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Tears, Prayers Flow At Westport Vigil For Orlando Victims

Abby Beaumont, seated, second from left, joins friends and a therapy dog in remembering the victims of the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness
The Rev. Skip Karcsinski speaks at a Westport vigil for the victims of the Orlando nightclub shootings. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness
About 50 gathered for a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Orlando nightclub shootings. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness
Organizers displayed the names of the 49 victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness

WESTPORT, Conn. — Tears streamed down Abby Beaumont’s face as she explained why she planned a vigil for the victims of the attack on a Florida nightclub that left 49 dead and another 53 wounded.

“I woke up Monday morning and was reading and learning more about it, and I felt so heavy and heartbroken. I had to do something,” said the Fairfield resident. “I’m constantly surrounding myself with the LGBT community and, as an ally, it really hit home for me.”

About 50 people joined the 2015 University of South Carolina graduate in lighting candles, praying and discussing gun violence at Saugatuck Center on Riverside Avenue.

Some said they wanted to do something positive in the wake of the tragedy at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a gay hotspot that was hosting a Latino night when the shooting broke out.

The violent spree by Omar Mateen has sparked similar gatherings in the region, including a Tuesday vigil at Trevi Lounge in Fairfield. A vigil was also planned for Bridgeport on Wednesday night.

“We’re all horrified. We all terrified. We’re all angry. We’re all puzzled,” said the Rev. Skip Karcsinski, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church in Bridgeport. “Being together is a step in the right direction.”

Invited to speak at the vigil, Karcsinski bowed his head in prayer.

“God, a cry goes up to you from here — not just from here tonight, but from everywhere,” he said. “Life is a gift that’s meant to be given, not taken away … not taken away.”

Bren Harrison, who manages Downunder of Rowayton for Beaumont’s mother Kim Hawkins, said she was at Pulse two years ago and is still trying to wrap her head around Sunday’s events.

“I’ve been living a very comfortable life, being open about myself,” the Cheshire resident said. “It was very somber.”

Hawkins, who also owns Downunder of Westport, said she was proud of her daughter for organizing the vigil.

“It was very empowering for her,” she said. “I think kids today have got to learn it’s their voice that counts.”

Karcsinski asked those gathered how they are explaining the incident to children. Janet Tatusko said talk in her Westport home has turned to gun control and banning AK-47s.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” she said.

A bell in the vestibule of Karcsinski’s Union Avenue church serves as a reminder that things can change, the priest said. It was made with melted down guns a former pastor convinced gang members he met on the streets around the church to give up.

“We’ve got to make more bells,” Tatusko said.

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