The deadliest shooting in US history sparked heightened security and widespread heartbreak in Massachusetts, as authorities revealed that the alleged shooter invoked the Marathon bombings while killing 50 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando Sunday morning.
Informal memorial vigils were held throughout the day, as Boston’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities gathered for block parties that were being held around the city as part of Boston Pride celebrations.
“I’m still so hurt over what happened,” said Keyla Leon, 29, who was at a Jamaica Plain block party with a friend. “Part of me feels like I’m dead.”
Kamden T. Rage, who is the current “Miss Boston Pride” and a former Florida resident, said at the Jamaica Plain gathering that she lost four friends in the Orlando massacre and was concerned about others who are missing.
Rage, who is from the Tampa Bay area, said she plans to return to Florida to memorialize her slain friends.
“My phone has been ringing off all day,” she said. “We’re still waiting to hear back from four more.”
Early Sunday evening, as a queue of dozens stretched down Columbus Avenue outside Club Cafe, Cadien Shaw wrote a brief note in blue ink in a guestbook at a makeshift memorial on a table outside the nightclub.
“It could have been here,” he said.
Some of his friends didn’t want to attend the Back Bay block party out of fear, but he did because “we’re not going to let terror win,” Shaw said.
The table, draped in a rainbow flag and adorned with bouquets of flowers, attracted a number of quiet mourners.
As night fell, the TD Garden and Zakim Bridge were lit in rainbow colors.
The Orlando gunman, identified as 29-year-old Omar Mateen, made a 911 call before the attack in which he declared allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State and cited the 2013 bombings of the Boston Marathon. Mateen was later killed by police.
Massachusetts State Police have found no local connection with the Orlando gunman, according to spokesman David Procopio.
“We continue to monitor the investigation into this horrific mass shooting,” said Procopio.
Boston police pledged to heighten their presence at the city’s gay clubs and at Boston Pride celebrations.
“Clearly this was a hate crime geared at the gay population, and we’re going to make sure they are safe,” said Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans, who expressed his condolences early Sunday during a scheduled counterterrorism drill at Fenway Park.
At the Back Bay block party, the increased security was visible compared to past gatherings, said David Goulet and Mark Denofrio, a Quincy couple who have been together for 15 years and married for the last four.
Goulet and Denofrio made the decision to attend Sunday’s festivities “no matter what” in a defiant response to the mass killing, they said.
Pride is “not a day just to celebrate being gay,” said Denofrio. “It’s to commemorate the strides and sacrifices that people have made so that we have the rights that we have today.”
Just after 4 p.m., the raucous atmosphere of electronic music and go-go dancers grew quiet for a moment of silence to honor the victims in Orlando.
Afterward, Jalil Zougagh “DJ Jalil Z” — a Muslim man who was born in Morocco, grew up in New York City, and now lives in Miami — took over deejaying.
“I just want to tell everyone not to be afraid,” Zougagh said shortly before he took the stage. “We are who we are.”
Pulse, the nightclub where Mateen opened fire and took hostages before he was killed in a shootout with SWAT officers, was known to several people at Boston Pride festivities.
“We formed clubs like [Club Cafe], like Pulse, in order to have community, in order to have safety,” said Luke Willrich, a Boston resident who has been to Pulse.
“We’ve had this kind of thing happen in a movie theater, we’ve had it happen in a church, we’ve had it happen now in a gay club,” said Jonathan Hanson.
“However,” he said, “I will not be deterred. Because when you look at it in those terms, we can go about our daily business and go to the church and the movie theater and the club, or stay home. I’m not going to stay home. We need to live life.”
Rage, the “Miss Boston Pride,” described Pulse as a friendly establishment where “you didn’t have to worry about life.”
On Sunday afternoon, Rage attempted to infuse that spirit to a drag show on an outdoor stage. Wearing a white shirt with the Pulse logo printed on top of a black ribbon, Rage encouraged the audience to take photos for social media.
“We need to be uplifted in this time,” Rage said. “This is a time when the world should be coming together.”
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh reached out to the mayor of Orlando to offer prayers and “any services that we could provide, both logistically and if they need any additional personnel,” Evans said at the morning counterterrorism exercises.
On Twitter, Walsh offered condolences to those affected by the tragedy and announced a vigil to be held on City Hall Plaza Monday at 6 p.m.
“Remembering the joy of Pride yesterday. My thoughts are w/ #Orlando,” Walsh said.
Rocco LaMonica, a bartender at The Alley, a historic gay bar in downtown Boston, said he was having trouble grasping the scope of the carnage.
At the bar Sunday afternoon, LaMonica said, patrons cried while watching the news on television.
“It’s really hard. It’s overwhelming,” LaMonica said. “It’s like getting kicked in the stomach.”
By day’s end, several LGBT advocates throughout the state had offered words of solidarity and solace, either through statements or social media.
Jullieanne Doherty, the LGBT liaison to Mayor Walsh, said, “Our thoughts and prayers are with our family in Orlando! Be #PROUD of who we are!”
Attorney General Maura Healey said she was heartbroken for “all of the victims, their loved ones and the community of Orlando” and called for Americans to stand together in “solidarity, united in strength, compassion and love.”
Sylvain Bruni, an organizer of Boston Pride, encouraged a large crowd at the Back Bay block party to be resilient.
“We’re Boston strong, we’re Orlando strong,” Bruni said from a stage. “We’re going to stay here, living our lives, being out, loud, and proud.”
At some Boston gay clubs Sunday night, lines wrapped around the corner as patrons refused to let the grim news quash the spirit of the Pride celebrations.
“I think oftentimes, especially around gay pride, we are so caught up in joy and pride that we forget the struggle that it took to get us here, and the struggle that we are still having,” said Mason Dunn, 30.
Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, said this struggle to overcome adversity is what defines the LGBT community in Boston and beyond.
“Our community struggled in the closet for far too long. We are not going to back now after all the hard-fought battles for equality,” Isaacson said. “The sadness has turned to a defiance.”
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