Mourners at Moorhead vigil grapple with 'familiar shock' of shooting massacre
By Rick Abbott
Published June 12, 2016 - The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead
MOORHEAD—In a small, sweltering church, with the mid-June sun shining through stained glass windows, a diverse group of community members gathered to mourn the victims of a mass shooting that has reverberated around the country.
Dozens wept in the pews of First Congregational United Church of Christ, holding candles and singing songs, pausing to reflect on the loss of 50 people gunned down in a gay nightclub early Sunday, June 12, in Orlando, Fla.
The day started as "horror" for most, learning piecemeal of the tragedy.
It was a "familiar shock and overwhelmed feeling," for Kristen Benson, a Florida native and openly gay local professor.
Benson is an alumnus of Virginia Tech who was attending the school in 2007, when 32 people were killed in what was then the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. She was overwhelmed Sunday by yet another "horrific action."
"It's heartbreaking, it makes me sad, it makes me angry," Benson said. "It frustrates me that we're not doing more to protect innocent people."
Growing up and attending college in Florida, Benson said Orlando was a familiar place for many young gay people.
"That was where you went, was to Orlando," she said.
The alleged gunman, Omar Mateen, 29, opened fire at Pulse, a gay nightclub around 2 a.m., killing 50 and wounding dozens more.
Singing "We Shall Overcome," the Fargo-Moorhead Gay Men's Chorus filled the Moorhead chapel with hope, as did the handful of speakers from a wide variety of groups including local Muslims and Latinos, members of Fargo's Pride Collective and Community Center, a pastor and a rabbi.
Chelsea Pace, 27, a Pride Collective board member, said the shooting is another reason legislation is needed, both to prohibit discrimination but also to change gun laws.
"If we continue to legislate and condone hate and violence, there's no reason that something like this couldn't or wouldn't happen in North Dakota, because the sentiments are there," Pace said.
Sunday morning's news prompted Darcy Corbitt, 24, a local transgender activist, to redouble her efforts and work through her pain.
"I've been cycling through feeling really grief-stricken and really angry," Corbitt said. "It's important that we group together in support right now."
Members of the Muslim community in Fargo-Moorhead attended the vigil, in support of others grieving in the LGBT community.
"I don't think a real Muslim can do that," Hukun Abdullahi, 21, said of the alleged Orlando shooter.
Abdullahi shared a verse in the Koran, which read in part, "Whoever kills an innocent human being, it shall be as if he has killed all mankind."
Clutching candles and singing the popular gay anthem, "True Colors," those at the vigil vowed to not let hate dictate their actions over the days and weeks to come.
"As a community we want to move forward in compassion, in love and in unity," said the Rev. Michelle Weber.
Many who attended said Fargo-Moorhead is largely a welcoming place for members of the LGBT community and that much progress has been made.
"When I moved here, I was pretty hesitant, I'll be honest." Benson said. "I've been pleasantly surprised regarding how strong the LGBT community is."
With two rotating fans switched off as candles were slowly lit and passed, neighbor to neighbor, the assembled crowd sang together softly and slowly, the familiar anthem linked with their community.
"I see your true colors ... So don't be afraid to let them show."
Leaders in North Dakota and Minnesota joined countless others around the country in mourning the loss of the shooting victims. Both North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton ordered flags to fly at half-mast until sunset on Thursday, June 16.
Dalrymple said in a statement he stands “united with the people of Orlando and the entire nation in our commitment to ending these acts of terror.”
"The horrific act of hatred and terror in Orlando was an unfathomable attack upon all of humanity,” Dayton said.