Orlando nightclub shootings: New Zealanders pay their respects

Several hundred people gathered at Auckland's Western Park for a candlelight vigil to pay their respects following the deadliest shooting in America at an Orlando nightclub.

The gunman, identified as 29-year-old Omar Mateen, opened fire inside a gay nightclub, Pulse, in Orlando, Florida early on Sunday morning (local time), launching a rampage that killed 50 people and injured 53 others in the deadliest shooting spree in American history. In Auckland, rainbow flags, symbolising gay pride, proudly stood at the Ponsonby Rd park as mourners gathered around a long table, lighting candles this evening.

Some had the gay pride flag draped around them as the crowd sung songs as they expressed their condolences on a cold winter evening. Several people gave speeches to pay their respects as well as unite the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) community.

Alan Granville spoke, saying the community must stay strong.

"This is awful, this is terrible. We have come a long way in a short period of time, the event at 2am at a nightclub in Florida shows we have a long way yet."We must not cower ... We must stand strong and we must stand strong.

"We are here for 50 who were needlessly gunned down and 50 people in hospital."He said the attack on the LGBT community was also an attack on their family. Kevin Dunseath, also known by drag queen name Ms Ribena, said he came to the vigil to show support for America.

"It's good to come here to show support.

"It's really good that it's on Ponsonby Rd where we've had Pride Parade here," he said.

Lemoe Mataitusi, from San Diego, said the massacre felt like an attack on his home.

"It felt like pure hate ..."

"The only way to get past this is to be stronger. The only way to beat hate is to stand strong and conquer with love," he told the crowd.

Vigil organiser Eliana Rubashkyn, 27, told the Herald she was deeply affected by the shooting in Orlando and wanted to "show our support to our brothers and sisters in Orlando".

Ms Rubashkyn, a transgender from Colombia, came to New Zealand as a refugee in 2014.She said the mass shooting in a gay nightclub was "really upsetting".

"Everyone has the right to be who they want to be whether they are gay or transgender.

"She said the shooting showed the "real hate" against the LGBT community.

"You see the discrimination that LGBT are faced with."Ms Rubashkyn said she had a good friend who regularly performed at the popular nightclub, who she couldn't get a hold of.

"She's not answering her Facebook message and I am really worried about her."

She said the vigil was about bringing everyone together, regardless of race or sexuality.

"It's about getting together as a community. We will not let anyone divide us."

The Sky Tower was lit in rainbow colours this evening to honour those who died in the Orlando.

"Tonight the Sky Tower will glow in rainbow colours, honouring those lost in Orlando and standing unified with communities around the world calling for love, not hate," said Rebecca Foote of SkyCity.

- NZ Herald

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