Victims Of Orlando Shooting Remembered In Vigil At The Den

Pulse vigil at The Den - 1

Some of the people who gathered at The Den on Hamilton Street June 13 for a vigil honoring those killed in the Orlando mass shooting.

Dozens of people from Franklin and the surrounding area gathered at The Den nightclub on Hamilton Street the evening of June 13 for an impromptu vigil for those killed and injured in the attack on an Orlando, Fla. gay bar.

More than 100 people were killed or wounded in the one-man attack on patrons at Pulse, a gay bar in Orlando. The attacker was later killed by police.

Candles – one for every person killed in the attack – were placed in a heart-shaped pattern close to the entrance of the nightclub, which caters to the LGBT community.

Among those in attendance were local officials: state Assemblyman Joe Danielsen (D-17), Mayor Phillip Kramer and Ed Potosnak, president of the Franklin Township Board of Education.

The vigil featured a reading of the names of those killed. Some in attendance spoke while others sang songs.

Somerset resident Alyssa Hargrove, 25, was one of the three organizers of the event.

“It was definitely a whole community event,” she said.

Hargrove said the shooting impacted her greatly.

“There are moments when I find myself caught up and shaking and just scared to exist, but at the same time you just have to get up and put things back together, and you have to reach out to your friends and say I love you and I see you, and if you need a space, any space in the world, I am there to help pave that way for you and help create that,” she said.

Misael Machado, 31, also of Somerset, helped to get the ball rolling for the vigil earlier in the morning of June 13.

He said he was texting a friend – Daniel Fernandez of Edison – at about 10 a.m. “and we were going back and forth, and Dan said maybe we should all get together, and that’s how it all started,” he said.

From there, the two brought in Hargrove and all three then started contacting friends through texting and getting the word out through social media, they said.

Machado is a former bartender at The Den, so he secured permission from management to hold the event there.

“The truth of the matter is that this stuff could have happened anywhere,” said Fernandez, 27. “It’s been happening for far too long and it’s happening every single day and we need to do something about it.”

“We’re all deeply shaken up about it, trying to reach out to our loved ones and especially our LGBTQ youth who are new to this community and are extremely shaken up and don’t really know where to seek out safe spaces when something so terrible happened in a safe space,” he said.

Mourning those lost in the attack was not the only purpose of the vigil, Machado said.

“We also wanted pelple to know not to be scared,” he said. “We want them to realize that we can’t let them win. Places like this, like The Den, these are not just clubbing, partying places, these are social places where people come here to socialize, where they come to relate to other people.”

“We want to guarantee them that this is a safe haven, where we cannot be defeated,” he said. “That this should actually make our community stronger. This is the reason why we wanted everyone to gather here, so we can tell the world that you guys are trying to defeat us, but you aren’t, we are still here.”

Gun violence, Danielsen said, is an issue that needs to be dealt with nationally.

“This is not only an event that involved guns, it’s an event that involves sickness, evil, and religion,” he said. “And we can’t know the answers and we don’t necessarily know the direction we’re going, but we do know we have to stick together, we have to mourn those that we lost and we have to celebrate those we have.”

Potosnak said the vigil “helped me to work through some of the difficult feelings that I’m having.”

“The LGBT community that calls The Den home is in a very difficult position,” he said. “I share their struggle in the wake of what happened in Orlando and the threat that it poses to gay and lesbian families in our area, and as we try to figure out how we move forward, it’s important to come together and have a network of support.”

“I think we’re really lucky to see so many folks come out, such a diverse group, such a thoughtful group, to consider our next steps and how we can ensure the safety of ourselves and future generations and our neighbors because its unacceptable when you have this kind of violence,” he said.

Kramer said LGBT issues have been important to him for the last 40 years, since he started learning about the gay community.

“An attack on any of us is an attack on all of us, and we have to stop hating because of who somebody loves,” he said.

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