[By Thomas Thorspecken]
After finishing my first sketch at the Orlando Pulse Shooting Vigil, I wandered through the crowd. People were crying and hugging for support. I wanted to get a sketch closer to the stage. I made my way to the perimeter to get back stage. Equality Florida set up a GoFundMe page to help victims of the Pulse shooting and it has reached over $3 million since it was opened on Sunday. There has been an incredible outpouring of support all across the country for families affected by this terrorist attack. This page for the victims of the Pulse shooting is one of the biggest record breaking pages in the fundraising site's history.
I leaned up against a pylon and started sketching the stage. I wanted to catch some of the police presence. All the news trucks were lined up to my right down the street. Pulse workers took the stage and vowed to come back, bigger than ever. "We will not be defeated! We are here to stay!" The owners then led the audience in a chant of "Peace Love Pulse!", "Peace Love Pulse!" We chanted louder until it became a unified shout. There was defiance and love as that chant filling downtown.
Most politicians who spoke seemed to be telling the crowd what they wanted to hear. It all sounded so shallow. The words were meant to instill civic pride and bring cheers. At Pulse two nights before, cell phones buzzed in shooting victim's pockets from loved ones hoping they had survived. The coroner worked tirelessly to identify bodies. One politician who spoke from the heart was Patty Sheehan. She is the first openly gay woman to be elected as an Orlando City Commissioner. I've met her multiple times at various events, and she is always open and gregarious. She is also an artist who paints what she calls equality kittens. Often sales of these paintings go to help the LGBT community. Patty spoke about how she had been at ground zero for the past 48 hours. She had seen blood on the sidewalks and desperate mothers wanting to know if their sons were alive. Her voice broke as she described these scenes. She ran out of words, paused, and then said that she had also seen an incredible amount of love and an outpouring of support. "All of you are a shining example of that love." Everyone shouted their approval and once again I got choked up and had to stop the sketch. She said, "Murderers will not destroy our spirit. I love you, Orlando."
Candles were handed out to everyone in the crowd, one small flame became thousands. The Methodist Church across the street, tolled a bell for every life lost. The reverberating sound went on and on. Every new strike became sadder. It rang 49 times. I cry just thinking about that sound. There was sadness and silence through the whole crowd. Vigils like this are happening all across the country. Orlando is not alone. But everyone has to live with their grief alone. Tears sting but don't heal. Only time and positive change can do that. When Gov. Rick Scott was asked if gun control or restricting access to the assault rifle used by shooter Omar Mateen would have helped, the Republican governor said that radical Islam killed the victims of the nightclub, not guns. That attitude is why the Gunshine State is now internationally known as the world's most violent tourist destination. As the vigil ended, former State Representative Joe Saunders reminded everyone that there are still people in hospitals and he asked us all to take care of one another. The streets of downtown Orlando were then flooded with mourners, many still carrying their candles as they made their way home to loved ones. I went home to write an article before midnight and then I lay on the floor listened to Tibetan healing bowls. I curled up drained.