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Spokane mourns Orlando shooting victims: ‘We retaliate with love’

Hundreds of people brought their pain and anger, and their prayers and love, to Spokane’s Riverfront Park on Sunday evening at a vigil for the victims of the shooting rampage inside a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

“I am angry as hell. And I’m scared, and I hurt,” pastor Jan Shannon of Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ told the crowd.

Express those feelings; get them out, she counseled.

“We’re all in this together,” Shannon said. “It’s a very small planet and we all have to learn to get along.”

A day earlier, more than 10,000 were in the same park for the 25th annual Spokane Pride Parade celebration. Michael Jepson, chair of festival organizer OutSpokane, awoke Sunday to news of the shooting that left at least 50 dead.

“I was gutted. I was gutted,” Jepson said. “Last night I cried tears of joy. … Now we’re here to honor our siblings.”

Threats of violence against the LGBT community are real and local, he said. A protester at Saturday’s pride festival said that given the opportunity, he would shoot or gas gay people to death, Jepson said.

“I thought it was hyperbole. I really did,” he said. “It’s not. There are people who want to kill me, without knowing me, for being who I am.”

Shannon, who is a lesbian, said that while organizing Sunday’s vigil, someone said they should remember to inform the police for security purposes.

“I hate that I feel like I have to tell the police to come protect me because I want to meet in public with some of my friends. That’s the fear,” she said.

The crowd sang John Lennon’s “Imagine” and held candles. Many hugged and cried. Then they walked solemnly across the park to the Clocktower to light 50 tea light candles – one for each of the dead in Orlando.

Deanne Cuevas, of Spokane Valley, said she got word that a young gay man whom she refers to as her adopted son was mourning the deaths of four close friends in the nightclub shooting. He grew up in Spokane and graduated from West Valley High School.

“I’m shocked and appalled. I’m angered and hurt. I’m scared,” Cuevas said. “I hurt for him because he lost his friends.”

She paused to hug a couple of young men with tears in their eyes. “We retaliate with love,” she told them. “Everything you have in your being, you fight with love.”

Chris Baty, of Spokane, came to the vigil with his son, Liam, 5. Baty wrote “Orlando strong” on his T-shirt, and his son’s shirt said, “Pray 4 Orlando.”

“We just wanted to come show our support. We’re a long ways away, but we want them to know that we still care, too,” Baty said. “It’s a horrific day.”

He said he tried to talk to his young son about the reason for the gathering. “It just doesn’t make sense to him. … He knows we’re here to try and support people.”

A vigil for the Orlando victims also was held Sunday night in Moscow, Idaho, and another is planned for Monday night in Sandpoint.

Northwest leaders shared their thoughts on the tragedy Sunday.

“Deepest sympathy and support towards our fellow Americans on this infamous day in Orlando,” Coeur d’Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer said in a Facebook post. “Devastating, unnecessary tragedies like this should never impact communities in our great country. Please keep the victims and their families in thoughtful prayer.”

Spokane Mayor David Condon said in a statement, “Spokane stands in solidarity with the rest of the nation in denouncing the hate and violence of the unconscionable act of domestic terrorism in Orlando. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Orlando and across the country whose friends, family and loved ones have been harmed by this tragedy.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who attended Spokane’s pride festival Saturday, said, “There is no doubt that today is one of unimaginable sorrow for the LGBTQ community, the people of Florida, for our nation and for people everywhere who are sickened and shocked by such an act of hatred.”

Flags were lowered to half-staff Sunday across the region and the U.S., including at government offices around the Inland Northwest.

People also responded by donating blood. An increase in donors began midday Sunday at the Inland Northwest Blood Center in Spokane, where supplies already were critically low, spokeswoman Tesia Lingenfelter said.

The local blood center’s supplies are too low to assist directly with the Florida shooting, but the center’s partner, United Blood Services, did send extra blood to Orlando, Lingenfelter said.

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