Hundreds packed a Near South church Wednesday evening to promote loving one another three days after a woman reported three men broke into her house, tied her up and carved anti-gay slurs into her skin.
Less than a block away from Sunday's reported attack, some 300 people jammed into the pews of First-Plymouth Church at 20th and D streets for the vigil. Workers brought out folding chairs to accommodate the overflow.
“We’re here to claim love is stronger than fear, hatred and violence,” the Rev. Nancy Erickson said.
Supporters sang, prayed and cried together. Gay and straight couples held hands. Parents held their children. Friends wrapped their arms around each other and put their heads on each other's shoulders.
Then they poured out of church for a silent prayer walk, their numbers wrapping around 1 1/2 blocks as they passed the house where the attack took place.
“The fact that it happened in the first place made me want to vomit,” said Beth Loofe, a 42-year-old Lincoln woman who works as a chaplain at Inclusive Life Church in Omaha. Loofe said she’s been openly gay since she was 15 and thinks it’s important to support Lincoln’s gay community.
“When you’re a part of a community, you support your family through good times and bad times.”
Before the walk, the Rev. Greg Stewart told the group Sunday’s attack rattled him, that he wakes up at night to make sure his family is safe, that all his windows and doors are locked. But walling yourself in and backing down in the face of hateful violence doesn’t solve the problem. That’s why coming together Wednesday night was key to healing and resolution.
“Nothing good comes from shrinking back and barricading myself when hate lies at my door,” said Stewart, who’s openly gay. “Hate, hate, hate backs down when love stands up.”
The Rev. Jim Keck, senior minister at First-Plymouth, told supporters none of them knew what happened early Sunday morning.
Regardless, prejudice exists in Lincoln, Keck said. Wednesday night was not only about helping people heal after Sunday’s reported attack, but about battling discrimination generally.
Police continued investigating the crime Wednesday, a day after the FBI joined the investigation. Police are looking for three suspects, who they say could be white, but they haven't been able to determine for certain that an attack occurred.
“There’s so many unknown facts,” Keck said. “We don’t know the facts, but we know these facts: People are hurt."
Loofe said she didn't think the woman staged the attack. She doesn’t know the woman well, but she said her friends and neighbors love her.
Loofe urged Lincoln residents to calm down and let the police do their jobs before jumping to conclusions one way or the other.
“I know public opinion is hard to stop,” she said. “I think we should let opinion rest. Opinions are so easily formed, swayed and changed, and they get into the way of facts.
Supporters and well-wishers of the 33-year-old woman have donated money to several groups in the past few days, said Megan Mikolajczyk, a Lincoln attorney representing the victim.
“We will make the account as transparent as possible, and the survivor will have no direct access to the funds,” Mikolajczyk said, until the investigation is complete.
“If and when funds are distributed, it will be to cover the survivor’s expenses directly related to the incident."
The woman would be able to give any leftover money to a nonprofit organization of her choice.
Mikolajczyk said her client was “very appreciative” of the community’s support.