ORLANDO, Fla. — Pain pulsing through Orlando this week touches many more than the families of the 49 murdered and the 53 wounded by a single gunman’s terrorism on the Lord’s Day at a gay nightclub; it touches the entire community, according to local pastors.
“They’re locals. They’re people that we shop with at Walmart, people that we see at McDonald’s or Chick-Fil-a, people we run into at the gas station that we won’t be seeing anymore,” a representative of Delaney Street Baptist Church said.
The 49 murdered included 42 males and seven females ranging in age from 18 to 50, according to a list posted at CNN.com. They were killed around 2 a.m. June 12 when Omar Mateen, a father and security guard who professed allegiance to ISIS Islamic terrorists, walked into the Pulse gay nightclub and began firing an AR-15 assault rifle. Police killed Mateen three hours later as he held about 30 hostages inside the club.
Crisis-trained chaplains with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team have deployed to Orlando following the terror attack on the Pulse nightclub.
“The best thing that anybody can do is pray for healing for this community,” chaplain Al New said. “Nobody deserves what happened. We’re all God’s children, and God loves every one of us. So pray for everybody that’s here in the Orlando area.”
The chaplains are working alongside local churches in offering emotional and spiritual care to the many who were affected by the attack, from those who were in the club at the time of the shooting to residents of the greater Orlando community.
“We grieve for the victims, for the families who lost loved ones, and for the survivors who will carry physical and emotional scars for the rest of their lives following this horrific attack,” said Jack Munday, international director of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team.
“The trauma from a terror attack—especially one on such a large scale—impacts the entire city and beyond. People felt safe, and now that security is shattered. We’ll be there to offer hope and comfort as the community adjusts to a new normal.”
Prayer services continue today (June 15) at 6:30 p.m. at Delaney Baptist Church two blocks from the crime scene, and at 7:30 p.m. at The Church of the Cross.
Names, ages and photos of each of those killed will be placed near the church’s altar, a church representative said, allowing individual prayers for families of each of the victims.
“Our Delaney Street Baptist Church family is horrified and heartbroken over the tragic murder of so many precious lives right here in our own neighborhood this past weekend. We mourn with the families who have lost loved ones,” reads a statement on the website of the church. “The Bible teaches us to weep with those who are weeping…. We are also praying for the recovery of those who are being treated right now in the hospital.”
At The Church at the Cross, a 6:30 p.m. worship service in the sanctuary will precede a prayer gathering under the cross on the church grounds, said pastor Clayton Cloer.
“We have a large cross on our campus and so we’ll meet outside at the foot of the cross for this time, which is customary for us,” Cloer said. “It will give our people an opportunity to express their grief corporately, and their brokenness, and then also to cry out to God for comfort, healing in our city, to ask Him to use this horrible week in the life of our city to draw people to Himself.”
Cloer noted two additional tragedies in Orlando — a 2-year-old toddler killed by an alligator in a lagoon near Walt Disney World, and the June 10 shooting death of singer Christina Grimmie, who gained popularity after finishing third on The Voice television reality show.
“For those of us that live and serve in this city, our whole church has been impacted by each one of these, because many people in our church have friends, relatives, who were involved in all three of these things,” said Cloer, although none of the dead or injured were members of the church. “Plus, your entire community of law enforcement and medical professionals have just been greatly affected, so it’s affected all of us, there’s no question.”
Thousands attended a June 14 community-wide prayer vigil, the largest to date, at First Baptist Church of Orlando. One of the church’s members was injured in the attack and a companion of the member was killed, First Baptist Orlando pastor David Uth told BP.
Among the Orlando victims, the youngest was 18-year-old Akyra Murray, a 2016 Philadelphia high school graduate who was visiting her brother, CNN reported. Among the oldest victims was 49-year-old Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, a mother of 11 who had twice survived cancer and had gone dancing at the Pulse with her gay son, CNN said. The son survived.
Mateen was an American born citizen of Afghani parents. Twice married, he frequented the Pulse, according to news reports.
— by Diana Chandler | BP
CNJ staff contributed to this report