People expressed sympathy, sorrow, disbelief and anger during vigils held around the state to remember and honor the victims of a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
“I don’t want to have to come to any more of these,” the Rev. Greg Smith, an openly gay Episcopal priest in Bozeman, said Sunday night. “We have a right to safety and a right to live our lives without fear.”
The shooting early Sunday left 50 people dead, including the gunman, and injured 53 others. Five were reported in grave condition on Monday.
The father of shooter Omar Mateen suggested the violence may have been prompted by his son’s anger after seeing two men kissing in Miami.
“Homophobia is alive and well,” said vigil organizer Tim Osen, part of Montana State University’s student-run Queer-Straight Alliance.
Flowers, candles and a sign that said “Stand with Orlando” were placed on the steps of the Gallatin County Courthouse.
In Billings, about 100 people — including elected officials and clergy members — gathered on the lawn of the Grace United Methodist Church for a candlelight vigil organized by Not in Our Town Billings.
Dan Mehrens-Wallace said Islam is not to blame for the massacre. “I promise you,” he said, “nothing could be further from the truth.”
Dozens of people attended another vigil at the University of Montana in Missoula.
“We want to stand here in solidarity with our community here, to show them that you are not alone, we are here with you, and that we really prayed for you guys, and hope that you stay strong in these tough times,” said Eric Hall, a Western Montana Community Center board member. “Please, please be safe out there this pride month, and let’s make sure people know, we’re here and that we’re not going anywhere.”
Vigils also were held Sunday evening in Helena, Great Falls and Kalispell.
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