WEST HARTFORD — Norberto Ramirez was in Orlando just two weeks ago with his sister, but Wednesday he was among a crowd of about 200 people in Blue Back Square standing in solidarity with each other and the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting.
Ramirez said he knows people who lost friends in Sunday's mass shooting. He said he has been to the Pulse Nightclub on a few occasions.
"As a Latin, Puerto Rican and as a gay, it breaks my heart," Ramirez said. "But I will not be afraid."
Wednesday's vigil was organized by faith leaders in the community for the victims, families and loved ones of those killed and injured early Sunday morning when a gunman entered the nightclub with semi-automatic rifle and began firing.
Clergy members organized the vigil to address "the hatred that's happened," Geordie Campbell, senior pastor of First Church of West Hartford, said earlier this week.
Wednesday night he and several other members of the faith community stood together saying prayers and offering words of hope and courage.
Rev. Stacy Emerson of the First Baptist Church of West Hartford offered a prayer and encouraged those gathered to work for justice.
"Give us love to welcome difference, love so strong no hatred can destroy it, and God, when it feels there is nothing more we can do, give us hope and foolishness and love enough to try anyway," Emerson said.
Congregation Beth Israel's Senior Rabbi Michael Pincus urged those gathered to stand up "as one community" to those who work to divide the community, to reject "senseless hatred and murder" of innocents, and to stand in support of those who mourn.
Rev. Cathy Rion Starr from the Unitarian Society of Hartford called those of the LGBT community to gather in a circle and hold hands as she read aloud a speech from George Arnette, a black gay man. Throughout the vigil, those gathered were encouraged to hold hands for a moment of silence, hug, and twice, to raise their voices for a sing-along to Pete Seeger's "Where Have All The Flowers Gone" and later, to "We Shall Overcome."
Aida Mansoor, president of the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut, said, "Islam does not allow the killing of innocent civilians" and expressed sorrow for all Americans, particularly the LGBT community.
Mayor Shari Cantor said West Hartford supports the LGBT and Orlando communities — "… we denounce the hate and bigotry," she said.
State Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said it wasn't just the gay community that was impacted. "That terrorist put terror in everyone, people are scared." She encouraged those who gathered to keep fighting and to address the gun access issue.
"You need to take it to the courts, the state capital, the U.S. Capitol," Bye said.
For Abby Williamson, standing among the crowd was an opportunity to talk to her two 6-year-old daughters about the importance of coming together as a community in the face of the "horrifying" shooting.
Her daughters, Lyla and Anya Fisher, held hand-made signs drawn with the colors of the gay pride flag that read, in bold letters, "LOVE WINS."
Williamson said that though her daughters may not understand what happened Sunday, it was important they attend the vigil.
"We really wanted to show support and say enough's enough," Williamson said. "It's horrifying this can happen and we wanted to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community."