Candles, tears and song at first major vigil held in Orlando for massacre victims

 A man sits and cries after taking part in a candlelight memorial service the day after a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on June 13, 2016.
A man sits and cries after taking part in a candlelight memorial service the day after a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on June 13, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS
People take part in a candlelight memorial service the day after a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on June 13, 2016.
People take part in a candlelight memorial service the day after a mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on June 13, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS
Hundreds of people gather at a candle light vigil outside of the Dr. Phillips Centre for the Performing Arts to place tributes and flowers in honour to the victims of a mass shooting, in Downtown, Orlando, Florida, on June 13, 2016.
Hundreds of people gather at a candle light vigil outside of the Dr. Phillips Centre for the Performing Arts to place tributes and flowers in honour to the victims of a mass shooting, in Downtown, Orlando, Florida, on June 13, 2016. PHOTO: EPA
People hold candles during a memorial service for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shootings, at the Dr. Phillips Centre for the Performing Arts, on June 13, 2016 in Orlando, Florida.
People hold candles during a memorial service for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shootings, at the Dr. Phillips Centre for the Performing Arts, on June 13, 2016 in Orlando, Florida.PHOTO: AFP
People embrace during a candlelight vigil at a memorial service for the victims of the shooting at the Pulse gay night club in Orlando, Florida, on June 13, 2016.
People embrace during a candlelight vigil at a memorial service for the victims of the shooting at the Pulse gay night club in Orlando, Florida, on June 13, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

ORLANDO (AFP) - A gay chorus sang, candles flickered against the twilight sky and rainbow flags fluttered on Monday (June 13) as thousands in Orlando came together for the first major vigil in memory of the 49 people killed in America's worst mass shooting.

The trim green lawn outside a performing arts centre filled with people gay and straight, families with small children, many holding hands or hugging, some of them crying as the city known for theme parks and fun struggled to cope with Sunday morning's shooting rampage at popular gay nightclub Pulse.

Speakers at the ceremony used both English and Spanish, a reflection of the fact that many of the victims were Latino. One after another, they urged the Florida city to unite at a time of unfathomable pain, and appealed for its LGBT community not to give in to fear.

Mr Joe Brennan, a 52-year-old engineer attending the vigil, said the main message that should come of the vigil is very simple.

"It shouldn't be so easy to get guns," he said. "The innocent deserve to be protected, too."

 

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Ms Alex Hartdegen, a 20-year-old art student, said the debate should not be about guns, but rather about teaching people to live and let live.

"It should just be about accepting everyone whether you agree with them or not. It's none of your business what other people do with their lives or how they love people or who they love," she said.

Towards the end of the ceremony, as the crowd stood in silence holding white candles into the air, the bell of a nearby church slowly rang 49 times - once for each of the people killed in the massacre.

"Let it Be" by the Beatles then played as four small hot air balloons powered by bright flames rose into the sky.

Another 53 people were wounded in the rampage by lone gunman Omar Mateen, who was later killed when the police stormed the club.