Hundreds filed into downtown Lafayette’s Parc Sans Souci on Tuesday evening to remember the victims of a shooter in Orlando, Florida, who targeted revelers in a gay nightclub this past weekend.
Forty-nine people were killed early Sunday morning, including Frank “Frankie” Hernandez, who moved to Orlando from Carencro a few years ago.
In a note to Hernandez, written on the tall, rainbow-colored lettering of “Lafayette” in the park, Louis Sanders wrote “Love you always, Louis” to his friend Frankie.
“He moved there like three or four years ago,” Sanders said, then looked to the ground and walked away.
Sanders joined over 300 others — most, but not all, from the local LGBT community — who sang, hugged and propped one another up emotionally in the wake of the Orlando tragedy.
“When will this stop?” Joshua Young, an organizer, asked from the stage. “Tonight I stand with Orlando. … We are Orlando.”
Lindsay Hobbs, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette instructor, said most straight Americans are standing in support too.
Hobbs said the victims of shooter Omar Mateen were enjoying life when they were cut down, showing the world that “the innocence of simply living was under attack again.”
Tuesday’s gathering for the solemn remembrance on a hot, muggy evening looked and felt like a memorial Lafayette had for its own last summer. On July 23, a mentally ill man from Alabama killed two women and injured nine others when he started shooting inside The Grand 16 movie theater in Lafayette.
As in Orlando, the killer in Lafayette was among the dead when the shooting stopped.
On Monday, Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux penned a letter to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer expressing sorrow and resolve.
“Like you, I am the mayor of a vibrant and culturally rich community. And like you, I am the mayor of a community that was shaken to the core when two innocent women lost their lives, nine more were shot and countless others were left with scars that may never heal,” Robideaux wrote. “Like Orlando, Lafayette chose not to be defined by the tragedy itself but instead by how we responded to it. … We have meaningful experience with this type of tragedy, and we stand ready to provide the support needed.”
Robideaux’s letter also was read to the crowd Tuesday, to a round of applause.
“We pulled through the Grand (theater shooting); we’ll pull through this,” said Eddie Richard, of Rayne.
Richard said he’d been at the park since 9 a.m. Tuesday and that many people and businesses helped: Chipotle Mexican Grill brought lunch, and Agave Mexican Cantina & Grill, which sits across Vermilion Street from Parc Sans Souci, opened up its restrooms and offered water to those setting up the memorial.
Chaun Smith, one of the organizers of the candlelight remembrance, was on a boat in Lake Arthur when the news about Orlando broke. “I didn’t look too closely at first. I didn’t want to,” he said.
Smith and others gathered at the park said they could believe the portrait of Mateen that was emerging, that of a closeted gay man who might have been driven to kill and maim because of yearslong sexual repression.
“Absolutely 100 percent in denial,” Smith said of Mateen.