Jonathan Hall stood in front of Selby Public Library Monday as a representative for the friends of Edward Manuel Sotomayor Jr., one of the victims of Sunday’s massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub — the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
Sotomayor, of Sarasota, was among the first victims identified after Orlando police say 29-year-old Omar Mateen killed dozens of people early Sunday morning.
Forty-nine of our loved ones are gone today due to lack of love and compassion. Edward Manuel Sotomayor Jr., was the complete opposite. Eddie embodied love and compassion.
Jonathan Hall, friend of Orlando shooting victim Edward Manuel Sotomayor Jr.
To Hall and other friends of Sotomayor, the 34-year-old was much more than a victim. Hall opened up about his dear friend before more than 1,200 people at a grassroots vigil held Monday night.
“It’s hard to reflect on Eddie when you’re so used to him being here and reflect on a life cut short by yet another senseless act,” Hall said before a sea of candles in the growing darkness. “Forty-nine of our loved ones are gone today due to lack of love and compassion. Edward Manuel Sotomayor Jr., was the complete opposite. Eddie embodied love and compassion.”
Hall’s voice shook as he spoke about the lives Sotomayor touched. Grief marked the faces of many who looked up at him. Others wiped tears from their faces. A few looked down at the candles in their hands, their faces aglow.
The vigil’s mood was at times somber as community members mourned the Orlando shooting victims. But, some shared messages of love and hope within and for the LGBTQ community.
Shannon Fortner, president of the Harvey Milk Festival, said it was amazing to see so many people come out Monday and show their support. She thanked them for paying their respects to those lost in the shootings.
“This was by far the most horrific mass shooting in our country, targeting the LGBTQ community,” she said. “This is a time to embrace those around us and remember that our hearts beat on, showing our strength and dedication to keep their memories alive. Life reminds us, that in a moment, change is just around the corner.”
As a minority, Fortner said the LGBTQ community has struggled with feeling safe and being accepted by friends and family.
We have burst down the closet doors and we are speaking out against hate — against anyone that has or will try to cause us harm. Let us remember those lives we’ve lost along the way, that helped us be able to speak out, who gave us a platform to create change.
Shannon Fortner, president of Harvey Milk Festival
“We have burst down the closet doors and we are speaking out against hate — against anyone that has or will try to cause us harm,” she said. “Let us remember those lives we’ve lost along the way, that helped us be able to speak out, who gave us a platform to create change.”
Valerie Fisher of Prism Youth Initiative, which empowers LGBTQ youth ages 13-23 in Manatee County, also spoke.
“We have all been emotionally scarred, terrorized not only by the events that happened on Sunday but simply by being LGBT or Q,” Fisher said. “Living here today in Florida, or for that matter in America, we commend the courage of all of you who are standing here tonight. We respect and esteem everyone who, in today’s world, has the courage to be out.”
Hate will not win, she later cried.
Kellin Harris, of Sarasota, attended the vigil to show his support for the victims. The 20-year-old said he was at a friend’s wedding in Naples when he heard about the shootings.
“It was really shocking to hear, to open Facebook and see all these articles about what’s going on while I’m at this joyous event,” he said. “It’s really jarring.”