clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

'We are a resilient and strong people'

SALT LAKE CITY — Eddie Sotomayor was known by his friends as "Top Hat Eddie" because he'd always wear a top hat to parties.

He was 34 when he was killed along with 48 others early Sunday as gunman Omar Mateen opened fire at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

In Salt Lake City, 34 Utahns wore top hats to honor Sotomayor. They were among thousands who gathered at the Salt Lake City-County Building to pay tribute to the lost lives.

"When something like this happens, you never think that it's going to be somebody you know or someone you care about," said Marcell Gones, who distributed the 34 top hats.

Gones said he was friends with Sotomayor when he lived in Sarasota, Florida, before coming to Salt Lake.

"You never think it's going to hit home that closely," he said. "And when it does, it's a horrible thing."

Dark clouds shadowed the Wasatch Front on Monday, but hundreds of colorful umbrellas flooded Salt Lake City's capital campus to honor the victims. Along the Wasatch Front, hundreds more attended other vigils in Provo, Ogden and Draper.

"We all need to be together today," said Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah. "We're all trying to make sense of the carnage, but one thing we know is we are a resilient and strong people. When we are faced with violence and hatred, we respond with love and unity."

About 100 members of the Catholic community joined in prayer at the Skaggs Catholic Center's campus. Gathered around Juan Diego High School's grotto, they prayed for an end to violence.

"Tonight is about praying for peace," said Dave Brunetti, director of campus life at Juan Diego. "One of the core tenets of Catholic social values is complete respect for all human life. It doesn't matter if you're old, Jewish, gay, Muslim, whatever you are, we have value for all life.

Juan Diego spokeswoman Molly Dumas said the vigil was meant to ask for peace, celebration of differences, and unity among the community.

"As a school, we really work hard to develop a Christian sense of kindness," Dumas said. "We stand behind those who have suffered these atrocities. Our mission tonight is to stand united with those families who lost loved ones and people who suffer violence in our world," Dumas said.

Noor Ul-Hasan, a Muslim Utahn and interfaith leader, said whenever tragedies occur, she asks herself: "Why? Why do people do what they do? What is going on in the world? Why is there so much hate?"

As she spoke before Salt Lake City's LGBT community and allies, she said she didn't have an answer to that question, except that those who murder in the name of their religion aren't true Muslims.

"They are not following our beliefs," she said. "We are all children of God. You have a right to live this life just as I do, and these people are not Muslims. … The Muslims in Utah, we're your friends. You don't have to fear us."

In Provo, more than 250 gathered at Memorial Park in honor of the shooting victims.

Maddy Triggs, 20, said she believes the shooting was a hate crime perpetrated against members of the LGBT community.

“I’m speechless and sickened by what happened,” she said. “I have this overwhelming sadness, and I can’t help but feel scared. … It was in Orlando at a gay club this time, but next time it could be anyone, anywhere.”

Triggs said she believes members of the LGBT community across the country are at risk. Monday night’s vigil, however, showed that the LGBT community is not afraid to join together and stand up for themselves, she said.

Orem resident Mika McIntosh, a member of BYU’s Understanding Same-Gender Attraction club, called the mass shooting a “blatant homophobic attack.” McIntosh said he wants the victims, who he called “martyrs,” to know they are part of a community that “will stand together and show that we’re strong and we won’t back down.”

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said members of the LGBT community should not fear going to clubs, bars and other gathering spaces in Salt Lake.

"We are here today because this massacre has touched us all," the mayor said. "It is important that while we move forward, we remember this moment and how this is a part of our history. As the story of Orlando develops, we must ensure the LGBTQ community is not erased."

Biskupski also urged tighter gun policies and attention to mental illness in the U.S.

"We believe in the words of the Second Amendment, especially the beginning: 'Well regulated,'" she said. "It's past time for sensible gun safety laws in this state and in this country. And it is sensible to keep military-style weapons off of our streets."

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said the U.S. needs "fewer Republicans and fewer Democrats and more Americans."

"An easy solution doesn't exist, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try," Cox said. "We're a country that needs more than ever less politics and more kindness. If nothing else, as we can see here tonight, this tragedy has the potential to bring us closer than ever before."

To Gones, Monday's vigils showed what truly makes "America great."

"Even after a tragedy like this, we come together in love and unity. And that's all we have," he said. "We don't know what's going to happen tomorrow but all we have is the love we have to give."

Contributing: Nicole Vowell, Abby Hobbs


Twitter: KatieMcKellar1