One by one, the names of the slain filled the sanctuary – Edward Sotomayor Jr., Kimberly Morris, Eddie Justice – each name spoken to the ringing of a small bell and the lighting of a tall white candle.
Few if any of the 400 mourners gathered at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church on Monday night knew these victims by sight or had heard their names before news of Sunday’s massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, but they threw arms around shoulders and shed tears for diminished humankind.
“We cannot bring these 49 innocent souls back,” said Imam Abdullah Antepli of Duke University. “We cannot undo yesterday. But we can reshape tomorrow together.”
Two men who grew up in North Carolina died in the Florida attack: a talented vocalist and a young businessman, both described as having infectious personalities. Shane Evan Tomlinson, who graduated from Northwest Cabarrus High School and East Carolina University, was 33. Tevin Eugene Crosby, a graduate of West Iredell High in Statesville, was 25.
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The vigil drew enough people to fill the pews, balconies and space along the walls at Pullen, the crowd spilling out into the lobby. Before the names of the victimes were read, one man rushed outside in tears, explaining, “I couldn’t hear their names that way.”
Still, the ceremony, attended by grieving members of several different faiths, carried messages of hope through horrors that are hard to speak. It is not surprising that some people are filled with hatred, Antepli said, in a time when so many hateful messages – homophobia among them – go unchallenged.
“We are here to affirm that love always overcomes hate,” said the Rev. Nancy Petty, pastor at Pullen.
She noted that 25 years ago, Pullen made the “prophetic” decision to open its door to the LGBT community and bless same-gender marriages.
“It felt important for us to open our doors tonight,” Petty said, “not just as Pullen people, not just as Christians, not just as Muslims, not just as Jews.”
She continued, “We don’t understand it. It’s hard to acknowledge. We are one humanity, and God loves us all, and we are here to be together in that love.”
Additional vigils are scheduled locally for the Orlando victims:
▪ 7:45 p.m. Tuesday, Five Points Plaza, Greenville.
▪ 8 p.m., Tuesday: The Bar, 711 Rigsbee Ave., Durham.
Hundreds also gathered Sunday night for a vigil outside the Legends club in downtown Raleigh.
Also, Heritage Pines, a retirement community in Cary, announced that it would add black ribbons for Orlando ribbons to its Flag Day display Tuesday.