Juan Ramon Guerrero and Chris ‘Drew’ Leinonen
It’s impossible to do justice to each of their lives in one article, but here are 49 slices of 49 lives in tribute to those who fell victim to Omar Mateen
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old
Working for a company hosting gay cruises, Edward was an avid traveler known for his slightly unusual choice of attire for cruises – a silly top hat, according to his cousin David Sotomayor. The pair discovered they were related around ten years ago, when they met at Orlando’s Gay Days festival.
The cousins last met earlier in 2016, during the filming of RuPaul’s Drag Race, where David took part as drag queen Jade. ‘You never think that’s going to be the last time you speak to him,’David told Associated Press (AP). ‘It’s just heartbreaking to know it just can happen anytime.’
Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old
The last time Stanley’s mother, Rosalie, saw her son was in a Snapchat video, showing him singing and laughing on the way to Pulse, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
One of his friends, Hazel Ramirez, described him as ‘kind, but sassy’; according to her, he wasn’t just comfortable with his sexuality, but very proud of who he was, which put others at ease around him. ‘He would do his makeup better than anyone else,’ she said. ‘It was so easy to be myself with him.’
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old
The aspiring actor and theater student, known as Omar to friends and family, had an audition lined up for Tuesday, sister Belinette told AP. ‘He would always call me and say, “I’m going to be the next Hollywood star”. He really did want to make it and be known,’ she said. ‘Now his name ended up being around the world, like he wanted – just not this way.’
Colleagues who worked with him at Starbucks inside a Kissimmee Target store said he ‘got along with everyone’. ‘Young, old, male, female, gay, straight,’ his colleague Claudia Mason said. ’It didn’t matter to Omar.’
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old and Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old
About two years ago, Juan told his younger cousin Robert about his homosexuality – but he only came out to his entire family at the end of 2015, according to Robert. They weren’t just accepting, they also came to think of Juan’s partner, Christopher Andrew ‘Drew’ Leinonen, as a new family member.
Juan, who was into fitness and video games, was a student at the University of Central Florida.
As soon as she heard of the shooting, Christopher’s mother drove to Orlando to look for her child. She checked emergency rooms all over the city, and was featured on several broadcasts, pleading for her son’s life.
He had been at Pulse with his boyfriend, Juan, whom Christopher hoped to marry; the couple were reportedly already planning their wedding. Now, their families have announced they will hold a joint funeral.
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old
‘I am really in shock that he was in the club, because he was not usually a club-scene person,’ Eric’s former roommate Abismel Colon Gomez said in an interview.
‘The only reason he went was because there was a house-warming party for our friend. And Eric was like his mentor.’
Having worked his way up through the ranks, Eric – who had a Bachelor’s in communication from the Universidad Central de Bayamom – worked in merchandise management for Ross; always willing to help, he was also described as ‘always generous’.
On Sunday, after the housewarming party, the small crowd moved to Pulse to enjoy Latin Night and dance the night away. ‘We have seven friends who were there,’ Abismel told the Orlando Sentinel. ‘And we already know three are dead.’
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old
Called Ommy by his friends and family, Peter worked for UPS by day – and after hours, he was as the life of the party, according to his aunt Sonia. She said he was so popular, and so happy, no-one wanted to go to a party if Peter wasn’t there. Sonia said she hoped for hours there would be news of Peter being injured – but to no avail.
On Sunday night, Peter was at Pulse with his best friend, 22-year-old Gilberto Ramon Silva Mendez, who also died in the attack.
Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old
Studying Emergency Medical Services at Seminole State College, Luis was described by his family as someone who loved to dance and lived for soccer.
He was also a keen Harry Potter fan who worked at the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride at Orlando’s Universal Studios, and, per his character sheet, was sorted into house Gryffindor – home to the bravest of wizards and witches.
Kimberly ‘K.J.’ Morris, 37 years old
Kimberly worked as a bouncer at Pulse. Formerly living in Massachusetts, she had recently moved down to Florida so she could help out her mother and grandmother.
