Hundreds of Brooklynites stood vigil in the shadow of Grand Army Plaza as the sun set on Wednesday, holding candles in the twilight to mourn the 49 men and women who fell under a hail of automatic gun fire in a gay club in Orlando on June 12.
For many, the faces of the dead were still fresh on their minds, which reeled in search of meaning in the aftermath of a senseless act of violence.
“I finished watching the news tonight and it had the pictures,” said Daniel McCarthy, a gay man and 40-year Prospect Heights resident, who choked back tears as he spoke. “These beautiful children out having a good time — that’s all they were doing. It’s nuts. It’s crazy. It’s like living in an insane asylum. It doesn’t make sense. I guess it never will.”
For one mourner, the vigil was an opportunity to let go of emotions that had been welling up since Sunday.
“It feels healing, but it’s also really painful to be here,” said Samantha Schoer, a former Park Slope resident, who was in town from Philadelphia visiting friends when the shooting occurred. “It’s emotional, but I wanted to feel that.”
The strains of “Amazing Grace” filled the air amidst rainbow flags, Old Glory, and the banners of Latin American countries, representing the many Hispanic victims gunned down by shooter Omar Mateen.
But as the evening wore on, the vigil took the form of a political rally, with elected officials demanding changes to laws that allowed Mateen to legally purchase the semi-automatic rifle he used to mow down the club-goers.
“We cannot ignore that he supposedly had an assault-style rifle, weapons that are legal in the United States,” said Public Advocate Letitia James, who organized the gathering. “We not only stand in unity with Orlando, but we stand ready to take action.”
For McCarthy, that change can’t come soon enough.
“These automatic assault weapons have got to stop,” he said. “Stop people from walking into a gun store and getting them. It’s so obvious I feel embarrassed to say something.”
Amid the pain and the cries for change, there were also appeals to love, and hope that the country’s anguish doesn’t turn to hatred.
“I’m glad [James] organized this to be a vigil for peace and support, and to suppress all the hatred that is brewed by this,” said Teresa Calabrese, who came with wife Cora Sangree from Kensington. “We all really need to embrace this moment, and come together, and figure out what we need to do to get action on gun control.”