June 12, 2016 - 10:57 pm
In the words of Fred Rogers, in times of tragedy, “look for the helpers” — helpers like Kurt Divich.
Divich, a Las Vegas native and local author, was in Orlando, Florida, at the time shooter Omar Mateen opened fire at a gay nightclub, killing 50 people and injuring 53 more.
In the few short hours after the shooting, Divich took time away from his family vacation to Disney World and joined the thousands of other helpers who stood in line to donate blood.
He described the community response as a “pretty neat thing.”
“A ton of people from all walks of life,” he added.
His blood type — O Negative — can be transfused to almost any patient.
At a donor station outside a church, the operation did not immediately have enough supplies to take blood from the more than 100 volunteers lined up, so he said he decided he would make a return trip to the donor station.
This same spirit of helping was present throughout Southern Nevada on Sunday following the deadliest mass shooting in United States history.
The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada filled with hundreds of people Sunday evening, there to commemorate the victims of the Orlando shooting.
The crowd heard from about a dozen speakers, including the Rev. Wilfred Moore, who said, “This is not a gay issue, but one of human rights.”
“I’m horrified like everybody else,” said U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., who was in attendance. “I’m saddened, but we’re here to turn sorrow into strength.”
In a passionate speech, state Sen. Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas, made connections between the shooting and civil rights era struggles in Birmingham, Alabama, and elsewhere.
“A hate crime, is a hate crime, is a hate crime, is a hate crime,” Spearman said.
At Sunday’s vigil, Jennifer Nerney, 53, and her husband Bob “Tramp” Nerney, 58, said they were shaken by the events.
Nerney said the strong police presence inside and outside eased her fears a bit, but that she would have come either way.
She said, “Do you stay at home forever?”
Pastor Charlotte Morgan of Indigo Valley Church said it is “no longer time to say there are no words for this type of tragedy.” She asked audience members to “act up, show up, participate, end hate.” who then spoke in unison with the words.
Earlier Sunday, about a thousand people, some with bowed heads, sat silently in red velvet chairs inside the Tropicana Theater to pay respects to the shooting victims.
“We’re going to start by having a moment of silence for the global tragic events that unfolded this morning in Orlando,” said Gary Costa, executive director of the Golden Rainbow. “It’s times like these that we realize that love will triumph (over) hate.”
Audience members were attending the annual “Ribbon of Life” fundraiser for the Golden Rainbow, a local nonprofit organization that offers housing and financial assistance to those living with HIV/AIDS.
If faced with a similar tragedy, Dina Proto, president of the Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in Nevada, was optimistic that the Las Vegas community would band together as people in Orlando have.
“Our community mobilizes well, I think, although we might have differences or different lives,” Proto said, “I think that once push comes to shove, we support each other for sure.”
ACLU Nevada Executive Director Tod Story said that although he was happy to see the community mobilizing, “it shouldn’t take a tragedy like this in order to bring people together, people should seek out ways to learn about each other.”
He cautioned against drawing conclusions against groups of people in the aftermath of tragedies. Doing so only drives wedges between people, he said.
Saira Haseebullah, a member of the Masiid Ibrahim mosque, spoke at the vigil to support the LGBT community.
“It’s very clear that this man was not a Muslim, he was not a member of our faith,” she said of the Orlando shooter.
Like many Nevadans, Proto first heard about the shooting when she turned on the news Sunday morning.
“My heart breaks for Orlando, and it breaks for our community as a whole,” Proto said. “We need to stand together in solidarity and we need to tell each other that we love them, we love each other.”
Proto added although many people across the country were celebrating Pride on Sunday, many were also grieving.
“I find it even more disheartening, we’re just barely two weeks into Pride month,” she said.
James Healey, president of Las Vegas Pride, offered similar sentiments.
“Although these celebrations of who we are and the value we bring as a community will be somber as we reflect on our brothers and sisters who lost their lives or were injured last night, we must still come together as one,” Healey said.
While many people across Southern Nevada, Orlando, around the country and on social media came together in unity and solidarity, the mass shooting also brought the divisive issue of gun control to the forefront.
Don Turner, president of the Nevada chapter of the National Rifle Association, said that some political pundits were using the tragedy to advance gun reform.
“Even background checked, he would still have been authorized to have a firearm,” said Turner. “How do you provide security without taking away liberty?”
Jennifer Crowe, spokeswoman for Nevadans for Background Checks, said their hearts are broken for the friends, family and the loved ones who are grieving.
“That’s why we fight for common-sense gun laws,” she said. “Closing the loophole to require background checks on private sales, while it won’t prevent every crime or tragedy, it will help keeps guns out of the hands of criminals and other dangerous people.”
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A coalition of UNLV student groups will hold a vigil for the Orlando shooting victims Monday night at the UNLV Center forSocial Justice.
Desire Galvez, a UNLV student who helped organize the event, said it involves the student groups MEChA, Spectrum, UNLV UndocuNetwork and C.A.R.E Advocates.
Galvez said the vigil, which is open to all, is intended to commemorate those affected by the shooting at the Orlando Pulsenightclub that left 50 people dead and injured 53 others.
“We just want to unite in solidarity,” Galvez said.