Von Criswell, of Tyler, said it was important to her to attend the local vigil Thursday evening to remember those killed in the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida. She said it was a way to show her support for those affected by the shooting and to stand against the violence on the LGBT community that occurred early Sunday.

"I'm here to support the community locally, as well as the nation," Criswell said. "I'm done with bigotry."

Criswell was one of more than 200 people who gathered together at Bergfeld Park to remember those killed when shooter Omar Mateen, an American security guard who claimed ties to Islamic terrorism, entered an Orlando gay nightclub and killed 49 people and injured 53 others. Mateen was killed in an exchange of gunfire by police.

"We are gathered here as a community to stand in solidarity with Orlando and the families and friends of the victims in the horrific attack on the LGBT community there last Sunday morning," said Brenda McWilliams, a member of PFLAG, one of the groups that helped organize the event. "Life will never ever be the same for the friends and families of the Orlando victims, nor for the LGBT communities across our nation."

During the ceremony, volunteers read the names and displayed photos of each of the victims.

Hannah Morris, board member with the Pineywoods Voice, a Tyler-based LGBT advocacy group, was one of the readers. She described the process as "heart-wrenching."

Morris said the shooting Sunday was especially devastating to the LGBT community, but she was encouraged to see a strong showing of support from her neighbors.

"I'm thrilled that people showed up, because that's what allies do - they show up," Morris said. "This is here in East Texas. This love exists here."

After victims' names were read, the crowd stood in silence for 49 seconds to reflect on the individual lives lost.

"Fifty mothers are mourning their babies tonight," PFLAG President Gerry Phifer said.

But Phifer added there is joy in the sadness, because the tragedy has prompted such widespread showing of support, and she said she hopes it continues to bring about more change and tolerance in the local community and across the world.

"We may make a difference," Phifer said. "I think this has sparked a conversation that we wouldn't have had otherwise."

Twitter: @TMT_Augusta

 
 

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