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Voices From Sunday Night's Pulse Vigil In Orlando

Orlando City Soccer supporters brought banners to the vigil. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE
Orlando City Soccer supporters brought banners to the vigil. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE

Lake Eola reflected the light of thousands of candles Sunday night in a huge vigil for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting.

An estimated 50,000 people came to downtown Orlando to hear leaders from the city and county, and the LGBT and Latino communities reflect on the last week and raise a candle for the 49 killed and 53 wounded.

Jessie Faircloth made the drive down from Jacksonville to join other volunteers handing out 22 thousand white flowers.

“Community doesn’t stop in your backyard," said Faircloth.

"We’re down here to show Orlando and anyone else that needs to be shown that love is number one. Doesn’t matter who you are what you look like where you’re from. You should love everybody for who they are and for humanity itself,” she said.

Faircloth wishes this outpouring of goodwill would happen every day- not just as a reaction to a tragedy.

 Kimberly Meeks came to the lake with her spouse.  They were carrying hand crocheted rainbow flags.

“I just want to honor the 49 lives that were lost and say a prayer for the ones that are still in the hospital and feel the love of Orlando,” said Meeks.

She said she was heartbroken when she heard about the shooting.

“Disbelief at first, and then as everything kept unfolding, and we found out more and more, just completely heart sick and heartbroken for the families and for our community," she said.

"You know that little sense of safety sometimes you have, it seems like it was just completely shattered that morning.”

Her spouse Gina Jenkins says although they didn’t personally know anyone who was in the club that night, the attack was personal.

“[The shooter] chose that club, he chose a night when they were celebrating Latin culture and Latin music too, so I think those factors-  there’s a reason he went there and I don’t think you can ignore that regardless of anything else they may find that he may have also been against or having some kind of cause for," said Jenkins.

Jenkins welcomes the outpouring of support, as long as it's sincere.

“If you’ve changed your mind that’s great, but say that you’ve changed your mind," said Jenkins.

"Don’t just start seeming like you’re championing the causes or remotely even honestly that sensitive to the community when you’ve uttered negative words in the past.”

Nearby, Jeanne Brenan handed out bumper stickers she’d designed herself, with the slogan ‘Orlando’s Pulse is still strong”

Brenan printed up 600 stickers… enough for just a fraction of the tens of thousands who crowded around Lake Eola.

“Yeah I don’t think I could have made that many," said Brenan.

"I have to go with what I have today and let people know that if they want more they can contact me and I’ll try to get some more printed up. ” 

Lisa Dante and her wife Blue were sitting on the lake shore with their 19 month old daughter, holding signs saying “We bleed, we love, one heart, one pulse, united.”

Blue Dante said it makes her angry to think that anyone could attack people in the LGBT community this way.

“And that’s why I decided to write this because there’s a lot of things you can write and there’s a lot of things people are saying, One Love, One Orlando, Stay Strong, and for me it is all of those things, but we do bleed the same as everyone else," said Dante.

"And we are bleeding now and we are hurting now,” she said.

A group of Target employees were handing out water, snacks and candles for the vigil.

Next to the table, photos of Luis Omar Ocasio Capo who worked at a store in Kissimmee and Mercedes Flores, who worked at the Davenport store.

Liza Catto said it’s been a tough week.

“I can tell you that Omar was a ray of sunshine, very happy, a barista in one of our stores, he worked for Starbucks," said Catto.

"Always smiling, treating our guests amazing and just had a very positive energy. Mercedes also a very free spirit, going to school and always wanting to help others, so both very giving individuals that we had in our teams," she said.  

Catto said the huge turnout speaks volumes about the goodwill in Orlando, and from around the country.

“We were looking at the crosses earlier today, the gentleman brought from Illinois, and it shows that Orlando is going to stand strong for the victims and also to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.” 

Derek Johansen worked at Pulse in 2010 and he knew some of the bartenders and dancers who were at the nightclub when the shooting happened.

Johansen said Orlando’s a big city, but sometimes it feels like a small town, and especially now as people reach out to help those affected.

“The people that are trying to pay for medical bills, the ones that I know who now don’t have work because they relied on Pulse," said Johansen.

"Both emotionally and financially the support has been incredible.”

 Johansen’s friend Barbi Lucena said the shooting has also had a huge impact on nearby businesses which were closed by the crime scene.

“If these people can’t go to work, they can’t pay their bills. So it’s way more than just the Pulse nightclub," said Lucena.

"This is a community, so it’s very important and vital that we support our fellow man, because if they’re going without… we can’t let that happen.”

Near the band shell, Orlando City Soccer supporters  had laid out a couple of banners with the words  ‘Hate won’t break us apart’, and ‘Love will keep Orlando united’.

Matt Monczka said the two supporter clubs,  the Iron Lion Firm and the Ruckus,  made the banners for the match on Saturday, then decided to bring them down to the vigil.

“This was a really organic thing that’s happening with people signing the banners," said Monczka.

"We brought a big pile of sharpies and just threw them down and as you can see it’s just kind of taken off,” he said as people wrote messages on the banners.

By the time the vigil ended a few hours later the two banners were transformed, carpeted with flowers and framed by glittering candles left by the crowds filtering into the night.