Hundreds gather in Fayetteville for candlelight vigil honoring Orlando shooting victims

Photos: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

Hundreds of residents gathered Sunday night for a candlelight vigil in downtown Fayetteville to honor the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando.

The event, organized by the NWA Center for Equality, began shortly after 8 p.m. at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and concluded with a silent march along Dickson Street. Fayetteville police helped lead the crowd from the church to the corner of Dickson and West Avenue where a brief closing ceremony was held.

The shooting, which took place early Sunday at a gay nightclub in Orlando, is the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. At least 50 people were killed, with another 53 hospitalized. The gunman, who reportedly pledged allegiance to ISIS, was killed in a gunfight with police.

“Our hearts are with our brothers and sisters in Orlando,” officials stated in an event announcement on Facebook. “As we prepare to celebrate #NWAPride, this tragic act of terrorism reminds us why we must stand together as a proud LGBT community.”

Kyle Smith, president of For Fayetteville, the group that campaigned for passage of the city’s civil rights ordinance, told the crowd he was proud of the effort put forth Sunday night on such short notice.

“I’m tired of hearing about the worst mass shooting in U.S. history,” Smith said. “This is the fourth time I’ve heard that in my life. They just keep getting worse, and it has got to stop.”

Smith said efforts to stop mass shootings and crimes against the LGBTQ community must start with pride.

“Pride is all about recognizing the accomplishments we’ve had in the past and the way that we have overcome oppression,” said Smith. “Do not let that oppression be replaced with fear.”

The NWA Center for Equality will host a series of events this week across the region as part of the 10th annual Northwest Arkansas Pride celebration, including the annual Pride Parade scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, June 18 on Dickson Street in Fayetteville.

“Show up, be proud and be brave,” said Smith. “But don’t stop there. Keep it going every day.”

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