The woman in the Rainbow Lounge T-shirt went to Celebration Community Church in Fort Worth on Monday night to support the gay community. It’s what she does, she told reporters.
But this night, she needed support, too.
A nephew was one of 49 people killed at a gay nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning.
“I found out on TV, when they showed the phone number for families to find out,” the woman said. She would give only her first name, Jai, and said she is a Fort Worth resident.
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“I called and I called and I called until I finally got a hold of somebody who could help me.”
Jai and hundreds of others gathered at the church for a candlelight vigil in honor of the Orlando shooting victims.
Every row in the small sanctuary was full, as were the foyer and an adjacent room. People lined the walls, and dozens more watched through the doors from outside.
Several Fort Worth police officers provided security and monitored traffic outside the church.
During the hour-long service, all 49 of the victims’ names and ages were read. Most were in their 20s and 30s.
“They were loved,” the Rev. Carol West prayed. “They are loved. You, God, are here to remind us that love always wins.”
Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald and Mayor Betsy Price both attended and spoke briefly.
Fitzgerald urged the LGBT community to come forward to police if they ever feel threatened.
“We’re going to do everything we can to assure ourselves that something like that won’t happen here,” Fitzgerald said. “We will not let fear dictate how we dispense freedom here in the U.S. … We will not be shaken at our core by anyone.”
Price said she spent the last two days searching for answers — Sunday night she was sad, Monday morning she was mad.
“The only reason I can find is evil,” Price said.
The Rev. Lee Ann Bryce, a lesbian and pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Fort Worth, said gay bars and nightclubs, like Pulse, are “holy places” for the LGBT community.
They are places where the community can be itself, Bryce said.
“They are like churches, or what churches should be,” Bryce said. “I can imagine [the shooting victims] feeling safe. They did not sign up to become martyrs. But that is exactly what they have become.”
Jai remembered what she felt Sunday when she found out her nephew had been at the Pulse nightclub.
“You know how sometimes you get that nagging feeling in your stomach that something is wrong? I knew,” she said.
“I can’t even imagine what was going through his mind or anybody else’s mind there when that happened.”