In wake of Orlando shooting, Manhattan community members gather for candlelight vigil


Leaving 49 dead and 53 more wounded, a Sunday morning shooting at Orlando gay nightclub “Pulse” was the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. The gunman, Omar Mateen, first opened fire at about 2 a.m., and was later killed at about 5 a.m. in a shootout with the police.

Though no official ties with the group have been found, law enforcement officials said the gunman pledged allegiance to radical militant group ISIS in a 911 call before the shooting.

In an article about the shooting, law enforcement officials said to NBC News there was no indication that the shooter was working with terrorist groups and no evidence that anyone helped or encouraged him.

The gunman’s father said to the news organization that the shooter’s actions may be directed at the LGBT community. The father said his son had grown angry after recently seeing a same-sex couple kissing in front of him.

President Barack Obama condemned the events that took place as “act of terror and an act of hate” in a statement Sunday. President Obama said an investigation to determine the true motivations behind the shooting is already underway.

A candlelight vigil to honor those killed in the shooting was held in Manhattan City Park Sunday night. Members and supporters of the Manhattan LGBT community gathered to offer support, sing songs and reflect over recent events.

Nathaniel Eldridge, a local hairstylist and sales associate at Sally Beauty, organized the event. He said he wanted to hold a vigil after seeing news of the shooting on Facebook.

“I saw that other cities, bigger cities, were holding candlelight vigils, and it got me thinking – ‘why can’t we do it?’” Eldridge said.

Though he considered putting the event in someone else’s hands, Eldridge said he ultimately decided that he should take responsibility for it.

“I was tired of sitting in the background and just doing nothing,” Eldridge said. “I live by a quote – ‘It’s not a question of can or can’t – there are some things in life you just do.’”

Eldridge received assistance organizing the event from Kevin Stilley, a Manhattan resident and active member of Manhattan’s LGBT community.

“Like everyone, I felt shock, anger, sadness. The fact that it was directed at people, simply because of who they happen to be makes it much worse to me,” Stilley said.

Stilley said the thing that always gets him most, though, is the futures that were lost.

“They were all so young,” Stilley said.”They didn’t deserve to die that way – to have their lives cut short like that. Who knows what they would have accomplished, had they been allowed to live?”

Holly Nelson, president of K-State’s Sexual and Gender Alliance (SAGA), also attended the vigil.

“For me personally – and I think this goes for many others in the LGBT community – it’s difficult to not see yourself in these people who are out having a night on the town and suddenly have to face a tragedy like this.”

Nelson said the events in Orlando make her feel exhausted.

“It creates a lot of anxiety and stress, thinking about putting myself in those shoes, or how the family members of the victims must feel.”

Nelson spoke about an upcoming trip to Denver with her girlfriend for the Denver Pride Parade.

“We’ve had these plans for a long time, and that’s not something we’re gonna change up because of the situation in Orlando – but now we have something to worry about in the back of our minds.”

According to Nelson, this tragedy won’t be enough to stop her.

“You want to have that pride still,” Nelson said. “You want to show that in the face of all this tragedy that you’re not going to change who you are. That you aren’t going to let the hate win.”