St. Louis holds vigil for those killed in Orlando mass shooting
Updated Sunday, June 12, with details from the march — People from throughout St. Louis marched through the Grove neighborhood in south St. Louis late Sunday to hold a vigil for the people killed and wounded in an attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando.
In the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, 49 victims died and another 53 were injured when a gunman opened fire as Latin night ended at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Police stormed the nightclub and killed the suspected shooter, 29-year-old Omar Mateen.
The attack stunned people across the nation, and sparked expressions of solidarity from the LGBT community and their allies. In St. Louis, people from the Metro Trans umbrella group, Pride STL and others gathered at Manchester Avenue and Sarah Street, where they began chanting, "we will not forget ... we will not lose hope .... our anger will build peace."
Holding candles, homemade signs and rainbow flags, about 1,000 marched to the Transgender Memorial Garden where the Gateway Men’s Chorus sang.
Ethical Society Director James Croft asked participants to raise their candles if they had ever been threatened with violence, for being gay, lesbian, transgender or queer.
“That's what we live with every day, and that threat became real today in Orlando, in a club, a space that's supposed to be safe,” Croft said. “A space that we built for ourselves to get away from the violence.”
Croft and the other speakers called for an end to hate, to gun violence, and for quick action by lawmakers. But the gathering largely focused on Florida.
"Hopefully a little bit of emotional reconciliation, a stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Orlando who have been impacted by this terrible tragedy,” said Alderman Shane Cohn, D-25th Ward.
In St. Louis, many, especially those with loved ones in Orlando, were still stunned shortly before the vigil was set to begin.
"It makes me sick to my stomach because I'm still trying to get a hold of my cousin, and I've heard nothing," said Matt Cherry, 38, of St. Louis.
Cherry said he first learned about the shooting on Facebook. At 7 p.m., he still hadn't heard from his cousin who lives in Orlando and was at Pulse. While he waited at a local bar, he checked his phone constantly.
"He was there last night with his boyfriend," Cherry said. "I'm still waiting to hear, but I haven't heard nothing. [Family] has been trying to call his phone, and nothing. I keep checking my phone. All I get is the Weather Channel."
That's why Cherry wanted to come to the vigil.
"'My husband and I live right up the street," he said. "I feel like I have to be here."
Cohn hopes that the vigil and others like it will help spur political action that helps protect people from such violence.
“The LGBT community is still a target and we need to take stands to support and protect them, not continually ... harass them and make it illegal for them to be who they are," he said.
That the violence occurred during Pride month came as a stark reminder to many that members of the community can be targets.
“We got word of this tragedy early in the morning, and we’re heartbroken. Because it’s not only a loss to the Orlando, Florida, community, but it’s a loss to our community and to the worldwide LGBT community,” said Landon Brownfield, director of marketing and public relations for Pride STL.
Brownfield said Pride STL will go on as planned on June 24-26 in downtown St. Louis, but with a police presence and enhanced hired security. Organizers of Pride St. Charles said their festival would also go along as planned on June 18.
“But we’re still encouraging every person to remain alert to their surroundings and to report any suspicious behavior to security and police personnel,” he said.
“It is something that affects the worldwide LGBT community,” Brownfield said, “and it shows that while we’ve come a long way, there’s still a very long way to go.”
Editor's note: Readers revisiting this story following its initial publishing on Sunday, June 12 may have noticed a change in the number of reported dead from 50 to 49. This was, in fact, not a change in the number of people dead but an adjustment of language used to describe those affected. A more precise description of the dead and injured was used by officials on Monday, June 13, and, subsequently, by St. Louis Public Radio and NPR. As of the morning of June 13, there were 49 victims shot and killed by the attacker. The attacker was also killed in an apparent exchange with police. As with any developing news situation, these numbers may change as more details emerge and time passes.
Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB.