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story.lead_photo.caption A standing room only crowd listens to the Rev. Lowell Grisham Sunday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville during a vigil for the victims of the Orlando, Fla., shooting. - Photo by J.T. Wampler

FAYETTEVILLE -- Following news of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, hundreds of Northwest Arkansas residents said in one voice Sunday evening: We will not give in to fear and hatred.

Photo by J.T. Wampler
Participants gather Sunday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville during a vigil.
Photo by J.T. Wampler
Mitsi McKee of Fayetteville waits outside Sunday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville during a vigil for the victims of the Orlando, Fla., shooting. Hundreds attended the vigil and marched down Dickson Street.

At least 300 people came together in Fayetteville's St. Paul's Episcopal Church for a vigil to mourn the deaths of 50 people who were shot early Sunday morning at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. The club was meant to be a safe, relaxed space for gay, bisexual and transgender people, but that safety was violently torn away, several speakers said.

"We come together in grief and outrage," said Lowell Grisham, the church's rector. "We pray that ignorance and evil can be transformed by wisdom and love."

Authorities believe Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old American citizen, opened fire at the club near closing time Sunday morning, killing or injuring scores of people before being killed by police. He reportedly pledged allegiance to the terrorist Islamic State group and became angry after recently seeing men kiss in public, according to The Associated Press.

Vigil participants began filing into the church around sunset. Wooden pews creaked as they filled to capacity, yet still more people came. Dozens lined the church walls and spilled over into a side room when the vigil began.

Mayor Lioneld Jordan, State Rep. Greg Leding of Fayetteville and several other speakers together delivered a message of solidarity, hope and defiance. Several called on Congress to allow more research into gun violence, saying mass shootings have become sickeningly commonplace. All urged Americans not to respond with hatred or fear toward the millions of innocent Muslims in the country.

"This tragedy strikes fear into all of our hearts," said Dale Manning, president of Fayetteville's Transgender Equality Network. "It is more important than ever for us to be united and move together as one."

Susan Hartman, programs manager with the NWA Center for Equality, noted the city's Pride parade is set for June 18. The vigil Sunday was for those who couldn't march any further, she said.

"Saturday we're going to stand up," she added to thundering applause. "And we're going to let the world know that we are loud, we are proud, and we are not afraid."

Afterward the participants lit candles and moved slowly down Dickson Street, the column of flickering orange flames stretching for half a mile under a half moon and deep blue sky. The church's bell rang out as the crowd marched, many of them cupping their candles protectively.

Cathy Hale, a nursing instructor at the University of Arkansas, came with her partner, Jan Partin. She said she was devastated to hear the news of the attack and immediately felt sorrow for the victims' loved ones. But she took heart at the size of the crowd and the support it symbolized.

"It's just such a tragedy, and so useless," she said. "I wanted to do something. I wanted to be with people who felt the same kind of empathy."

NW News on 06/13/2016

Print Headline: Attack sparks call for unity

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