'Show of solidarity' at symbolic Montgomery landmark for Orlando victims

Published: Jun. 14, 2016 at 3:45 AM CDT|Updated: Jun. 14, 2016 at 10:06 AM CDT
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(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
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(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - In the city that was the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, Montgomery carried on its rich heritage Monday night, celebrating love, equality and unity in the wake of one of our country's worst tragedies.

Nearly 50 people were murdered and dozens more were wounded at Pulse in Orlando over the weekend. The gay nightclub was the scene of a terrorist attack at the hands of Omar Mateen.

The event in Downtown Montgomery was organized by members of the community and held outside of the Civil Rights Memorial Center on Washington Avenue.

City leaders stood with local ministers and residents for a vigil paying tribute to the victims killed in the Orlando nightclub massacre. The names of those lost were read out loud and candles were lit in remembrance.

"We can with one voice say this will not stand," Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange told those in attendance. "Don't let us defeat us. Let this define us."

Derrick Merkerson may not have known any of the victims, but he felt compelled to take part in the event.

"I'm an LGBT person and what's happened is unbelievable, especially in this day and time that we live in that this is still going on. This is supposed to be a free country and people are not free to be who they are," he said. "We have to be unified for each other because we've been outcasts for so long and even though we're fighting to gain ground every day, it's still hard and the struggle is real. It's very sad that so many people had to lose their lives just being who they are, not bothering anybody."

Madison Faile was also in the crowd. He runs Club 322, Montgomery's only gay nightclub, and wanted to show his support.

"Communities have to come together when something likes this happens, no matter how far away we are," he said. "I think a lot of people don't realize how in some places, it is a sanctuary for a lot of people to come to so when you attack that safe place, you're attacking all of us. We stand with our brothers and sisters at Pulse."

The vigil ended with the crowd singing "We Shall Overcome" and "We Are Not Afraid."

"We grow only stronger as a community more resilient," one speaker said.

Organizers say the memorial was meant to bring the community together and send a message of strength and solidarity, not only across Central Alabama, but to a grieving nation.

"There were very public expressions that we will not allow to be pushed back into a corner, forced back into a closet, intimidated into silence, or treated like second class citizens," said Dr. Paul Hard.

Troy University will also hold a vigil as students and staff gather to stand against violence and show their sympathy for the victims and survivors of the Orlando terror attack. It's scheduled for Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Sorrell Chapel.

Copyright 2016 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.