After hearing about the Orlando shooting early Sunday morning — confirmed to be the deadliest mass shooting in American history — Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler said he immediately started thinking of how his city could give back to those mourning across Florida and the nation.
"I was so upset just watching what I had on the news that morning, so I told my wife I was going to go for a bike ride," Tyler said. "To clear my thoughts, think of how I wanted to address this with the resources we had, and what we have to offer."
That evening, Muncie City Hall was lit up in rainbow lights. Tyler said it was time to put differences of race, religion and sexual orientation aside and show love for everyone.
"And it's going to continue to be lit up for a few days, as long as the flags are at half staff," Tyler said. "We are going to continue to stand in solidarity with the citizens of Orlando."
The shooter, Omar Mateen, used an AR-15 assault rifle upon entering Pulse, a gay bar, around 2 a.m. The Associated Press reported 50 dead, including the shooter himself.
Across Muncie and Ball State, the mayor and others have been standing up to show support to the LGBTQ community in the wake of this attack.
"I know my city well enough to know that it's just like the rest of the county, our hearts and thoughts and prayers are going out to the city of Orlando," Tyler said.
Sunday evening, Muncie's local gay bar, the Mark III Tap Room, held a candlelight vigil in honor of those who lost their lives in the shooting.
Ryder Martz, wife of club owner Natasha Martz, spoke at the club to give thanks to the Muncie community for its support and to talk about the lives lost early Sunday morning.
"It's just so horrific, that I can't begin to imagine the pain and the grief that the community going through. It's hard to talk about," Tyler said. "You know, it's one person having that much hatred. In my opinion, it wasn't about race, not about religion. It was one human being with so much hate in his heart, he wanted to take other humans life. That’s what the men and women in that building were. They were all human beings."
James Wells, incoming Student Government Association president, sent out a press release Sunday to show the Ball State organization's support for Orlando.
“The Student Government Association has always been a staunch supporter and ally of the LGBTQ+ community and we will always be,” Wells said in the press release. “Now is the time for all of us here at Ball State to work together to make our global community one in which all can live in peace and harmony. To those who choose to continue to hurl bigotry at anyone, you will soon wake up in a world where it is a civil right, protected under the law, to love whomever one chooses to love.”
After the Indiana bill to give increased protection from discrimination for lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender people was shot down in February, Wells said now is the time for other university's governances to step up and help make changes.
Though some community leaders agree on doing whatever they can to support those suffering from the tragic shooting, they disagree on how to move forward from it.
Wells said that it goes beyond gun control, and plans to work with students next year to help bring change to Indiana's administration.
"Moving forward we'll need meaningful policy changes, a common sense solution. I don't mean the whole taking guns away mentality," Wells said. "We need to protect our right to own arms, protect our lives. When we're out in public, the movies, sending our kids to school, having fun, socializing … we need to feel free, and feel safe."
The gunman in the Orlando shooting, according to the Associated Press, had purchased his weapon legally. Wells said certain people like Mateen should be on a no-purchase list, but currently the federal government has no laws allowing this practice.
Mayor Tyler said he thinks stronger gun laws would be a step in the right direction.
"The only solution is elected officials, community leaders have got to sit down and resolve this issue of horrific violence – gun violence," Tyler said. "Nobody is going to convince me that people, ordinary citizens need AR-15 rifles."
He said that acceptance of all people and their rights is what will ultimately bring America back to where it needs to be.
"We can't build walls around religion, races of people, and still be the most free society in the world," he said. "This country is better than this. If we can't say that, then that says a lot about the fabric of our society."
Tyler said ultimately, he's proud of how Muncie has reacted to the shooting, and hope's to see similar reactions across the nation.
"I just appreciate so much the city of Muncie, the community of Ball State University and everybody, the support they've shown for Orlando," Tyler said. "It says so much about what an accepting and diverse city we're in."