In the aftermath of the deadliest shooting in American history, members of the Auburn community joined people from around the world Monday night to celebrate the lives of those lost Sunday morning in the Orlando, Florida, terrorist attack.
The attack claimed the lives of 49 men and women.
Nearly 100 Auburn students, faculty and community members gathered at Toomer's corner to pay their respects to the lost and send healing to the families of the victims. Attendees waved Gay pride flags, held signs denouncing gun violence, recited poetry and prayed together.
Drew Bedurah, an Orlando native who spoke at the rally, called for peace and forgiveness.
"It's terrible," Bedurah said. "I don't think that needs to be said. I think we all know what happened in Orlando yesterday. When I woke up and it was the first thing I saw on Facebook, I was just confused. I sat through the morning just scrolling through my feed, reading article after article until I had to pull myself away."
Attendees even prayed for Omar Mateen, the 29-year-old New York native responsible for nearly 50 deaths and 50 injuries yesterday. But Bedurah said the vigil was intended to remember the victims.
"I think often times in these moments our country focuses on the wrongdoer, not the victims, and tonight is about the victims," Bedurah said.
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"God we thank you so much for a community such as Auburn that can at the last minute bring together a crowd like this to show the love that we have for a city far away," he said during a prayer.
The attack unfolded very early Sunday morning at Pulse Orlando, a gay nightclub minutes outside of downtown Orlando, Florida. Mateen, a man whom the FBI has investigated more than once for possible terror ties, opened fire in the confines of the bar.
The White House and the FBI have confirmed that Mateen showed many signs of radicalization and pledged allegiance to several often conflicting Islamist groups. He used two legally purchased firearms in the attack, an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and a Glock handgun.
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Mateen's father said he had no idea that his son had been radicalized, but he did notice weeks earlier that Mateen became angry when two men kissed in front of him and his family.
"We gather together to mourn yet another mass shooting in our country," said Anne Leader, reading from a litany given to attendees at the rally. Together, she and the crowd read many of the lines. "On average, 80 people are killed by guns every day, including eight children. And our hearts break."
"Faced with gun violence, we grieve for those who killed and those whose lives are forever changed," Leader and the crowd recited together. "We seek to comfort those who have lost loved ones. We pray for a change of heart for those who resort to violence.
Leader read the names and ages of all 49 victims, and together she and the crowd offered prayers and peace.
"This issue is an important one for me in two ways," said Jennifer Brooks, an associate professor in history who organized the vigil. "In 2008, the church where I grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, became a victim of gun violence. ... A man with hate in his heart, illness in his mind, came in with a shotgun during the children's service and shot eight people. Two of those people were killed. ... The reason we were targeted was because we were a church and a faith that was welcoming to all people, but particularly to LGBTQ communities."
One attendee at the rally held a sign that said "love is love is love is love is love." Bedurah, Leader, Brooks and Rachel Winter, a campus minister at First Presbyterian of Auburn repeatedly called for love, not hate.
"I think it would be remise of me if I didn't mention just how much God cares about each and every single person on this planet," Bedurah said. "I feel like God gets a bad rep because a lot of his followers don't represent him very well."
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