The metro-east reacted Sunday to the killing of 50 people at a gay night club in Orlando, Fla., being called the worst mass shooting the American history.
Authorities have identified the killer as Omar Mateen, 29, of Fort Pierce, Fla., who was killed by SWAT team snipers who stormed the club about 6 a.m. after Mateen had taken hostages. Federal agents are now probing whether Mateen was inspired by the Islamic State terrorism group. A law enforcement source said Mateen called 911 from the club and made “ISIS-related statements.”
The shootings came hours after Gay Pride festivals were held in Belleville and around the country. Here is a sampling of local reactions:
Sarah Sowell, president of Metro-east PrideFest, Belleville:
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“It was a huge punch in the stomach. Whether it’s a terrorist attack or a hate crime, either way, we lost brothers and sisters. ...
“Pride month is June, so I know they were probably there celebrating who they were and the fact that we have so many freedoms in this world now that we did not have a year ago. And now we mourn them.”
“It makes people afraid to step up and be who they are and to come out. I think that this will be a huge step backwards for people because they are going to be scared.”
“Everyone is entitled to their own feelings, thoughts and opinions, but respect mine, too. There is no room for hate.”
Illinois Rep. Greg Harris, (D-Chicago), who is openly gay and has served in the legislature since 2006:
“I join everyone in Illinois in sending thoughts and prayers to the family and friends of those who were shot in yet another senseless act of violence in Florida, this time against the LGBT community.
“Just as the attack in San Bernadino or Paris or Lahore were perpetrated by truly evil people, the strength of good, decent and caring people of every community and nation must unite to stand against them.”
Leon “Dieta Pepsi” Braxton, emcee of Belleville’s Pridefest:
“I hadn’t been to bed yet. When I got home, this was all breaking. I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I was just mortified and devastated that anyone would target what to the LGBT community is a safe haven. I just sat on the bed and watched in disbelief.”
Colin Murphy, publisher of the LGBT online magazine #Boom, O’Fallon:
“Our bars are like our community centers. They are gathering places for generations of friends. They are our safe space. Our community takes extraordinary ownership of our LGBT nightclubs. This attack was exceptionally personal. It really rattles you.
“When the list of victims come out, it’s very probable that there will be straight allies among them. Our straight allies are very much members of our community. They work with us. They play with us. They are part of our lives. This is a tragedy for everyone.”
Jason Lementino, vice-president of Metro-east PrideFest, Belleville:
“There should be more love in the world. I try to be a loving person. I want to put more love out there, not hate.”
“I talked about it with my friend. We both had broken hearts.”
“This is devastating.”
Will Ver Duin, associate pastor at the Evangelical United Church of Christ in Highland:
“To my Muslim brothers, my heart breaks because of the weight of oppression and fear their religion is under. To my LGBT brothers, my heart breaks for them because this is one more thing for people to point to and say ‘ah ha’ and rationalize their judgments.”
“It’s OK to rally around each other and hold each other closely, but it’s OK to tell the stories of frustration and raise your voice in resolve and conviction and stand up for love. Stand up for inclusion.”
“We have created a society where mass shootings have become commonplace and gun distribution is the accepted norm. Other countries must look at us and wonder what we are doing in our brokenness.”
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner:
“It was heartbreaking to learn about the tragic massacre in Orlando, Fla. To target a community in celebration is deplorable. The state of Illinois stands with those in the state of Florida, and in honor of the victims, I am ordering all flags to be lowered to half-staff immediately. Please join me and Diana in praying for all those affected by this senseless tragedy.”
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois):
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of this hateful terrorist act that targeted the Orlando gay community. Gunman Omar Mateen’s motivations remind us of the immediate threat the Islamic State poses to our country and the need for swift action to protect Americans from future attacks here at home.”
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois):
“This morning’s mass shooting was the worst in American history. Fifty people were massacred and dozens more injured when a heavily armed man opened fire on innocent people. My thoughts and deepest condolences are with the victims and their loved ones, and I stand in solidarity with the LGBT community in Orlando and across America.
“These mass shootings follow an increasingly tragic script: the public is heartbroken and outraged, first responders and law enforcement do their grim duty, and Congress proposes a slew of policy proposals and argues over whether any of them could have prevented the last tragedy. But when the debates end and nothing has changed, Congress makes itself complicit in the next killing. We have the power to act, and we must.
“The bottom line is that we allow dangerous people to buy guns in America and that has got to change. In the coming days, Congress must take a stand against hate, terrorism and this horrific gun violence.”
Brian C. Johnson, CEO Equality Illinois:
“Our hearts ache with the news of the tragedy in Orlando this morning. This morning, 50 mothers and fathers got the call that their child had been murdered in the largest mass shooting in our country’s history. And they were murdered simply for being at a gay club.”
Tracy Baim, spokesperson for National Gay Media Association and publisher of Windy City Times:
“Individuals from the LGBTQ community have been targeted for violence frequently over the years, but nothing on this scale. ... We also send our support to our member paper Watermark during this difficult time for their community”
Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis
"There is no excuse for anyone to commit such a horrific crime taking the lives of scores of innocent people and there is zero place in Islam for such crimes against humanity. And I say humanity because the Quran clearly states that killing a single, innocent person is like killing all of mankind ... And indeed all of mankind is hurt by this tragedy. Many politicians and media outlets are saying that the shooter affiliated himself with Islam. But my message is this: Know that Islam does not affiliate itself with him. "
Return later to bnd.com for more reaction to the shootings.
- When: 8:30-10 p.m. Sunday
- Where: Starting at Manchester Avenue and Sarah Street in the Grove neighborhood of St. Louis and marching to the Transgender Memorial Garden of St. Louis, 1470 S. Vandeventer Ave., St. Louis
- Who: St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay will speak
- More information: Facebook event “Vigil for Victims of Orlando Mass Shooting”