A number of churches and organizations in Manatee County are offering counseling and planning vigils in the aftermath of the deadliest shooting in United States history.
Early Sunday morning, a lone gunman attacked Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. Fifty-three were wounded and 49 were killed, before 29-year-old Omar Mateen was killed in a shootout with police.
Manatee Pride and the Prism Youth Initiative are making counselors available for those in the county who are feeling confused, angry and upset by the weekend’s events, said coordinator Valerie Fisher.
“It’s normal to feel upset and sad and even angry. Anger can give us the energy that we need to continue,” Fisher said.
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Church of the Trinity Metropolitan Community Church, on Lockwood Ridge Road in Sarasota, will host an interfaith prayer service on at 7 p.m. Wednesday. On Sunday, as news of the shooting broke, the church service opened with a special prayer, Rev. Charles Tigard said.
“We can choose hate and fear or we can choose love and courage,” Tigard said.
The organization is also partnering with the organizers of the Harvey Milk Festival to put on a vigil Monday night at Five Points Park in Sarasota at 8 p.m.
You don’t have to think alike, to love alike.
Rev. Dee Graham, pastor at Manatee Unitarian Universalist Fellowshop
For some of the youth in the county, the shooting is a wake-up call, considering some of the cultural and political strides recently in the LGBT community, Fisher said.
“It’s interesting because some of our youth don’t know the world as some of our older LGBT sisters and brothers do. They can take for granted some of the changes that have happened,” Fisher said. “This is a wake-up call to all of us.”
But Fisher said, events like the Orlando shooting serve as a rallying cry, not as a detriment to progress.
“This is very disappointing to us, but it hasn’t stopped us yet and it’s not going to stop us now,” she said.
PrismYouth is offering peer support and grief counseling for LGBT+Youth ages 13 to 23 who are experiencing anxiety, depression, grief and anger in response to the attack in Orlando. Call 941-357-0111.
For those in Manatee County trying to make sense of the event, the emotions range between anger, shock, disbelief and sadness.
“I’d add dumbfounded to that list, too,” said Rev. Bob Sichta, the pastor at Congregational United Church of Christ, on 26th Street West in Bradenton.
In the aftermath of an event like this, the conversation must be selfless, Sichta said.
“This has to be about the people who were killed, their families, the people who were injured and recovering. It has to be about them,” he said. “They have to know that they’re supported. It may never end for some of them.”
The United Church of Christ’s Florida headquarters is in Orlando and Sichta is traveling to attend a vigil on Wednesday. He said it’ll be the start of rallying those who can provide support for victims and families for the long-run, as they struggle to recover physically, emotionally and financially.
Rev. Dee Graham, pastor at Manatee Unitarian Universalist Fellowship on 15th Street West in Bradenton, said she was toying with the idea of a maybe a weekend vigil or interfaith gathering, as it would give people more time to fully process what’s happened.
One of the earliest named victims was Edward Manuel Sotomayor Jr, a Sarasota man who Graham said she knew from the community. It’s possible, Graham said, there could be more local connections as more victims are identified.
“A week from now, it’s really going to sink in and more names are going to be known,” Graham said, referencing that as of Monday morning, the entire list of victims had not been released.
Both Sichta and Graham’s churches have been open and accepting of those in the LGBT community as far back as the 1970s, they said.
“You don’t have to think alike, to love alike,” Graham said.