On her Facebook page, K.J.’s friends are remembering her for her smile and her dancing, saying she could light up a room just by smiling.
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old
For hours, Eddie’s mother Mina didn’t know whether her son, was still alive, she told Associated Press. He’d sent her heartbreaking texts from inside the club – the first one being ‘Mommy I love you’ – urging his mother to call police because someone was shooting.
Working as an accountant, Eddie had an apartment in downtown Orlando, which mother used to describe as ‘a sky house’. ‘Like the Jeffersons,’ she told AP. ‘He lives rich.’
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old
Since he started working for McDonald’s at the age of 18, managing a restaurant, Darryl had been working his way up. Most recently, he had been a financial aid officer for Keiser University, where he worked with military veterans and was a liaison for them, from enrolment to their graduation day.
Personable and always willing to help, his best friend Mahogany Avent said Darryl worked out regularly, had a weakness for Starbucks’ Passion Tango Tea Lemonade and loved to dance, go to the beach and shop – but he was also a mentor to many of his colleagues.
‘He would coach and develop all of the store managers,’ she told the Orlando Sentinel of the time the two worked together as store managers for fashion chain Forever 21.
‘He was just amazing. He was always giving great advice to anyone who would listen.’
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old
Originally from Puerto Rico, his job took Jonathan to Florida: employed by Spanish-Language network Telemundo, he was part of the production team for La Voz Kids, The Voice-style talent show for children. ‘Jonathan was an extremely hard-working individual, full of life, enthusiastic and with a great personality,’ Telemundo said in a statement. ‘He will be missed dearly.’
He was also an active member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists; in a statement, they described him as ‘one of our own’.
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old
After years of fighting her demons – which involved several felony charges in South Carolina and Orlando for drug possession – Deonka was turning her life around, her ex-girlfriend Ashleigh Alleyne told the Orlando Sentinel. Since the couple had been arrested together, Deonka had begun attending church and changed her circle of friends, in a bid to get back on track.
‘I know that she didn’t leave this earth doing wrong,’ Ashleigh said. ‘She was actually putting in effort, because we both his rock bottom at the same time.’ They both pushed each other to get through their issues.
Deonka leaves behind a three-year-old boy whom she helped to raise, according to her friend.
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old
Having just moved to Florida from his native Cuba, a friend said Alejandro was still trying to master English – but thanks to his happy and outgoing nature that didn’t keep him from making friends in his new home.
‘Every interaction I had with him was totally positive,’ Sarai Torres, who knew Alejandro since last year, said.
‘He’s the type of person [who’d] see you in a parking lot and he’d have a whole conversation with you.’
Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25 years old
The first time he wore dance shoes, Anthony was 10 years old. Three years ago, he moved to Orlando from his home in San Juan, Puerto Rico to become a professional dancer and choreographer, according to AP. His cousin, Ana Figueroa, said she wanted people to remember him as ‘someone who was very happy and very kind’.
Anthony originally had invited Ana to come dance with him at Pulse, but she told the Orlando Sentinel she was tired and turned down his request.
Instead, he went with two roommates. They have not been named, but are suspected to have been injured in the attack.
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old
Originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico, Franky had made Orlando his home: he worked as a visual merchandiser for Forever21 and, at the same time, studied at the Inter American University of Puerto Rico. After his family got confirmation of his death, after frantically trying to find him through social media, tributes began pouring in.
‘What happened in Orlando affects all of us,’ family member Mahaya Veray posted.
‘Because it is an act of hate against the freedom to be who you are.
‘I’m trying not to fall prey to hate, at the person who killed you, at the gringos, at Trump, at the terrorists… because the I would be a part of the vicious circle of judge and jury.
‘They killed you out of hate for the freedom to be who you are and it makes me hurt inside because if there was anyone who always had a smile, who helped me, who was caring with me, my music and my madnesses, it was you.’
Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old
Originally hailing from Puerto Rico, 33-year-old Martin was on a holiday to Orlando with his family; videos on his Facebook page show him and his family enjoy the city. During the stay, he planned on visiting his nephew.
On his Facebook, friends have been leaving tributes and messages of support directed at Martin’s family. ‘To think you posted this on Sunday, and now today we received these awful news,’ one of his friends commented on one of Martin’s videos. ‘I’m sorry in my soul.’
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old
When Dani, how he called himself, first moved to the US in 2004, the Puerto Rican barely spoke any English, according to his cousin – but he learned the language in six months. His determination quickly landed him a job, where he soon began to rise through the ranks.
‘He was loved by everyeone,’ his cousin, Laly Santiago-Leon, told AP. ‘He walked into the room and all eyes were on him because of his positive energy, just what he radiated.’
Dani and his partner of six years, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, loved Latin Night, she said, and regularly attended the event.
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old
Working at Perfumania didn’t just allow Jean to try out new fragrances (something friends say he greatly enjoyed), it was also the place where he met his longterm partner Luis Daniel ‘Dani’ Wilson-Leon for the first time.
‘He laughed with the people and would make jokes,’ Claudia Agudelo, one of his colleagues, told the Orlando Sentinel. ‘He was always happy.’
Colleagues say Dani was charmed by Jean’s happy, open personality as he sold him Cartier’s Declaration, but it wasn’t until the couple met again at a night club that things started falling into place.
Jean’s sister-in-law, Katia Mendez, said he also had a childlike side to him and was a doting uncle to her three children, whom he couldn’t deny a single wish.
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old
Born in Queens, Mercedez’ sister-in-law Nancy said the family moved down when she was still a child. While studying at Valencia College, Mercedez also worked at her local Target. But eventually, she wanted to become a party planner, so she and her two brothers – who are both DJs – could coordinate events together.
A regular at Pulse, Mercedez came to the club nearly every weekend to meet some of her many friends, often together with her best friend Amanda Alvear.
Amanda Alvear, 25 years old
Amanda’s face was one of the first one to make headlines, because of the videos she posted on Snapchat on the night. Most of them showed a packed club – but in one selfie video, there are gunshots in the background.
Sandy Marte, whom Amanda had bonded with over breakups and health problems according to AP, described her as ‘an amazing heart’. ‘She was loving, she was caring, she always had an open ear, she always wanted to help people,’ he said.
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old
Also known under his stage name Eman Valentino, Xavier was a dancer; he’d previously worked at Panama City Beach’s Splash Bar, where his colleagues remembered him as someone who was ‘quick with a smile’ and always happy to help other dancers improve their moves.
He leaves behind a little son who, earlier this month, had just graduated from pre-kindergarten.
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old
Leroy had recently started a new job, working as a leasing agent for an Orlando complex, while also taking care of his mother. One of his best friends, Jennifer Rodriguez, described him as ‘very spirited and always happy’ in an interview with AP.
Having ‘finally found something he liked’, his personal life was also looking good – he had recently started dating Xavier Rosado, who also died in the shooting at Pulse.
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old
Gilberto had moved to Florida a few years ago, after growing up in the Puerto Rican city of Manati, according to the Orlando Sentinel. An only child, his cousin Irma Silva-Lauer described him as ‘the light and life of all the family gatherings’.
He was at pulse with his best friend, 22-year-old Peter O. ‘Ommy’ Gonzalez-Cruz, who was also killed when Omar Mateen opened fire inside the club.
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old
Simon didn’t just enjoy dancing and traveling, he also took immense pride in his career and always aimed to be the best. But his co-workers say he also paid attention to detail and never forget a birthday – instead, he brought in cake and took a picture.
Together with his partner Oscar Aracena-Montero, Simon had bought a home in Kissimmee last year; a few weeks ago, the couple – together with their three pet chihuahuas – celebrated Oscar’s birthday there.
Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26 years old
Oscar had just come home from a holiday in Canada with his partner Simon, friends told the Orlando Sentinel; they had stopped in New York and seen the Niagara Falls, too.
‘Oscar was a very sweet guy. Very sweet to everybody,’ Yamilka Pintel, who told the Orlando Sentinel she was a cousin of Oscar’s, said. ‘Every time he met somebody, they would like him a lot. He was the type of guy who goes along with anybody.’
His friends are now using social media to ask for assistance for Oscar’s mother; despite her son and husband moving to the US when Oscar was still young, she doesn’t have a visa which would allow her to attend her child’s funeral.
Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old
Originally, Enrique lived in Brooklyn, where he worked with a home health care provider. He was in Orlando on vacation, supposedly to celebrate a friend’s birthday.
Now his mother, who said Enrique’s death tore the family apart, is appealing and raising funds for his body to be brought back home so he can have a proper funeral.
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old
‘Come home bro, I’m waiting for you,’ Miguel’s older brother Jose posted on Facebook on Sunday. He described his brother, who who managed four restaurants in central Florida and had a catering business on the side, as ‘my mentor and supporter’, always ready to drop everything to help – whether it was his family, which includes seven siblings, or friends.
He leaves behind three children, including a one-year-old and a two-year-old.
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old
Translated into English, Javier’s name means Harvey George Kings – the name he chose to use on Facebook. His friends called him Javi.
His colleagues say he was a natural with customers at the Gucci store he worked at.
And while they describe him as humble and always positive, tributes and messages on his Facebook wall also mention his smile, energy and sassy nature which made him so popular.
‘He had a great personality, a caring heart,’ said Edith Colon, one of Javier’s friends.
‘I had him in mind to call him this week. He was a wonderful makeup artist, a great friend and a hard worker.’
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old
Construction worker Joel had returned to Tampa less than a year ago, after spending a few years back in his Mexican home state of Veracruz. He originally moved to Florida in the early 2000s, looking for a better life and fleeing from from crime and violence in his home country, his cousin Jose Paniagua told Newsday.
On the night of the shooting, Joel – who loved to dance – was out to meet friends. ‘He was the best,’ his longtime friend Lorena Barragan told the Orlando Sentinel. ‘He was loyal. He was always trying to do stuff to make you feel better.’
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old
Computer-savvy and interested in photography, Orlando native Jason’s family said he was excited about what the future had in store for him. One of Omar Mateen’s youngest victims, he had just graduated from high school and started studying computer science at Valencia College.
When the shooting started, he called his mother Myrlande Bebe. As she heard the shots got closer, she told Jason to hide in the bathroom and kept him on the line while dialling 911 on another phone. Presumably, she lost contact, and the family spent all of Sunday at the hospital hoping for news before they were sent home; on Monday, they returned to the confirmation of Jason’s death.
Cory James Connell, 21 years old
Hailed a ‘superhero’ and absolute family man by his brother Ryan, who said ‘God just got the best of angels’, Cory was also called an all-time favourite student by his teachers, who described him as the ‘sweetest kid ever’.
A student at Valencia College, Cory worked at Publix; one of them, Orange County School Board member Nancy Robbinson, told the Orlando Sentinel she’d often meet him there and always be greeted warmly.
‘Every time I saw him, he greeted me with a warm, inviting smile and a cheery “Hey, Mrs Robbinson”,’ she said. ‘And sometimes I was even blessed to get a hug.’
Juan Pablo Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old, and Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old
As a hairstylist, Juan knew how to make people look good; as a person, friends and customers said he also knew just what to say to make them feel good – ‘Oh my gosh, you look so beautiful,’ for example, or ‘You look amazing!’.
Juan and his longterm partner, Luis Daniel Conde, opened the salon about seven years ago; their uplifting attitudes drew people in. According to regular customer Alexandra Ale, who spoke to the Orlando Sentinel, some people would come just to see the couple.
