Two of the 49 killed in Orlando early Sunday, in the country’s deadliest mass shooting in history, had ties to the Midlands.
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29, was a former student at Claflin University in Orangeburg. Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32, was raised in Eastover.
They, along with the others slain, were honored at a vigil Monday night at Reformation Lutheran Church in Columbia that drew a crowd of more than 300.
Among the speakers at the vigil was Omar Shaheed, imam of the Columbia mosque Masjid as-Salaam. Shaheed condemned the actions of shooter Omar Mateen – who is reported to have pledged allegiance to ISIS during his act of terrorism – as not in keeping with Islam.
“We grieve together,” Shaheed said, adding that while he is fasting during Islam’s observance of Ramadan, he is not fasting from grief.
The two Midlands deaths brought the Orlando tragedy closer to home for mourners at the vigil.
Drayton was working at Pulse, a popular LGBT nightclub, on the night of the shooting, family said on social media.
Burt attended Claflin from the fall of 2005 to the fall of 2007 before transferring, according to school officials.
“Everyone is in shock,” Claflin spokeswoman Bernita Cooper said Monday. “When we hear of a national tragedy, we aren’t expecting it to be one of our own.”
Burt, an Avon, Ind., native, was an English major at Claflin. He wrote for the English department’s newsletter.
“He wrote very well,” said Mitali Wong, one of Burt’s English professors at Claflin. “He was very upbeat. He was young and energetic. He liked doing things with his peers.”
Wong said Burt was full of promise and visited her office almost every day. He talked of going to law school but also of his struggles to make ends meet while juggling school, work and student clubs. She said Burt left Claflin when he couldn’t afford to continue, and that she often wondered what became of him.
“We were disappointed when he left because he was a sure bet to get into law school,” Wong said. “He had very high energy.”
The speakers at Monday evening’s vigil included Alana Simmons, granddaughter of the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., killed a year ago in the Charleston massacre that claimed nine lives at Emanuel AME Church. Simmons called for church goers to take the lead in a modern civil-rights movement and for solidarity in the wake of tragedy.
“Whatever it is that you believe, I’m pretty sure that love is the foundation of your religion,” Simmons said.
As community members mourn friends and loved ones, police say they are gearing up in hopes of avoiding another such slaying.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said he will be having more security at clubs around the county but declined to be specific.
“It’s not just gay clubs, it’s all clubs. It’s all businesses,” Lott said.
Lott said he is selective when deciding at which private clubs his deputies are allowed to provide security. Clubs must submit security requests, and then the Sheriff's Department evaluates their locations, their clienteles and history of problems with crime – if any.
“Where the primary income is alcohol, drugs or sex, we don't work those,” Lott said Monday. “If we won't work them, we'll meet with them for ways they can improve security.”
The sheriff told a Columbia civic club Monday that Americans should be ready to be attacked by a terrorist wherever they go.
“Americans are not prepared,” Lott said. “We don’t think it’s going to happen with us, where we go, where we spend time with our families. We’re wrong. It can happen anywhere, anytime.”