ITHACA, N.Y. — Hundreds gathered Tuesday evening in Bank Alley on the Ithaca Commons for a vigil to honor the lives of the 49 victims killed in this past Sunday’s shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.
Organized jointly by two local groups, The House of Merlot and Queer Kids Care X Black Lives Matter, the vigil spanned from 7-11 p.m.
The evening was marked by countless messages of hope and unity from attendees and speakers alike, while simultaneous statements of frustration, pain, and fear circulated throughout the night.
Organizers began the event by introducing the vigil as a space to commemorate the lives of the “Orlando 49,” while also sharing intentions of creating a safe space for healing and conversation.
“We have the unique opportunity tonight to promote voices typically unheard,” said one organizer during introductory statements.
An open mic facilitated under the Bernie Milton Pavilion lasted until sunset, with performances by the Ithaca Gay Men’s Chorus, local cellist Zachary Sweet, and countless speakers who shared personal stories, poems, and songs.
One person spoke of making a list of 50 LGBT friends in days after the shooting and imagining life without those individuals, while others shared their connections to the Orlando community.
Each speaker during the open mic elicited supportive responses from attendees, with clapping, cheers, and shouts of “I love you!” following their contributions.
The statement “Today we mourn. Tomorrow we organize,” made by one speaker, was met with a particular burst of energy from listeners.
Attendee Helen Murphy said, “I had to go and commune with people. That’s what you do after a tragedy.”
In sharing personal motivations for attending the vigil Anna Cone said, “I was feeling sad, and I wasn’t ready to address it by myself. I thought it would be a space to unpack some of those feelings, and it was.”
For many, it was a place to simultaneously find and provide support within their community.
“I came to the vigil to support friends and people who have not had the chance to be out as long as I have,” said attendee Ben Janes, adding, “It’s important to remember that not everyone has made it through their journey.”
At sundown, attendees lit candles while the names of the 49 victims were read aloud, followed by a minute of silence in their honor. In the somber moments after the candlelit portion of the vigil, attendees stood quietly, many holding the hands of friends and loved ones.
“I feel like I need to close ranks around the community so that we can take care of our own,” said local educator Elijah Evens.
When asked about the experience of attending the vigil, attendee Hiroo Kajita said, “I’m usually a vocal person but I just wanted to listen. I just wanted to learn how other people feel.”
Kajita, a speech pathology student at Ithaca College who came out as bisexual in the past year, spoke of not knowing how to feel after learning of the shooting in Orlando.
“I’m trying to be more aware and to not be desensitized from everything,” said Kajita.
The open mic continued by candlelight until 11 p.m., when organizers commenced the event by sharing that although they are thankful for the gratitude they have received from the community for putting together the vigil, it is something they wish that they didn’t have to do in light of the act of violence that took place in Orlando.
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Photos by Anna Kucher and Sam Scott