‘They just wanted to say “hi” and spend time there,’ she said. ‘Juan was always just focused on his job, and Luis was more the jokester. He was always smiling and making people laugh.’
Luis spent more than half his life with Juan. They went to the same high school in Puerto Rico. They ran a beauty salon together.
Somewhere along the way, about 16 years ago, they became a couple.
‘They loved people,’ said Irene Rivera, who visited the couple’s salon to pay her respects. ‘They lived to help people.’
According to friends, Luis and Juan went out of their way to help people, whether it was trying to make someone smile or offering some other form of support – for example women who fell victim to domestic violence, who a customer said would often be provided free services.
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old
Shane had finished a gig at Blue Martini club with The Frequency Band, where he was the lead singer, before heading out to Pulse, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Originally holding a degree in communication, he turned his passion for singing into a business, performing at weddings and in venues in and around Orlando.
‘He was gifted and creative,’ Tarrick Cox, who worked with Shane when he was a member of Eastern Carolina’s gospel choir, told AP. ‘He was a go-getter.’
Juan Chavez Martinez, 25 years old
Originally from Huichapan, Mexico, according to his Facebook page, Juan was living in Davenport; for the past seven years, he worked as a housekeeping supervisor for one of Reunion Resorts’ staffing company partners.
His colleagues said he wasn’t just a hard worker, but also extremely friendly, kind and dedicated to his family. As such, he had a large circle of friends and was popular with just about everyone he met.
‘My heart is still breaking for my friend,’ Juan’s friend Tomas Martinez said when speaking to the Orlando Sentinel’s Chris Hays. ‘It is very hard to talk right now. He had a lot of friends.’
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old
When Jerald’s death was announced, it wasn’t just his biological family who mourned their son. As a seasonal worker at Walt Disney World, he had been adopted into the tight-knit circle of friends and colleagues they refer to as the Disney family.
‘Jerry was a great guy to work with,’ Scott Dickison, a former colleague, told the Orlando Sentinel.
‘He was quiet but really wonderful with all the guests. He always had a smile on his face.’
Another one of his co-workers, Kenneth Berrios, said he never turned anyone down and happily gave rides and tours to students doing work experience as part of a London-based university course.
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old
Having graduated from Strayer University, where he studied business administration, Tevin used his ambition to set up his own marketing company. He was on a visit to friends and family. ‘You left behind a legacy and a great example to everyone you knew,’ his friend Danny Zumba posted on Facebook.
Tevin also shared his ambition with others, frequently posting inspirational quotes on his Facebook. One of his last posts reads: ‘Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.’
Jean Carlos Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old
Jean, whom friends describe as loyal, hard-working caring more about others than himself, had just bought his first house, six weeks ago. But he didn’t buy it for himself – he did it so his mother would have a nice place to live.
‘He was a caring, loving guy – just like a big teddy bear,’ one of Jean’s best friends, Ivonne Irizarry, told the Orlando Sentinel.
‘He wanted to be the best at what he did, and he would work very hard to achieve that. So, if he had to put in the long hours to get it right, he’d do it.’
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old
Of the thousands of donors lined up outside the OneBlood donation center off Sand Lake Road, those who had been there before may have seen Rodolfo’s face before. Working as a biologics assistant at the blood bank, his friends and colleagues describe him as compassionate and always aiming to do things the right way.
‘He loved to dance salsa and all kinds of Latin dancing,’ Rodolfo’s friend Rivera Muñiz told the Orlando Sentinel. ‘He didn’t even drink because he had a long drive home and always wanted to be safe.’
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old
Beating cancer once is a tough job. Doing it twice is even harder, but Brenda was unwilling to give up the fight and won, once again. While raising 12 children. And that fighting spirit extended into every part of her life, one of her closest friends Noreen Vaquer said in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel.
On the night of the attack, Brenda was out dancing with one of her sons. He’d later see his mother collapse, as Omar Mateen fired into the crowd; according to Vaquer, Brenda’s son made it out of the club alive.
Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old
Three months ago, Yilmary became a mother to Sergio, her second child with race car driver Juan Borges. On Sunday, she went out to Pulse, in the company of her brother-in-law, William Borges, and her friend Jonathan Camuy.
When Omar Mateen started shooting, Jonathan tried to protect the young mother and died in the process.
William was the only one to survive the night. ‘I swear, my heart has a ladder tall enough to reach you both,’ he wrote on Facebook. ‘Mary, you leave me with a pain that I never thought I would feel.’
He told CNN the group went to Pulse because of an incident at another club.
‘Let’s go to a gay club,’ he recalls Yilmary saying. ‘Because they’re killing at the other clubs.’
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old
Although he only moved from Chicago to Orlando in January, to be closer to his family in Puerto Rico, Angel quickly found a new job and a new boyfriend. Serving in the National Guard, the 28-year-old nurse had a passion for music and was described as ‘a humble boy, a good student’ by his aunt, Leticia Padro, in an interview with Univision.
His boyfriend, who remains unnamed, is in hospital; he was shot several times in the attack. After hearing several shots ring out, he turned to Angel to ask whether he was okay. ‘He told him he was okay,’ Angel’s aunt said. ‘But in that instant, he fell to the floor.’
Frankie Hernandez, 27 years old
According to his sister Julissa, Frankie had a penchant for ‘all sorts of fancy things’: he liked partying and fun, was a massive Beyonce-fan and worked as a store manager for one of his favourite brands, Calvin Klein. He was also the one who taught her how to walk in heels, and never shied away from telling her if her hair and makeup were up to scratch.
When his family heard of the shooting and couldn’t get hold of Frankie, Julissa and her mother got in their car and drove 735 miles from Lafayette, La., to Orlando, in the hopes of finding their son and brother alive.
‘We just wanted to know something,’ Julissa told the Orlando Sentinel. ‘All we knew was he had been in there when the shooting started.’
Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old
Originally hailing from Chicao, Paul was described as someone who loved to dance and have fun by his boyfriend, Francisco Hernandez. He told the Orlando Sentinel Paul loved his family – he had two children and his daughter, Alexia, just graduated high school.
And he always believed in his partner’s potential, leading Francsisco, who never finished college, to plan on going back to school.
‘He wanted the best for me, to succeed and to help me make something of myself,’ he said.
‘I am definitely going to do that for him. I am going to make something of myself.’
Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old
Described as down to earth, Antonio had been involved with the US Army Reserve since he started college at Florida A&M University, joining full-time after he graduated in 2008. He was made captain in 2012; in 2015, he started working as a human resources manager.
On Facebook and in interviews, his friends described him as ‘the most incredible friend’ and ‘kind, gentle soul’ who was always smiling; in an email to the Orlando Sentinel, one of cousins called Antonio a ‘real down to earth guy’.
And while thanking him for serving their country, some of his friends from the Army also said they struggled with comprehending what happened.
‘For those of us who served we are trained to deal with death,’ one of them wrote.
‘But… I can’t.’
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old
Christopher, who worked at a bank in Tampa, Florida, had told family members he planned to go to Pulse with a group of friends. So, when they heard news of the shooting, his father and Mike Wallace, a close family friend, got in the car and drove to the hospital, where they spent the day hoping he had been admitted.
They realised his fate when the list of patients was read out and Christopher’s name wasn’t among them.
‘People were crying hysterically,’ Wallace told the Orlando Sentinel. ‘It’s really something awful to go through.’
Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old
Akyra and her family – mom, dad and her 4-year-old sister – had travelled to Orlando to celebrate: on Monday (6 June), she had graduated third in her class of 42 at Philadelphia’s West Catholic Preparatory High School.
A 1,000-point scorer for her school’s basketball team, Akyra was bound to continue her career at Mercyhurst University – she had already signed her letter of intent to join the team.