America awoke to terror Sunday morning after reports confirmed the deadliest mass shooting on U.S. soil had taken place overnight.
A gunman who claimed allegiance with ISIS walked into Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, around 2 a.m., shooting and killing 50 people and injuring 50 others attending the nightclub.
The attack was confirmed to be a domestic terrorist act and hate crime against the LGBT community, according to NBC News.
“The fact that it took place at a club frequented by the LGBT community I think is also relevant,” President Obama said in a statement from the White House. “We’re still looking at all the motivations of the killer. But it’s a reminder that regardless of race, religion, faith or sexual orientation, we’re all Americans, and we need to be looking after each other and protecting each other at all times in the face of this kind of terrible act.”
Lindsey Johnson, a senior from Orlando studying communication, said it felt unreal to have her hometown be associated with such a terrible crime.
“This was a terrorist attack,” Johnson said. “It was a hate crime against the LGBTQ+ community. It just proves that it’s dangerous to be gay in this day and age, even if same-sex marriage has been legalized. Homophobia is still very real.”
Johnson’s brother is an Orlando, Florida, resident who is gay. She said he had attended the very nightclub that was attacked just a few weeks prior to the attack, which is what Johnson said terrified her the most. She said it was not some distant attack that she read about online. She said for her, it was personal.
“At first, my brother was in denial about it,” Johnson said. “He didn’t really react. Then once it hit him what had happened, he just couldn’t stop crying. The death toll just really hit him, and he lost it. That’s his community. That could have been him.”
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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement following the attack Sunday afternoon.
“With the rest of the nation, we mourn the tragic loss of life and serious injuries that occurred in Orlando this morning,” according to the statement. “We pray for the families and loved ones of the victims of this senseless shooting and pray they will be comforted and cared for as they seek to heal. Our prayers and support are also with community leaders and law enforcement officials as they continue to investigate this shocking crime.”
Brett Evans, a BYU-Idaho alumnus who is gay, said the Church hit the nail on the head but wished it had been more specific toward the LGBT community.
“I nevertheless appreciate (the statement’s) truth,” Evans said. “In so many ways, the Church is a great example of how to show love without changing one’s morals. While I disagree with some of its policies and procedures, I still am grateful for any response that calls for love and support.”
Evans said this is a time for all of America to come together, regardless of differences, and set aside politics and religion to grieve and show love and support.
“Fifty people died this weekend,” Evans said. “The loved ones of 50 human beings will never again experience the love they had to offer. It doesn’t matter that those 50 people were gay, and your opinions on homosexuality don’t matter in this scenario. None of those 50 people deserved to lose their lives so early in life. Many of them were younger than you are.”
Willy Rose, a BYU-I alumnus who is gay, said BYU-I students can get involved by donating money to online-style charities, such as gofundme.com/PulseVictimsFund, which has already raised over $2 million.
“Another thing (students) can do to help make sure their hearts and actions reflect charity and kindness towards LGBTQ+ people,” Rose said.
Evans said he hopes and prays that he will never see a tragedy like this again in his lifetime.
“I never want to see another mosque, black church, gay bar, elementary school or college campus shot up in the name of God, religion or other supposed moral high ground,” Evans said. “Absolutely nothing justifies any level of hatred; it’s the most devilish, evil emotion there is. In the heart of love, there’s room for respectful discourse and disagreement.”