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Candlelight, music fill Westminster park as community remembers Orlando victims

Almost a week after the mass shooting in a gay nightclub in Orlando, about 100 people stood in Westminster's Belle Grove Square in silence.

Almost a week after the first shots rang out in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, a group of about 100 people stood in Westminster's Belle Grove Square in silence, holding candles and listening to a bell ring 49 times.

The people standing there Saturday evening were patrons of different religious groups, members of a gay advocacy group and neighbors brought together to remember the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando on June 12. Each bell toll represented a person who died in the massacre.

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In the early hours of June 12, a man later identified as Omar Mateen walked into Pulse, a gay club that was celebrating Latin night, and opened fire, killing 49 clubgoers and injuring at least 53 people. The shooting has been called the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Interfaith leaders around the county — from Cedarhurst Unitarian Universalists, St. Paul's Church of Christ, Westminster Synagogue, Zion United Methodist Church, Union Street Methodist Church, Islamic Society of Carroll County, Westminster Ministerium, Grace Lutheran Church and Westminster United Methodist Church — joined with LGBTQ advocacy group PFLAG to host a vigil for the shooting victims.

In addition to the bell tolls for each of the victims, the vigil included religious passages from the Old and New testaments, and the Quran, as well as songs, a moment of peace, a candle lighting and a reading of the victims' names.

While the vigil included people with different backgrounds and different religious views, it was an opportunity for everyone to grieve together, the Rev. Marty Kuchma, of St. Paul's, said during the service.

"Love wins. Love always wins. Love must win," Kuchma said.

It was a sentiment that Westminster resident Judy Gaver echoed.

"I think it's probably people need healing. People need comfort," she said.

Gaver is the mother of a gay son, and she has been active in PFLAG for 15 years. She was happy to see a large crowd at the vigil because it shows there are safe spaces in Carroll County for the LGBTQ — lesbian, gay, bisexual, trangender or queer — community, she said.

Bob Jackle, a member of Westminster Synagogue, also said he was glad there was a large crowd.

"I'm glad Carroll County is coming together like this," Jackle said. "At least some people are. It looks like a good turnout."

With so much division in the community and country, people need to find the opportunity to come together, he said.

The Rev. Daryl Foster, of Union Street Methodist Church, said it was a "beautiful thing" to see people come out as one group and reach out to people affected by the Orlando tragedy.

"This event is covering a wide multitude of individuals who have the same feeling as oneness because what touched those families in Orlando could touch a lot of families in Maryland," Foster said.

The vigil also gave the Islamic Society of Carroll County a chance to remind the community that they are also part of the county, said Raza Khan, a member of the Islamic Society.

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The Orlando shooting is hurting the Islamic community for multiple reasons. Mateen reportedly called 911 before the shooting to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State group. The shooting comes at a holy time for Muslims, as it is Ramadan, and Muslims are supposed to try and fast from all bad things in life, so "it's even hurtful that someone would hijack Islam during this month," Khan said.

During the service, Mohamed Esa, with the Islamic Society, asked the crowd to try and prevent any more stigmatization of Muslims and reminded them that there are both good and bad Muslims, as is the case with every group in the county.

"Whether people like it or not, we are part of the tapestry that is America," Esa told the crowd.

The Orlando shooting shows the community that it might be time to rethink beliefs and ask what each person can do to help prevent any more tragedies, the Rev. Eric Marsteller, with Westminster Ministerium, said during the vigil.

"We have hard questions to ask ourselves," Marsteller told the crowd. "Who are we? What do we want to be?"

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