Washington: Crowds gathered in front of the White House here on Sunday night to mourn the victims of the lone wolf shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando city that claimed 50 lives.
Singing the Civil Rights anthem “We Shall Overcome”, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington marched up Pennsylvania Avenue to join a vigil quickly organised on social media, Voice of America (VOA) news reported.
Afghan-origin Omar Mateen, 29, of Fort Pierce, Florida, carried an assault rifle and a pistol into the packed Pulse club, which describes itself as “the hottest gay bar”, about 2.00 a.m. on Sunday and started the deadliest mass shooting in the US history.
Circling around a makeshift memorial of flickering candles and handmade signs protesting hate, the chorus sang the American National Anthem.
Many in the crowd of hundreds openly wept. Partners hugged, wrapping the rainbow flags of gay pride around each other.
“This was an act of terrorism intended to strike fear into the hearts of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people,” said John Becker, a gay man from Washington who stood as close as he could to the gates of the White House waving a gay pride flag.
Becker said gay clubs like Pulse were safe spots when he was growing up and coming to terms with his identity.
“Those are spaces LGBT people through the decades have found safe havens to meet people like us,” he told VOA. “For many of us — myself included — they’re one of the first places we felt comfortable being in and expressing ourselves. That was shattered in Orlando.”
In the early hours after the tragedy, social media turned into a circle of finger-pointing about LGBT rights, terrorism and gun control.
The Islamic State (IS) terror group said it was behind the attack, but the extent of its involvement is not clear.
During the attack, Mateen called 911 to pledge allegiance to the IS and mentioned the Boston Marathon bombers — Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
Investigators are now probing Mateen’s possible ties to the extremist group.