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article imageCandles, tears and song at Orlando vigil for massacre victims

By AFP     Jun 13, 2016 in World

A gay chorus sang, candles flickered against the twilight sky and rainbow flags fluttered as thousands in Orlando came together for the first major vigil in memory of the 49 people killed in America's worst mass shooting.

The trim green lawn outside a performing arts center filled with people gay and straight, families with small children, many holding hands or hugging, some of them crying as the city known for theme parks and fun struggled to cope with Sunday morning's shooting rampage at popular gay nightclub Pulse.

Orlando nightclub shooting
Orlando nightclub shooting

Another 53 people were wounded in the rampage by lone gunman Omar Mateen, who was later killed when police stormed the club.

Speakers at the ceremony used both English and Spanish, a reflection of the fact that many of the victims were Latino.

One after another, they urged the Florida city to unite at a time of unfathomable pain, and appealed for its LGBT community not to give in to fear.

Mourners observe a moment of silence during a vigil for the mass shooting victims at the Pulse night...
Mourners observe a moment of silence during a vigil for the mass shooting victims at the Pulse nightclub June 13, 2016 in Orlando, Florida
Brendan Smialowski, AFP

Joe Brennan, a 52-year-old engineer attending the vigil, said the main message that should come of the vigil is very simple.

"It shouldn't be so easy to get guns," he said. "The innocent deserve to be protected, too."

Alex Hartdegen, a 20-year-old art student, said the debate should not be about guns, but rather about teaching people to live and let live.

"It should just be about accepting everyone whether you agree with them or not. It's none of your business what other people do with their lives or how they love people or who they love," she said.

Toward the end of the ceremony, as the crowd stood in silence holding white candles into the air, the bell of a nearby church slowly rang 49 times -- once for each of the people killed in the massacre.

"Let it Be" by the Beatles then played as four small hot air balloons powered by bright flames rose into the sky.

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