The trim green lawn outside a performing arts center 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.
Another 53 people were wounded in the rampage by lone gunman Omar Mateen, who was later killed when police stormed the club.
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.
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.”
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.
Toward 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.