Haverhill Mourns Orlando Victims at Prayer Vigil

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini leads a prayer vigil on the steps of city hall. Others shown, from left, are City Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan, Rev. Robert W. Murray, City Councilor Andy Vargas, Universalist Unitarian Church Rev. Frank Clarkson and City Council Vice President Melinda E. Barrett.

A large crowd, invited by Mayor James J. Fiorentini, gathered last night on the steps of Haverhill City Hall, to mourn the victims of Sunday night’s terrorist attack in Orlando, Fla., and chart a path forward.

The mayor invited all segments of the community, specifically calling on lesbians, gays and straights, and representatives of the leading religious denominations, Catholics, protestants, Jews and Muslims.

“I vowed a few years ago that I wouldn’t do any more prayer vigils, but we want action and we want something to happen. But, this was such an absolutely horrific event—50 people murdered, 53 more seriously injured…because of their quality of life and their lifestyle. It was an absolutely unforgivable act,” said Fiorentini.

Imam Abdessamad Qesmi of the Islamic Society of Greater Haverhill condemned the Orlando attacks and said such acts do not reflect the Muslim faith.

“As Muslims, we believe that all lives are sacred and we maintain our commitment to that ethic as people of faith. Thus we share the horror and pain that all Americans are feeling over this evil and senseless act because Islam neither justifies nor allows such activities or atrocities. We are particularly outraged when such deeds committed in the name of our faith,” Qesmi told the crowd.

Rev. Robert W. Murray, pastor, St. James Parish and St. John the Baptist Parish, offered a prayer.

“We come before you this day with heavy hearts. We come before you this day also with hope in our hearts that this awful tragedy will remind us and help us to reach out to those among us who are suffering, particularly those in the gay community who have been victims of this awful tragedy.”

Rev. Jane Bearden of Trinity Episcopal Church urged the crowd to think about the future. “What has changed…is our heart open.” She said everyone must “do something to make our world different, to make our world a safer place.”

Fiorentini asked WHAV President and General Manager Tim Coco to deliver the perspective of the gay community.

“Any attack, anywhere, is horrifying. Overlooking the unique circumstances of the victims in a supposedly safe place adds greatly to the pain. That mainstream media initially downplayed the significance of homophobia is revealing. A local newspaper version of a wire story, for example, completely omitted that the place where 49 people died and 53 were injured was a gay club…and it was Latin Night. Reducing the innate characteristics of the victims to whispers exacerbates the underlying problem. Giving in to xenophobia and homophobia has led to unjustified shame, fear, depression and death,” Coco said, in part.

Armenian Orthodox Church Rev. Father Vart Gyozalyan closed the vigil, saying faith, hope and love will guide the path forward.

Others in attendance were City Councilors Melinda E. Barrett, Andy Vargas, Mary Ellen Daly’O’Brien, Colin F. LePage and Thomas J. Sullivan; School Committeewoman Gail M. Sullivan; and Dennis Marcello, representing Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives.