Across North Carolina, thousands gathered Sunday to mourn the deaths of the victims of the deadliest shooting in U.S. history.
Supporters organized vigils in Asheville, Davidson, Greensboro and Wilmington. Other gatherings are scheduled for Charlotte and Durham on Monday and Tuesday. In downtown Raleigh, hundreds filled a parking lot outside of the gay night club Legends.
Tabor Winstead, 41, said he worked at the gay night club Pulse in Orlando until about a year ago. He was amid the crowd at the Raleigh vigil Sunday. When he first heard of the news, Winstead said he started pacing at home before changing into the uniform he worked in when he worked at at the Orlando nightclub -- a black T-shirt that says “Peace, Love and Pulse,” khaki shorts and sneakers. He later made his way to the vigil Sunday evening.
"There are still friends that I’ve texted and I’ve emailed and I’ve called that have not responded yet," Winstead said. "Do I know that they’re laying lifeless on a blood-stained floor that I used to do lights for? I don’t know. I hope not."
The suspect in the early Sunday morning shooting has been identified by authorities as Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old U.S. citizen who had previously been interviewed by the FBI over possible terrorist ties. Authorities say he killed at least 49 people before being shot dead by police.
Pulse, like many gay clubs, welcomes people from many backgrounds because they have one thing in common: they’re outsiders, Winstead said. They’ve lived in a world in which many people believe that being gay is a choice, he said.
"Who would choose a life that has been so shunned and hated against?" Winstead asked. "You don’t choose that life. You’re born that way. God made me this way, and this is who I am."
Outside of Legends in Raleigh, hundreds of diverse people gathered to mourn the victims in Orlando. They held candles and a few waived gay pride flags. James Miller, executive director of the LGBT Center of Raleigh, emphasized the orientation of the victims.
"This is something that was a direct attack and affront to queer people all over this country, and all over the world, and to erase their names and to erase their identity is dangerous," Miller said. "It’s dangerous for all of us, especially with history moving forward."
Miller wanted to help organize the vigil outside of Legends because it’s a club that, in many ways, is similar to Pulse, he said.
"Raleigh, North Carolina. Orlando, Florida. These are not places where you think immediately, 'Huge queer community'," Miller said. "So it’s important that we stick together in this, and I would never want them to feel alone. This could’ve happened anywhere. This could’ve happened in Raleigh, this could’ve happened in Charlotte. And we need to be vigilant to stand together and stand forward."
There were members of at least one other minority group who came to the vigil Sunday.
Shady Sadi was born and raised in Raleigh. He’s a Muslim observing Ramadan. He heard the reports that the suspected shooter pledged allegiance to ISIS but said the suspect’s actions aren’t the actions of a true Muslim.
"From what I can see, there’s no Islam in him," Sadi said. "I came out here because I feel the true Islam is standing up with our brothers and sisters that are out here. I feel their pain. We’re the victims of hate also, and I feel we all should be standing side by side."