Photo Gallery | Vigil at Park Square for victims of Orlando nightclub shooting
PITTSFIELD — Forty-nine American flags lined Park Square and 49 chalk-drawn rainbow tears dotted the park's walkways on Tuesday as hundreds of Berkshire residents gathered in solidarity for the 49 victims gunned down early Sunday in an Orlando, Fla., nightclub.
Emotions were high during the 70 minute vigil as community leaders expressed anger, fear, but also hope and love in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
One by one, the victims' names were read aloud, accompanied by a brief biography, including that of KJ Morris, a drag performer with ties to Northampton, known as Kim to locals Tony Barini and Ed Bailey.
"I am mortified for her family," Barini said. "I am mortified for her friends."
Given Morris' kind heart and compassion for others, Bailey figures she probably saved lives when the gunman, Omar Mateen, open fire in the crowded night spot.
"I know Kim helped people get out that night," he told the crowd.
Mateen, an American citizen of Afghan descent, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a 911 call made during the siege at Pulse, a night spot that was popular among the lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender, queer or questioning, or LGBTQ, community.
For several speakers, the massacre was a hate crime that has reverberated throughout the nation.
"Hate doesn't have boundaries," said North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright. "We suffer and hurt as a community; we also heal as a community."
"Hate is a taught behavior — let's work together to stop hate," added Dennis Powell, president of the Berkshire County Chapter of the NAACP.
Powell concluded his remarks by asking those gathered to hug the person next to him or her. Frank LeClair of Pittsfield echoed Powell's gesture with a sign that read, "Put down the gun and hug your neighbor."
"I have seven children and I don't want anything to happen to them," he told an Eagle reporter. "What happened in Florida was the last straw."
As news of the shooting spread on network television and social media Sunday morning, Pittsfield City Council President Peter Marchetti was reminded of his struggles of coming out, but often keeps his private life out of his public life.
This wasn't one of those times.
"I'm not just a gay person; I'm a community leader who must stand up for all," he said. "This isn't an LGBTQ issue; it's a human race issue."
Still angered and heartbroken by the shooting, Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer, saw the vigil as a positive step forward toward reining in gun violence.
"Something special happens when we stand in unity for compassion, kindness and harmony," she said.
The crowd also agreed with Pittsfield state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, who called for unity in getting effective gun control legislation and said the time is now to take action.
"I have faith we will stand up ... raise our voice ... for real change," she said. "Be loud. Be proud."
For Ed Sedarbaum, the massacre rekindled the fear he felt some 25 years ago while living in the Jackson Heights section of Queens, where a gay Latino man was bludgeoned and knifed to death by three white teenagers.
"The anger takes second place to the fear in my stomach," said Sedarbaum, leader of the Rainbow Seniors of Berkshire County, representing the elder LGBTQ community.
Jim Day, of Dalton, left his mark at the vigil by taking red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple chalk in drawing 49 rainbow tear drops on the park Square walkways — one for each person killed at Pulse.
"I wanted to have a symbol of our sorrow," he said.
The 49 flags firmly planted in the Park Square grass were donated by the Kiwanis Club of Pittsfield to show no matter what religion, race or sexual orientation, we are all Americans.
"It's a sad time for the country," said club President Real Gadoury. "Nobody should kill anyone for no reason."
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.