Hundreds gather on Mississippi River levee for vigil honoring Orlando shooting victims

Vigil held for Orlando victims on Baton Rouge levee

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A candlelight vigil was held on the steps of the levee in downtown Baton Rouge to honor the victims and families of the victims in Sunday's shooting massacre in Orlando.

Hundreds of miles from Orlando on the banks of the Mississippi river in Baton Rouge, grief lapped at the crowd like the brown water on the levee while the names of the shooting victims were read aloud. It took nearly four minutes to read them all.

In the crowd, every stranger's name stung like a loved one. For many who came to the vigil on the levee, the threat of violence weighs as heavily as the rain in swollen, dark clouds that lingered above.

"Having to deal with that is just really terrifying," said Joseph Coco with Equality Louisiana. "My friends are dying in the streets. We're all dying in the streets and if we don't say or do something, what are we going to do?"

Coco told the crowd he was tired of living in fear. The activist said the LGBT community is especially vulnerable to violence. He checks with friends every day to see if they are safe.

However, beyond the grief there was something else. Local clergy members, activist and city leaders spoke of love and hope as candles were lit in the in the crowd.

"Ultimately, the power of groups like this, the power of compassion, and the power of our common humanity goes far beyond any hate crime, any violent act," said Pastor Patti Snyder of the University Presbyterian Church.

East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden told the crowd "I love you" before he began his speech which included reciting "This Little Light of Mine."

"Have I done all that I could to let people know that nothing is going to come between us? Have I all done all I could to tell those who are trying to harm people that this is not a way of life?" Holden asked.

Coco said the turn out and support among the crowd brings him hope that things can change and that the community can unite.

"We need to acknowledge the fact that members of our community are still vulnerable and subject to violence, that we've got to take care of each other," Coco said.

The vigil was put on by the Capital City Alliance, Baton Rouge Pride, Pride 1, Metropolitan Community Church of Baton Rouge, the Krewe of Apollo, Equality Louisiana, and HAART.

The vigil was followed by a jambalaya fundraiser at George's Place, a popular LGBT bar. The money raised will be sent to help the Orlando shooting victims. Organizers, who had planned to cook a 10-gallon pot of jambalaya, said they ran out of jambalaya and started serving pizza and fried fish, ultimately running out of everything.

People can also help out by donating blood. Several units of blood and plasma were sent to Orlando to help out.

United Blood Service officials said people are welcome to come in and donate all week long so that there will be enough supply in case more is needed to be sent to Orlando. They say that donated blood will also be used to restock the local supply, which was sent to Orlando.

Officials say anyone who wants to donate blood in the wake of the Orlando tragedy can visit the United Blood Services Donor Center on 8234 One Calais Avenue in Baton Rouge.

A blood drive is also scheduled for Tuesday at the LifeShare Blood Center located at 3849 North Boulevard from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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