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Scenes From Orlando: Residents Band Together In Wake Of Tragedy

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This week, people in Orlando have been showing solidarity with the victims of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub there. They have lit candles at evening vigils, they've brought flowers to makeshift memorials, and they have banded together in the face of an unspeakable crime. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Orlando Strong has become the refrain here. You see it on store signs, T-shirts and social media. It's a way for people to show they're pulling together despite the tragedy. The crime scene remains cordoned off, media helicopters flying overhead. On a corner nearby, two young men are performing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

J. NORM AND NILE TATE: (Singing) All lives matter. Stop the killing. Make it happen. All lives matter. All lives matter. All lives matter.

ELLIOTT: Nile Tate and J. Norm are college students, but Tate says it was hard to focus on studies after hearing about the massacre.

NILE TATE: I'm actually supposed to be in class right now, but I feel like this is - this right now - at this moment in time, it's more important for me to be here than sitting behind a computer right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

J. NORM: (Singing) All differences aside, I wrote this as a prayer for the fallen lives. I shed these words as tears although I cried. Who are you to play God, choose who live and choose who dies? See, your actions won't break us or shake us or deface us.

ELLIOTT: Norm says they wrote the song to show solidarity.

NORM: You know, see us come together instead of break down after a tragedy.

ELLIOTT: That's been the message from Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who says the city will not be defined by, quote, "the act of a cowardly hater." Residents have been lining up to donate blood for victims and helping first responders, too, by passing out water and popsicles in the sweltering heat. Mostly they've come together to mourn at daily vigils throughout the city. Diane Jack (ph) came to First Baptist Church for a prayer service.

DIANE JACK: Just reflecting. I'm trying to help. I think I feel like everybody else. Tried to go donate blood - the lines were insane, which is awesome. I was going to bring water and snacks down. I'm just trying to help. You kind of feel just helpless, and I think that's a feeling that we all have in this community right now. We want to help, and we really can't.

ELLIOTT: People are reaching out in all kinds of ways. A coalition of Hispanic groups formed Somos Orlando - We Are Orlando - to help Spanish-speaking families who lost loved ones in the attack. Elsewhere, members of the LBGT community and their allies are mobilizing.

(CROSSTALK)

ELLIOTT: In a small office at an Orlando stripmall, volunteers are using social media and working the phones to help victims' families who are traveling to Orlando.

JOHANNA VERTEUIL: I said let me know how many people are coming, and we'll start to arrange accommodation for her now.

ELLIOTT: Johanna de Verteuil is working at this makeshift clearinghouse that was started by realtor Christian West Howard. He was a regular at Pulse and decided to offer rental rooms free to family members of victims. And it grew from there.

CHRISTIAN HOWARD: It turned from just, hey, I've got a couple places to now it's not even just about places. We're hoping coordinate the rental cars, food. Lawyers calling to offer their services as far as getting people in the country if they're having visa issues. Anything like that. Everything.

ELLIOTT: Now they're connecting people with donated goods and services from hotel rooms to tombstones. West Howard says the response has been overwhelming.

WEST HOWARD: We can't give them back their families. We can't give them back their children or their siblings. But we can make this part of it as seamless and show them that there's still humanity.

ELLIOTT: We're so much stronger than what happened, he says. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Orlando. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.