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Elgin gathers at memorial for Florida shooting victims

Dozens of people came together in Elgin to remember the lives of the 49 victims who died in the June 12 Orlando, Fla., shooting at a gay nightclub.

People gathered in the plaza between the Robert Gilliam Civic Center and the Hemmens Cultural Arts Center in Elgin, donning the colors that represent gay pride to embrace, talk and pay tribute to the lives lost at Pulse. Similar ceremonies were held across the Chicago area in recent days, including an event at Elgin Community College.

The Sunday night event featured a ceremonial candle lighting, prayers and songs. Many of those in attendance waved candles, flashlights and phones to show support and solidarity with the LBGT community.

Judge John Dalton of the 16th Judicial Court said hatred of homosexuality is, for many, the last acceptable prejudice.

"Religion has become the weapon of choice in the cultural wars, and there is no possibility that this is pleasing to God," he told the crowd.

Dalton emphasized that Elgin's diversity must be cherished.

"The whole country was impacted," he said. "Beyond Orlando, every LGBTQ person and community—millions of people—justifiably feel shocked, violated and threatened."

He noted that the emergence of safe spaces and emphasized that Pulse wasn't just a bar, it was a family.

Dalton, who said he has identified with the LGBT community the last 25 years, said openness and an increasing number of people coming out to family and friends has led to more widespread acceptance.

The ceremony also featured speeches from other community leaders, including those representing the Elgin Hispanic Network, Congregation Kineseth Israel-Elgin, Coalition of Elgin Religious Leaders, Batavia Islamic Center, and Mayor David Kaptain.

Following this kind of tragedy, Kaptain said he finds comfort reflecting on the words of the country's founding fathers, in which the concept of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are derived.

"I think that can guide us all," he said. "I think that can guide the city of Elgin. If the residents of Elgin and cities of our nation follow those words, I believe, that we will find the wisdom to solve our problems, to work together as a united community, and to plan for a future that will be safe and sound for everyone."

Elisa Lara, president elect of the Elgin Hispanic Network and Human Relations Commissioner, mirrored the same sentiments when she addressed the crowd. She said she's pleased by the show of support the community has shown.

"Tonight, to see so many people come together is so motivational," she said. "…This is really giving us strength and it really helps to see that there's so much support. I hope that (families affected) have the same."