This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website and the Delaware County Daily Times‘ website.
WEST CHESTER — The tragedy in Orlando on June 12 sent shockwaves across the nation. Those ripples of sorrow, anger and cries for change have even reached West Chester.
On Wednesday night, people of all religious faiths gathered on the steps of the Chester County Historic Courthouse to remember the 49 lives lost in that unfathomable act of terror and violence.
“As a society, we need to come together to end the continuous cycle of violence based on bias and hate,” said state Sen. Andy Dinniman, D-19, of West Whiteland, in a statement for the memorial. “Members of all faith traditions must play a leading role in promoting the understanding, service and responsibility necessary to build strong and safe communities.”
Though it was organized by the Chester County rabbis, the memorial was made to be multi-faith, with several clergy coming from other places of worship from around the county, including the Rev. Joseph Heim, a retired Catholic priest, Abdul Mughes, of the Islamic Society of Chester County, and Alyce Denver, of the West Grove Friends Meeting, among many others.
Also in attendance was Mayor Carolyn Comitta.
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“West Chester stands in solidarity with the victims, the families and the friends and all people of Orlando and, indeed, across our country,” she said to the crowd. “We are heartbroken (and) shocked…as we suffer the consequences of yet another mass shooting in America. This should not be a part of our American vocabulary.”
As part of the memorial, names of all 49 victims who lost their lives at the nightclub in Orlando were read out while seven candles were lit in honor and remembrance.
Following the reading, the dozens of people gathered had a moment of silence in their memory.
“This morning was a burial of a mother who was in Pulse Nightclub,” said Rabbi Jon Cutler, of the Beth Israel Congregation of Chester County. “She laid on top of her son to protect him and she was shot and killed. We’re here to memorialize those who have been killed, but also to celebrate their lives and who they were as human beings.”
Though the memorial was to remember the victims, it was also, in part, a cry for change in the country, as Cutler said.
“We come to mourn and to speak out against the injustices,” he said. “This is just one incident of so many. This is an epidemic that must stop.”
West Chester itself has an anti-discrimination ordinance, passed unanimously in 2006 by borough council, which also includes the LGBT community, and gives equal protection for all under the law in the borough.
However, as Comitta pointed out, that is not the case in many other places in the state and the nation.
“Thoughts and prayers, particularly from the lawmakers, are simply not enough,” she said. “What we need is action and leadership. Tonight, we remember the victims of the Orlando shooting. I believe that the best way to honor those who have died is to take good care of the living. The Orlando shootings underscore the work that we need to do to make sure all Americans are protected and treated equally and respected both in our communities and under the law.”
She reminded the crowd that in order to make the changes necessary, the people need to be the ones to step up and push for the change to make sure —never again in the United States — that another Pulse Nightclub, or Sandy Hook or any other taking of innocent lives happens.
“Changes come from the people, from each of us, from the grassroots up,” she said. “We will always remember, we will honor those who have died and we will be persistent in our fight for a healthy, safe future for every person in our community, our state and our country. No exceptions.”