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Vigil for Orlando victims transcends race, sexual orientation

Hundreds of Durangoans stand in solidarity

Tears, heartbroken embraces and the weight of silence pulsated Tuesday night throughout the hundreds of people who gathered in Durango to honor those killed and injured in the Orlando nightclub shooting.

“The importance of this event is to show solidarity for those who lost their lives in a senseless act,” said Durango resident Kwin Elsey. “No one should have to have their name on a card like that.”

Placed on the steps of the gazebo in Durango’s Rotary Park were the names of each victim in Sunday’s shooting, each with a lit candle. Off to the side, on its own, was the name of the alleged shooter, 29-year old Omar Mateen, he too, with a candle lit.

“If the stories are true,” said Kristi Dean, chairwoman of the Four Corners Alliance for Diversity. “Then it’s too bad he didn’t have help. We’re here to say to the entire community: We’re here for support.”

Early Sunday morning, Mateen is suspected of entering a nightclub in Orlando, frequented by the LGBT community, and opening fire with an assault-type rifle and handgun.

Mateen killed 49 people and hospitalized another 53 before he was killed in a gunfight with authorities. As more information surfaced in the days following the shooting, Mateen has emerged as a conflicted individual. He supposedly pledged allegiance to ISIS, while at the same time, he was a known regular at the gay bar.

Regardless of the inevitable politicizing that follows every tragedy, mourners in Durango on Tuesday had a clear message: People from all walks of life must stand together against the kind of hate that prompted Sunday’s shooting.

“We’re here to show that when hate creates something like this, we’re going to come together and show love,” said Ryan Garcia. “Hate will always be there. But we will not let hate keep us down.”

Ernie Garcia, a Durango native, said it could have been any group targeted Sunday. As the victims are identified, and their stories told, that becomes more apparent.

The youngest victim, 18-year old Akyra Murray, was celebrating high school graduation with her family in Orlando and wanted to go dancing that night. She was shot in the arm and bled to death in a bathroom stall.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a minority or your sexual preference, this was an attack on human beings,” said Ernie Garcia.

Eddie Box Jr., a spiritual leader for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, began the vigil with a traditional smudging ceremony. He told The Durango Herald in an interview before the event that in the Southern Ute’s culture, “Two Spirits” have always existed in harmony with other tribal members.

“They walk that line, and we don’t discriminate against them at all,” Box said. “We want to live in this world in harmony, and we’ve wanted that since day one. We will overcome anything that comes up to disrupt this harmony.”

The attack comes just a week before Durango’s 2016 Pride Festival is set to begin next Wednesday. Despite the sadness felt throughout the country, local organizers said they hope the festival brings together the entire community.

“I’m hoping Durango shows the LGBT community an outpouring of love,” said Ernie Garcia.

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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