KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Thousands of people gathered in downtown Knoxville to show their support for the Orlando nightclub victims.
An estimated 14,000 people attended the city’s annual PrideFest event at World’s Fair Park to celebrate and honor the 49 people gunned down June 12.
Festival-goers saw an increased police presence at this year’s event, an attempt to protect and calm a community on high alert.
“There’s a lot of family and friends that didn’t want us to come because of what happened,” said Christopher Maleby. “Law enforcement, whether it’s been Knoxville, Tennessee State Troopers… have been out in full force from the parade at 9:30 this morning, they had officers at every corner.”
Law enforcement in cities across the country are beefing up security at LGBT events. People said it helps them breathe a sigh of relief.
“It makes me feel a lot more safe here knowing that they can keep them out of here so that we as the LGBT community can have our day and just express who we are and who we want to be, said Samantha Laframboise.”
On scene were officers with the Knoxville Police Department, the Tennessee Highway Patrol, and the Sevierville Police Department. There was also an FBI tent set up on site. Officers checked bags prior to entry, monitored surveillance cameras and even went undercover to ensure people stayed safe.
“I’m happy with the police support that we’ve got,” said Jessica Davidson. “We all got to show our support in one way or another and protect one another no matter what.”
Rausch said several people even made a point to thank officers for the heightened police presence.
“Clearly the visibility of the officers have made them take a breath and feel safe, and I understand,” he said. “We’re going to make sure everything’s okay.”
Though the Orlando massacre took place miles away, it seemed to bring people in Knoxville, with this year’s PrideFest welcoming its largest crowd to date. Festival-goers admitted that the shooting left the Knoxville community on edge but vowed to not let fear define them.
“Coming here what kind of nerve-racking but we decided that we’re not going to live our life in fear so we decided to come and put our fear aside for the day,” Laframboise said.