Coming together in Amherst to remember the victims

Amherst vigil remembers, prays for those killed

  • Rev. Vicki Kemper, of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Amherst, speaks Monday during a vigil on the Amherst Common held to mourn lives lost in the Orlando shootings Sunday.

  • Charlie Tebbetts, of Amherst, listens as the Rev. Vanessa Cardinale, of Amherst South Congregational Church, reads the names of people who died in the Orlando shootings Sunday during a vigil Monday on the Amherst Common. JERREY ROBERTS

  • John Coull, of Amherst, speaks Monday on the Amherst Common during a vigil held to mourn lives lost in the Orlando shootings Sunday.

  • Mareatha Wallace, right, of Amherst, gets a hug from Kathleen Winkworth, of Leverett, Monday on the Amherst Common during a vigil held to mourn lives lost in the Orlando shootings Sunday. Wallace spoke during the gathering. JERREY ROBERTS

  • Rev. Steven Wilco, of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Amherst, speaks Monday on the Amherst Common during a vigil held to mourn lives lost in the Orlando shootings Sunday.

  • Mareatha Wallace, of Amherst, holds a candle during a vigil Monday on the Amherst Common held to mourn lives lost in the Orlando shootings Sunday.

  • Rev. Tom Synan, of Grace Church, speaks Monday on the Amherst Common during a vigil held to mourn lives lost in the Orlando shootings Sunday.

  • Rev. Greg Mozel, front, of the First Baptist Church of Amherst, speaks Monday on the Amherst Common during a vigil held to mourn lives lost in the Orlando shootings Sunday.

  • Naz Mohamed, of Hampshire Mosque, speaks Monday on the Amherst Common during a vigil held to mourn lives lost in the Orlando shootings Sunday.

  • Ian Kaye, 17, with parents Chris Appy and Katherine Appy, of Amherst, listen to Rev. Greg Mozel, of First Baptist Church of Amherst, speak Monday on the Amherst Common during a vigil held to mourn lives lost in the Orlando shootings Sunday. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Rabbi Ben Weiner, of Jewish Community of Amherst, offers a prayer Monday on the Amherst Common during a vigil held to mourn lives lost in the Orlando shootings Sunday.

  • The Rev. Vanessa Cardinale, front, of Amherst South Congregational Church, reads the names of people who died in the Orlando shootings Sunday during a vigil Monday on the Amherst Common. JERREY ROBERTS

@JackHEvans
Published: 6/14/2016 12:47:44 AM

AMHERST — The victims had been together, all in one place, a place where they were supposed to be safe in who they loved and who they were, and then a man with a gun had broken their sanctuary and ended 49 lives.

So Monday evening, the people of Amherst and places nearby came together, all in one place, to grieve and to love, to pray and to hope and to remember the people killed Sunday at Pulse, a gay night club in Orlando, Florida.

They were Christians and Jews and Muslims and atheists, not in a sanctuary but on Amherst Common.

Seven interfaith leaders — from churches, a synagogue and a mosque — spoke, as did a couple of people from the crowd, which numbered over 100. The shooter, Omar Mateen, had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. The speakers decried the idea of hate in the name of religion.

A woman passed out candles from a wicker basket before speakers began. Someone lit a candle, then those candles lit others, the lights multiplying among the semicircle of mourners.

A wind extinguished the lights. Some re-lit. Others cupped a hand around the flame. But they all went out when the speakers started – everyone listened.

The Rev. Vicki Kemper, pastor of the First Congregational Church of Amherst, spoke first. She told listeners all people are children of God.

There would be time for talk of gun laws and terrorism, she said, but this night, they were here for togetherness and faith – “to remind ourselves that we are not alone, and to both yell at and beseech the holy one.”

The Rev. Steven Wilco of the Immanuel Lutheran Church read a hymn, “How Long, O God?”

Naz Mohamed, of the Hampshire Mosque in Amherst, said she was saddened anyone would believe that her faith advocates violence. The Quran says to take one life is to take the life of all humanity, she said.

“Harming them is contempt, a clear sign of no faith,” she added.

Rabbi Ben Weiner of the Jewish Community of Amherst offered a Jewish prayer for the dead, “El malei rahamim” — “God full of mercy.”

Two people from the crowd spoke. John Coull, who identified himself as an atheist, said the world has been split into a dichotomy of “they” and “we.”

“I came here tonight to be part of ‘we,’” he said.

Mareatha Wallace said she wanted to speak, as a member of the LGBTQ community, against Islamophobia, and to thank people for their compassion.

“If you see an LGBTQ person that is upset, comfort them,” she said. “Give them a hug. It’s really hard not to be afraid.”

The Rev. Vanessa Cardinale, pastor of Amherst South Congregational Church, stepped in front of the crowd at the end of the vigil. She clutched a list, and, as the bell of Grace Episcopal began its 50 tolls, she read its names.

Bonggg. Bonggg. Bonggg.

For Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34. And Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50. And Akyra Monet Murray, 18.

Bonggg. Bonggg.

For Stanley Almodovar III, 23, from Springfield. For KJ Morris, 37, who lived for a time in the Pioneer Valley.

Bonggg. Bonggg. Bonggg.

Fifty tolls, one for each of the dead. One, even, for Omar Mateen. He, Kemper had said, was a child of God, too.

Then it was quiet. Silence for five seconds, 10 seconds. Then a low hum, a barely-there melody, teasing the stillness.

A trick of the wind? No: 15 seconds, and the melody grew. Multiple voices now, spreading and holding like candle flames couldn’t manage to. Twenty seconds, and the words became clear.

“All night, all day, angels watching over me, my Lord.”

Not everyone was singing, but enough were. The words rose louder than any wind had been all evening.

“All night, all day, angels watching over me.”

There they were: singing, together, all in one place.

Jack Evans can be reached at jackevan@indiana.edu.




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