Community leaders to put on a united front at Tuesday vigil
PITTSFIELD — Community leaders remain heartbroken and shaken as they prepare to rally the Berkshires in support of the 49 people gunned down at an Orlando, Fla. nightclub early Sunday morning.
Mayor Linda M. Tyer on Monday urged a united local front during Tuesday's 5:30 p.m. vigil at Park Square in honor of the victims and their families. A similar vigil was held Monday night at the First Congregational Church in Williamstown.
The gunman, 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.
"It is very important to stand in solidarity against hatred of any kind," Tyer said. "It was just utter and complete heartbreak when I first heard the news. I can't describe my astonishment to the savagery."
Tyer said Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn is working on a security plan for the police presence at the vigil to ensure a safe, solemn occasion.
The mayor's office, Manos Unidas Multicultural Educational Cooperative Inc,, Berkshire Chapter of the NAACP, Rainbow Seniors of Berkshire County and state Rep. Tricia Farley- Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, are collectively organizing the event.
The Rev. Timothy Weisman, pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church on First Street, said he was "shaken to the core" about the incident, which was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
"As a member of the LGBT community, I can't see this one individual as a reflection of the Muslim community," he said, referring to Omar Mateen, the shooter who died in a gunfight with police.
"Hate crime is a form of terrorism; targeting a community — that's why I am walking around shaking," said Berkshire Seniors lead organizer Ed Sedarbaum.
The tragedy in Orlando hit close to home for Kurt Kolok, of North Adams, who said in a Facebook post that he always found the central Florida community inviting.
"Each of the last six years I've spent a chunk of time in the Orlando area and have made a number of friends in the gay community down there," he wrote. "I have fond memories of Pulse as the place where my little sister and I shared our first 'clubbing' experience together with close friends a couple years ago."
Two of the 49 victims had ties to Western Massachusetts: KJ Morris, a drag performer who appeared regularly in Northampton, and Stanley Manolo Almodovar III, a native of Springfield. In their memory, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, called on tougher federal gun control laws.
"In my opinion, the United States cannot afford more startling headlines from places Newtown, Orlando, San Bernardino or Charleston," Neal said in a prepared statement on Monday. "Americans need to feel safe at school, church, work and social events and a good place to start is by reducing the level of gun violence that now plagues every corner of America."
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.
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