Greenville mourns ECU alum slain in Orlando

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GREENVILLE — More than 1,000 people came out to show their support for the LGBT community Tuesday night in a walk, vigil and memorial service for those killed in the Sunday morning shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Class of 2003 East Carolina University graduate Shane Evan Tomlinson was among those shot and killed.

Attendees gathered at Crave, received labels with “#orlandostrong” written on them and signed a large banner with the same slogan. Organizers handed out candles for the three block walk to the town commons, where a brass quintet performed for the gathering crowd.

Participating in the event were the LGBT Resource Office, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Student Union, ECU’s Student Activities Board, Out Greenville, Crave Restaurant and Bar, Uptown Greenville, New Greenville and PFLAG Greenville.

Mark Rasdorf, associate director of the LGBT Resource Office at East Carolina University, organized the vigil.

“At 2 o’clock Sunday afternoon, I decided that I needed to organize a vigil for the victims of the Orlando shooting,” Rasdorf said. “I hope this will be the beginning of a collective healing which might take a while in our collective, tight-knit community.”

Rasdorf, who came out as a gay man in 1982 in Washington, D.C. during the midst of the HIV/AIDS crisis, took part in many rallies, walks and vigils while advocating for gay rights and proper medical treatment.

“These kind of events are important as we get together to express our outrage and anger at the events in Orlando,” Rasdorf said. “I feel a moral obligation to hold this vigil and it’s part of ECU’s mission to serve our population.”

Rasdorf said he hoped the LGBT community would move on from the Orlando killings and not live in fear.

“Unfortunately, one year after the passing of marriage equality laws, we find that homophobic outlashes are on the rise,” Rasdorf said.

Greenville resident Hope Calkins attended the vigil with her two friends, Courtney Dilday and Anna Odom, all hoping to show the LGBT community their support.

“I believe the LGBT community should have the same rights as every other person,” Calkins said. “This community was persecuted on Sunday night.”

Walking with the group toward the town commons, his blue shirt and ministerial collar standing out among the T-shirts surrounding him, was the Rev. Rod Debs, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Greenville. His church hosts the local PFLAG chapter, which started only six months ago.

“Our church has a long history of welcoming the LGBT community,” said Debs. “They are our children, brothers and sisters, and sometimes our parents. It is something we were called to do.”

Debs, like everyone with connections to the LGBT community, has felt a great sense of loss as a result of the Orlando shootings.

“We have all suffered since this crime,” he said. “We are all the same, and yet there are so many beautiful differences in society.”

“Don’t make anyone the enemy,” Debs continued,” but we have to say that these killings are not OK.”

After a few remarks by representatives of local organizations and the Greenville mayor’s office, the names of the 49 victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting were read aloud as their photos flashed across a screen.

“We stand together as loving, caring human being. We united today, together in our common bond,” said Jermaine McNair, a member of the Greenville Police Community Relations Commission, who spoke on behalf of Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas.