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Mourners from around Santa Barbara attended a candlelight vigil and marked a moment of silence Sunday evening to honor the victims of the Florida nightclub massacre — the deadliest mass shooting in American history and the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.
Pacific Pride Foundation organized the solidarity gathering at De la Guerra Plaza in response to the horrific slaughter at an Orlando nightclub popular with the gay community.
According to authorities in Orlando, Omar Mir Seddique Mateen — a 29-year-old U.S. citizen born to Afghan parents — opened fire in the packed Pulse club around 2 a.m. Sunday.
A hostage situation ensued, and when local SWAT personnel stormed in nearly three hours later, they found more than 50 people dead and another 50 wounded.
Mateen, who was killed in a shootout with police during the SWAT operation, reportedly made a 9-1-1 call 20 minutes into the attack in which he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and mentioned the 2013 Boston marathon bombings.
“Tonight we have a chance to gentle one another, to share a tissue and to see each other in the eyes of a deeper knowing,” said Patrick Lyra Kearns, LGBTQT outreach advocate at Pacific Pride Foundation.
Colette Schabram, the foundation’s executive director, expressed her grief at the loss of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community members in Orlando.
“Words sometime seem meaningless against such hate and violence,” she said. “But words have intention and words matter. This is a gathering of solidarity with the victims and families in Orlando.”
Schabram said the gathering sheds light on the realities of violence, abuse, discrimination and aggression LGBTQ members face every day.
“We are here because prejudice and discrimination are not past-tense realities for the LGBTQ community,” she said. “We are resisting a fear, instead coming together as a community to loudly proclaim as one community that we will not let hate win. We stand for love.”
Among the crowd of nearly 300 people was Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, who said more than 30,000 Americans are victims of gun violence each year.
“I’d rather not be here today, but it is important that we are here,” she said. “As we stand with the people in Orlando, we must say ‘enough.’ This cannot be the new normal in this country.”
Imam Yama Niazi, religious director at the Islamic Society of Santa Barbara, said he was shocked and devastated when he woke up Sunday morning.
“Every single human life is sacred,” he said. “No one has that right to take it away from anybody.”
Niazi said the shooting will not bring the community down, but instead will bring it together and intensify efforts to work together as a country.
“We as a great country, we are unified in our diversity,” he said. “Unfortunately, these crimes continue to happen — we need to do more about it.”
Christina Pizarro, director of communications of the Coalition Against Gun Violence, said mass shootings must not be the norm.
“We cannot allow these types of people to send messages of horror, terror and hate in communities,” she said.
Meanwhile, United Blood Services has asked volunteers to donate blood to help save the lives of those wounded in the Orlando massacre. Donations may be made at United Blood Services Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, Ventura and San Luis Obispo centers.
Donors must weigh at least 110 pounds, be at least 16 years old and in good health. Appointments are requested. Click here for more information about donations or to make an appointment, or call 1.877.827.4376.
— Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.