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Over 1,000 Gather In Burlington To Honor Victims Of Orlando Shooting

Emily Alfin Johnson
More than a thousand marched down Church Street in Burlington Monday night as part of a vigil held in honor of the victims of the Orlando shooting organized by Pride Center of Vermont.

On Monday night, supporters of the LGBTQ community held vigils around the state and across the country to pay respect to victims of the mass shooting in Orlando. In Burlington, officials estimated between 1,500 and 2,000 people turned out for the march down Church Street and a vigil held in City Hall Park.

The sun broke out of an overcast sky as the crowd gathered in front of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington to begin the march down to City Hall park.

Except for the marching band leading the procession, most in the crowd remained quiet. Some held signs expressing solidarity with the victims of the shooting. Shop workers paused to watch the crowd, which spanned nearly four blocks, make its way down Church Street.

The attack in Orlando took place at a gay nightclub. During her remarks from City Hall Park, Kim Fountain, the executive director of Pride Center of Vermont, highlighted the significance of bars and clubs in LGBTQ culture.

"It is a place we go for refuge from a really hostile world and even that safety was taken from most of us when the shooting happened," Fountain said.

Credit Emiy Alfin Johnson / VPR
Kim Fountain, director of the Pride Center of Vermont, addresses the crowd gathered at City Hall Park in Burlington. To the right, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Mayor Miro Weinberger.

A number of local and state leaders participated in the vigil, including Sen. Bernie Sanders. In his remarks, Sanders emphasized that the motives of the shooter might never be known.

"But this is what we do know and must never forget: We know that one hateful person committed this terrible crime, not an entire people or an entire religion," said Sanders.

Sanders also called on people to stay united and take pride in diversity.

"Our job is not to allow politicians, Mr. Trump or anyone else, to divide us up by where our family came from, the color of our skin, our religion or our sexual orientation," Sanders said.

"What happened was evil and evil has no place here." — Iman Islam Hassan, Vermont Islamic Society

Mayor Miro Weinberger, Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo and Iman Islam Hassan of the Vermont Islamic Society also addressed the crowd. The iman condemned the attacks and thanked the Vermont faith community for its support of the Muslim community.

"I'm here just to pay you back the solidarity," Hassan said, "and to tell you: We are here behind you to support you, and what happened was evil and evil has no place here."

After the rally, people scattered throughout the park, standing in the lingering sunlight and talking in small groups.

Credit Emiy Alfin Johnson / VPR
Lee Richardson, a sophomore at Castleton University, was one of a group that lingered after the vigil in Burlington. He said it was essential to come to the vigil and hopes it will provide the fuel to revive the pride group in Rutland.

One of those that stayed after the speakers finished was Lee Richardson, a sophomore at Castleton University. As a member of the queer community, Richardson said it was essential to come to the vigil and that it was reassuring to see so many people out in support.

"We hear a lot in the news media lately that people aren't on our side, that they're not supporting us," Richardson said, "and to have that support — it really makes us feel like we can make the changes that need to happen."

What sort of change? Richardson plans to start with finding a way to revive the pride group near Castleton in Rutland.

Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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