LAURINBURG — Through silence. Through song. Through prayer and through poetry, more than 60 people came together Sunday night to honor the victims of a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
The vigil was held on the campus of St. Andrews University and brought together people from all walks of life — gay, straight, young and old. Attendees gathered on the steps of Detamble Library to remember the victims and to help heal. The group, some sitting, some standing, held up candles throughout most of the ceremony.
The vigil came one week after 29-year-old Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded dozens more when he attacked the Pulse nightclub. It was the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. In a 911 call just before he began his rampage, Mateen pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, though investigators are still trying to determine what, exactly, motivated the gunman. He was later killed in a standoff with police.
Sunday’s service was led by Nancy Barrineau and Bonnie Kelley, members of the local LGBT community.
“Tonight is not about our differences — whether sexual identity, color, gender, ethnic background, religion … even what we think about gun laws,” Barrineau said. “We’re all here for the same purpose to honor the victims of this terrible attack, to pray for their families and friends, the survivors and their community, to grieve together and begin to heal. We are here to say love wins.”
As the victims’ names were spoken aloud, organizers rang a bell.
The Rev. Nancy Willard, who called last week’s shooting “an outrageous act of violence” prayed that people remember “their common humanity.”
“Remind us that when any person or group is threatened or targeted by hatred, we are all threatened,” she said in her prayer. “Do not let us fall prey to fear, for fear only begets more violence. Transform our fearlessness into friendship; our suspicion into trust; our anger into acts of justice and peace. Help us stand together for the good of all people.”
Jan Schmidt, a vigil organizer, read a poem from a local writer entitled “You hate my son. The poem began: “You hate my son along with thousands of other people. You never saw that bright smile and those dancing eyes of childhood so alive and anxious to discover everything about life.”
“It is raw and and difficult to hear, but we hope it will give us all a small hint of what the Orlando families have faced even before last weekend,” she said.
While it may be impossible to eradicate hatred, Kelly said that people can still make a difference.
“We can only address intolerance and hatred in ourselves and pass tolerance and love along to our children, grandchildren our neighbors and friends,” Kelly said. “Your presence here tonight suggests you want to do just that.”
Those present also sang two songs from the Civil Rights movement — ‘This little light of mine” and “We shall overcome.”
John Schmidt, who accompanied the crowd on his guitar, said he was pleased by the outpouring of support.
“I think it is just great to have this many people turned out on such short notice for this wonderful celebration,” he said. It is another example of why Laurinburg is one of our area’s best kept secrets.”