By Jano Tantongco
Community, government and religious leaders across Long Island and the Town of Huntington mourned the 49 lives lost Sunday in the Orlando shooting tragedy.
Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone ordered all flags at town facilities to be lowered to half staff Sunday afternoon in memory of the victims.
"Our hearts go out to the victims, their families and friends, and to our brothers and sisters of the LGBT community as they mark Pride activities this month," Petrone said in a statement issued shortly after the shooting.
Adding to her input, Huntington Councilwoman Susan Berland said, “As a mother of four children, my heart aches for all of the families whose loved ones were lost or injured on that fateful night."
She continued, “My thoughts and prayers go out to the LGBT community and I stand proudly with them.”
In Centerport on Tuesday, an interfaith prayer service was held at the Congregational Church of Huntington with various religious leaders. Names of each of the victims were read aloud, and candles were lit for them, during the service.
On Wednesday, Rev. Mark Bigelow, pastor at the church, said that “each of the religious leaders offered prayers of remembrance and hope, which tried to transform the pain into a sense of hope.
Bigelow continued, “Hate doesn’t get chased out by hate, but only love can do that, so we’re trying to build up love.
The pastor said that, at times, “one terrible act can just shatter all the good work that all of us do.”
He added, “Once you start to work through your grief, you realize… the base is still there, the love’s still there.”
Dr. Kausar Zaman, representing Westbury-based Islamic Center of Long Island, of which she is a founding member and past vice president, also attended the service.
She called it “beautiful,” but added that she hopes “we never, ever have to have another ceremony like this.”
Zaman now questions where one can be safe after mass shootings across the nation in places like theaters, churches, and, now, clubs.
“Evil people are evil people no matter what religion they belong to,” she said. “I think it’s a cult by itself. People who hate, it’s a cult.”
Dot Schmitt, an openly gay woman, and past moderator at the Congregational Church of Huntington, said there are “not adequate words to describe how senseless and tragic” the Orlando shooting was.
She said the prayer service was “moving, just to mourn together -- it wasn’t a political statement, there was nothing politicized about the evening. We can rely on one another for support, no matter what our faith is.”
On Monday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Police Commissioner Timothy Sini announced increased patrols and security measures at LGBT centers and events, citing the county’s large LGBT populations, including Fire Island and the Hamptons.
Later that evening, the LGBT Network hosted a candlelight vigil to mourn the victims.
In a statement, LGBT Network Chief Executive Officer David Kilmnick called the shooting a “deplorable act of violence that targeted the LGBT community.”
He continued, it’s “a painful reminder of the hate and bias that continues to plague our country. Our hearts and minds are joined with all the family, friends and loved ones who are mourning today.”