Jasmine Lubin, a UF journalism freshman from Coconut Creek, listens to people speak at the vigil. (Dakota Williams/WUFT News)
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UF Community Members “Choose Love” At Candlelight Vigil

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Destiny Woods, left, and Tasha Raymond, light candles for attendees at a sunrise candlelight vigil Friday morning in Turlington Plaza. About 130 people attended. (Dakota Williams/WUFT News)

Turlington Plaza stood dark and empty Friday morning. The RTS bus engines growled as they drove by on Newell Road. The chirping of birds echoed across the campus. As the sun slowly ascended behind the clouds, the plaza soon glowed from the candles of the mourning.

Students gathered in Turlington Plaza for a vigil to remember the 17 lives lost in the Parkland, Fla. school shooting, which took place on Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Christyna Conway, a 20-year-old UF architecture sophomore, addresses a crowd of students at a sunrise candlelight vigil in honor of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Conway is a former student of the Parkland, Florida, high school. (Dakota Williams/WUFT News)

Fennzia Guerrier, a second-year public relations student at UF, went to Marjory Stoneman Douglas, along with her friend, Chistyna Conway, a second-year architecture student at UF. Together, they organized the vigil.

Guerrier first heard about the shooting from Conway.

“She called me the day that it happened, just crying,Guerrier said.

Guerrier said they decided to host their own since they would not be able to go home for any of the vigils in Parkland.

“The next day we created a flier and a Facebook event together and everything just started to happen, and now, here we are,she said.

Gabrielle Noud, a senior marketing student at UF, reached out to Guerrier over Facebook to offer help. Noud graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas nearly four years ago. She was having a hard time believing it was real. She said it is a picturesque town with no crime. 

“The people often say, Its Parkland, where its safe after Darkland.’

Noud and her friend Jackie Orr, a fourth-year biology major at UF, who also graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas, arrived at the vigil early with a large basket full of candles to hand out to those in attendance.

Our hearts go out to the victims families,said Orr.

Alumni of the school were invited to the center of the circle for additional support during the vigil. The shooting left 17 dead. (Dakota Williams/WUFT News)

By 6:45, a sea of burgundy and black the schools colors filled the plaza. A large semi-circle formed around a line of 17 people, each of whom volunteered to say the name, age and a statement about one of the victims.

“Alyssa Alhadeff was 14 years old. She was a soccer player,the first volunteer said.

A moment of silence followed after every victim was granted recognition.

Members of the crowd joined Elizabeth Neilson, a first-year international studies and economics major at UF, and Destiny Woods, a fourth-year telecommunication major at UF in singing “Amazing Grace” shortly after the names were said.

Elizabeth Neilson (left), Destiny Woods and Fennzia Guerrier lead the vigil in a rendition of “Lean on Me.” Woods and Neilson also sang “Amazing Grace” and “Rise Up” during the vigil. (Dakota Williams/WUFT News)

Woods later took to the center of the crowd and sang “Rise Up” another inspirational melody, written by Andra Day.

Before the vigil came to a close, Conway made a short speech.

“Dont let this define Parkland,she said. Parkland is so much, so much more than this.

Shaun Enos, left, and Brittany Daigle, comfort and hold each other at the vigil. Enos is from Pembroke Pines, a city in southern Broward County. (Dakota Williams/WUFT News)

Fennzia then asked everyone to form a circle, grab hold of the person next to them and swayed in unison as they sang Lean on Me.” Around the circle, there were heads resting on shoulders, puffy eyes that looked as though they were out of tears and backs being rubbed in an effort to provide comfort.

Guerrier said the one thing she has noticed in her 20 years of life is that love is a choice.

“So, the same way that person chose to do evil, we have a choice too,she said. And we get to choose love.

Guerrier said it was heartwarming to see people that didnt even know victims or didn’t even know the area existed at all, awake so early and supporting those who were really in pain.

“I think thats the most important part when you support people that are in pain,she said. No one should have to go through pain alone, its too difficult, so we have to stand together.”

Two students hug at the end of the vigil. The candlelight vigil lasted about one hour in Turlington Plaza. (Dakota Williams/WUFT News)

Heather White, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean Students at UF, said the university will hold another vigil Wednesday night from 7-8 p.m. in the Plaza of the Americas.

About Dakota Williams

Dakota is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached at 352-392-6397 or d.williams@ufl.edu.

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