world kinder, better and more inclusive,” she said.
Speaking of her love for people in the LGBT community, friends she considers as family, Spadone said she has witnessed bigotry and prejudice that members of that community have suffered.
“It’s devastating,” she said. “It’s unacceptable.”
Kohen and Samudra both talked of the contrast of marching in the Indy Pride parade in Indianapolis on Saturday, surrounded by the love and acceptance that was found there, and then waking to the horror of the news reports the next morning from Orlando.
Samudra asked everyone to remember to reach out to their LGBT friends and to reach out to their Muslim brothers and sisters because there is fear in these communities after the nightclub shooting.
In a litany of offenses that have been targeted toward the two groups, Samudra said people create “Omars,” referring to the shooter Omar Mateen, when they allow hate speech, bullying or discrimination to continue without being challenged.
Martinez said each person’s presence at the vigil showed that people of faith are concerned about the well-being and safety of the LGBT community.
He asked all those present to get to know each other as a show of solidarity with Orlando and with the community of Columbus.
“We are at our best when we are together, and we stand united for the protection of one another, and when we stand against the bigotry that makes an entire community a target,” he said. “Hate cannot be the last word. We are making the last words love and community.”
After the victim’s names were read, organizers took single candles and lit one candle at each row and asked those in attendance to pass the light to each other until all the candles were lit throughout the sanctuary.
Boles then asked everyone to sing “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” which was sung a cappella.
During his talk, Boles said he would repeat what he had said to the First United Methodist congregation Sunday morning after hearing news reports of the shooting.
One of the things that needs to change is the church’s rhetoric toward homosexuality, Boles said.
“Each and everyone of us is created in the image of God,” he said. “Gay, straight, male, female, young, young at heart, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu.”
Hate is not acceptable and exclusion is not acceptable, he said.
“The religious community needs to speak that message boldly,” Boles said.
Boles said it is admirable that some people will advocate to find help for others who are mentally ill, in light of Mateen’s alleged problems, and that is wise.
Others will advocate for gun control, as there is no reason for a private resident to own an assault rifle that can kill so many people in the blink of an eye, Boles said.
“Our sadness must be accompanied by a genuine desire to work together to make things better,” Boles said.
The pastor asked those who attended to remember how love spoke after the Orlando shooting — in the people who rushed in during the midst of tragedy to try to help the victims, those who stood in long lines for an opportunity to give blood and those who brought food or drink to the grieving or simply sat quietly with the mourners in support.
He closed with a quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. before asking for the candles to be lit.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”