Residents of Winter Park and the surrounding Orlando area realized something on Monday: that despite differences of beliefs, sexual orientation and race, they were all very much the same. They all shared the same pulse of humanity.
Pipe organ music flooded through the echoing sanctuary of Knowles Memorial Chapel on the Rollins College campus in Winter Park as hundreds of residents and Rollins College students gathered on Monday to mourn the deaths of 49 victims from the Pulse nightclub shooting Sunday morning.
Heads were bowed in solemn silence as prayers were whispered; others rested on the shoulders of loved ones as they sought comfort. The ceremony in the chapel gave locals a chance to reflect on the loss of life and what happens next for a hurting city.
Tears were fought back as Rollins College senior Rayshaun Wagner stood bolt upright at the church podium and spoke before the filled rows of pews. He lost three friends Sunday morning at the hands of shooter Omar Mateen.
Wagner spoke with a confident poise – his voice only quivering for brief moments. His shirt read “fearless” in bold letters.
“It hasn’t set in, but three of my friends were lost yesterday,” Wagner.
“It felt like I was writhing inside, to see the names come up again and again and again…. It’s time to reflect on ourselves.”
Rollins College alumnus Dylan Allen said Pulse was a safe haven for him during his college years as a gay student.
“Pulse was the very first club I ever went to that I felt safe,” Allen said. “I grew up in a family that was Southern Baptist and I grew up in family that wasn’t accepting of it.”
“It was a place like home, a place of security and inclusion.”
Rev. Shawn Garvey of the First Congregational Church of Winter Park reflected on the simple question of “why?” – why someone could hold so much hate in their heart for the LGBT community, which is filled with some of the kindest, gentlest people he said he’s ever known.
“I stand before you, with you and beside you today with a heart that is broken, a spirit that is heavy, a mind that is very weighted and dark by the realities of our human condition and what we inflict upon one another,” Garvey said. “We wrestle with that together here today.”