Two Palm Coast residents who once found refuge and freedom at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando have organized a candlelight vigil and fundraiser this evening in Flagler Beach for the victims of last week’s massacre at the club, which resulted in the murder of 49 and injuries to 53. Pulse was among the more popular and accessible nightclub for gay, lesbian and transgender people in central and north-central Florida, and for Palm Coast and Flagler County residents—who have nothing like such a club in the county—a favored nightlife destination.
The murderer, Omar Mateen of Port St. Lucie, had expressly targeted LGBT people in what amounted to the deadliest attack on a gay club since the June 1973 arson of the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans’ French Quarter, an attack that left 32 people dead, though some media still explicitly downplay the hate-crime aspects of the massacre: the Daytona Beach News-Journal in its account of tonight’s vigil in today’s editions, could not so much as bring itself to write the words “gay,” “lesbian” or “transgender,” or make any reference to the massacre as having targeted LGBT people. (The only part where the word “gay” appears, and only once, is in a quote by the vigil organizer, deep into the story.)
Vigil participants in Flagler Beach, expected to number in the hundreds, are set to gather at 8:30 p.m. just north of the Flagler Beach Pier, in front of Finns, then hold the vigil on the beach, with a few speeches, the candle-lighting, a moment of silence, and a raffle intended to raise money for survivors of the attack and families of the victims. Several businesses have donated gift cards and other goods to be raffled off. Domino’s Pizza has donated a tower of pizzas, which organizers can sell for $1 a slice.
“I knew some people at the club, I know a lot of us like my friend Corey, we’ve been there a lot of times,” says Tina Luciano, 25, a Palm Coast resident who’s been going to Pulse for eight years. “We have a lot of memories there.” She was referring to fellow-Palm Coast resident and organizer Corey Zywics, 21. One of the people in attendance personally lost people in the shooting.
“That was our first club we ever went to, that was our safe haven,” Luciano said. “The fact that this happened at a place we felt safe and open and free to be who we are, it’s heartbreaking.”
“That was our first club we ever went to, that was our safe haven.”
Zywics spent the past 48 hours frenetically gathering sponsors for the event, and by Thursday night said he had amassed $800 worth of prizes to be raffled off. “That is amazing,” he wrote, asking for “a big shout out to all the local business that without even thought, gave to this wonderful event.” (See a list of the businesses he listed, below.)
Organizer had originally planned to hold the vigil on the Flagler Beach Pier. But the city cautioned organizers that pier regulations forbid open flames, and asked organizers to move the tribute to the beach. Besides, the size of the event would have likely required it to be moved to the beach anyway. City Clerk Penny Overstreet donated, on behalf of the city, 400 candles left over from a previous holiday walk. Overstreet called the event “a wonderful tribute for the victims of the Orlando shooting” and said the city “applaud your effort and welcome you to hold the vigil on the beach.”
The police chief, Matthew Doughney, also took precautions. “I’ve forwarded the vigil information to the Shift Sergeant working this Friday night and have additionally notified Command Staff at the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office should we require/request any additional assistance due to crowd size,” Doughney wrote City Manager Larry Newsom. “I don’t anticipate an extremely large crowd, but it’s better to have everyone on the same sheet of music in advance of the event. We’ll be prepared Friday for any ingress of traffic for the vigil, we’ll monitor the event for any issues and will assist with the egress of traffic from the event if necessary.”
The Flagler Beach Fire Department is providing a ladder truck, from which it will unfold an American flag.
Word of the event spread quickly through Facebook and other social media. Luciano, in Facebook messages, insisted to participants to “keep in mind we are visiting this beach and it must remain as clean as when we arrived, we are having a small area to place flowers and candles on the beach but I will remain after to clean up. Whatever is brought with you please properly throw away trash or bring home with you. The sea and the residents will thank you.”
She said when she originally planned the event, she did not expect it to draw more than 25 people. But before long she’d gotten calls from North Carolina and New York, from people interested in coming down, and by Thursday had to hold an organizational meeting with supporters at Town Center. The growth of the event is a reflection of the depth of the loss, both in victims and in what the club had meant to people in Palm Coast and Flagler. “You have to travel pretty far in order to find a place where you feel pretty good going,” Luciano said. “It’s a significant impact on the LGBT community. Honestly, this is the place that was sought after.”
If dangerous weather breaks out before the ceremony, it will be pushed back to a yet-to-be determined time, Luciano said. But if it’s light rain or drizzle, the event will go on.
The reaction on Facebook has been an outpouring of support.
“I will be there tomorrow night, “ wrote Dreuxilla Divine on Thursday. “One of my daughters friends was injured and her partner was killed . She played for the Orlando Anarchy woman’s football team.”
“I just want you to know that there is love and support emanating from those of us who won’t be able to attend,” another wrote.
“So overwhelmed right now,” Hayley Wedlock wrote. “We haven’t stopped and we aren’t going to stop. The feedback has been nothing but positive. The support and love is so real.”
Participating businesses include:
Ocean side grill
Down to earth pottery
Flagler board shack
Porto at the sea