Orlando shooting victims summed up America’s diversity

 

 

 

 

 

 

  ORLANDO -- They came, the president would later observe, “to be with friends, to dance, and to sing and to live.’’ Most had that in common, along with their ethnicity, sexuality and youth. But those who gathered at the club Pulse “to live,’’ and died there, also summed up the diversity that makes America America.

They included a Starbucks barista, a UPS man and a gay cruises promoter. One was a telemarketer, another a pharmacy tech. One worked at Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a connection that prompted the author J.K. Rowling to tweet a photo of him in a Hogwarts school tie, with the message, “I can’t stop crying.”

One of the victims had come out to his family earlier this year, with what turned out to be needless worry about their reaction.

And one was a bouncer at the club, where a gunman produced a casualty rate more typical of a Marines assault: 49 dead and more than 50 wounded out of a crowd of maybe 350.

The victims were among those who gathered for a fun night of salsa and merengue at Pulse, “Orlando’s Latin Hotspot,” for an “Upscale Latin Saturdays” event. Most were in their 20s and early 30s.

“The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub,’’ Obama said. “It is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds and to advocate for their civil rights.’’

On Monday they were remembered for a personal trademark, like a silly top hat, or a skill, like makeup, or a passion, like mom’s tomato-cheese dip.

One reportedly came to Florida from his native Puerto Rico because, as a gay man, he felt he “couldn’t be himself there.’’

And one was remembered for a chilling final text to his mother from the club restroom: “He’s coming. I’m going to die.’’

That was Eddie Justice, who woke his mother Mina Justice shortly after 2 a.m. Sunday with a text message that began:  "Mommy I love you." Those happy words were followed by ones of horror: "In club they shooting."

About 30 minutes later, apparently hiding in a Pulse bathroom, he texted: “He’s coming. I’m gonna die.” 

 

 

 

 

Among the other victims:

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37, moved to Florida from Puerto Rico, according to his cousin, Thron Crowe, who came to a command center Monday not far from the club to talk with authorities.  Wilson “came from Puerto Rico because he was gay and couldn't be himself there,’’ Crowe said. “When he got here he didn't speak a lick of English."

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Miguel Angel Honorato, 30, was married and had three children, according to his brother, Jose, who had posted this note on Facebook on Sunday: “Come home bro, I’m waiting for you.” 

“My brother's wife called me looking for him after she heard the news," Jose said before his brother’s body was identified. "I called his cell phone and he would not answer.’’ Honorato said his brother went to the club with three friends -- all of whom made it out safely.

Miguel managed four restaurants in central Florida, and ran a catering business on the side. More than that, even though Miguel was younger, "He was my mentor and my supporter,''  Jose Honorato said.

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Stanley Almodovar III posted a Snapchat video of himself singing and laughing en route to Pulse on Saturday night. His mother Rosalie Ramos now wishes she had it to remember him by.

She thought her son, a 23-year-old pharmacy technician, was coming home; she’d left a tomato-and-cheese dip waiting for him. “I wish I had that (video) to remember him,” she said.

A friend, Hazel Ramirez, told the Washington Post she also saw the same Snapchat video and learned Sunday afternoon what had happened. Ramirez described Almodovar as “kind, but sassy,” and someone who was comfortable with his own sexual identity. “He was so proud of who he was,” she told the Post. “He would do his makeup better than anyone else.’’

Ramos, 51, was at home early Sunday when her phone rang with news that Stanley was trapped inside the nightclub.

She raced to the scene and waited anxiously behind police cordons through the three-hour standoff between police and the shooter, Omar Mateen. She said Almodovar’s friends told her he’d tried to shield other victims in the club’s bathroom before being shot to death.  

What was he like? “He liked to go to parties, he liked to make friends,” Ramos said, holding back tears. “He enjoyed life.”

They moved to Orlando from Massachusetts in 2003. “We came here to have a good life,’’ the mother said. “Then this happened.”

 

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Edward Sotomayor Jr. had a trademark that summed his personality: a silly top hat he used to war on cruises.

David Sotomayor, a self-described drag queen from Chicago, said the two discovered they were cousins after meeting at Orlando’s annual Gay Days festival a decade ago. “He was just always part of the fun,” David Sotomayor said.

Eddie, 34, worked for a company that arranged gay cruises, and often traveled to promote the company’s events. "He was a person you wanted to be with, and he loved travel,'' said another friend, Al Ferguson. After the ISIS-inspired attacks in Paris and Brussels, he said, Sotomayor urged friend to travel to or vacation in those cities -- to show support for victims of terrorism. 

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Juan Ramon Guerrero, who told his cousin Robert Guerrero he was gay about two years ago, worried about how the rest of his family would react when he told them at the beginning of this year. As it turned out, “they were very accepting,” said Guerrero. “As long as he was happy, they were OK with it.”

Robert Guerrero said his cousin, 22, worked as a telemarketer; was happy in a relationship with a man his family eventually regarded as one of their own, and recently began attending the University of Central Florida. Guerrero said his cousin didn’t quite know what he wanted to study, but he was happy just to be in school.

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Kimberly "K.J." Morris, 37, moved to Orlando a few months ago and had been hired at the Pulse club as a bouncer. “She was really excited to start the job,” an ex-girlfriend, Starr Shelton, said from her home in the Bay Area of northern California. “She told me how she was thrilled to get more involved in the LGBT community there.''

Morris moved to Orlando from Hawaii to take care of her mother and grandmother. She'd previously worked as a bouncer in a club in Northampton, Mass., where she also performed as a drag performer, and hoped also to perform at Pulse once she got established there.  

Narvell Benning met Morris when they played basketball together at Post University in Waterbury, Conn: “I can’t think of a time when I did not see a smile on her face.’’

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Luis Vielma, 22, worked at Universal Studios on one of the rides at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It was a good match: “He just wanted to make people smile,” said a co-worker, Olga Glomba.

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Peter Ommy was how everyone knew Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz; it seemed to sum up the 22-year-old’s exuberant, life-of-the party personality. According to his Facebook page, he attended high school in New Jersey and worked at UPS in Orlando; spoke English and Spanish; and once lived in Africa.

His Facebook profile photo from June, 2015, had the gay pride flag superimposed over it to celebrate the Supreme Court's ruling that gay marriage was legal.

“He was a happy person,’’ said his aunt, Sonia Cruz. “If Peter is not at the party, no one wants to go.’’

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Eric Ortiz, 36, came to Florida from Puerto Rico, where he earned a communications degree from Univercidad Central de Bayamon, to make a career and a better life. He became a merchandise manager.

"He sacrificed himself a lot for his family," said his former roommate, Abismel Colon Gomez of Orlando. "He loved his brother, and he was always being generous."

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Omar Ocasio-Capo at first seemed too brash to Claudia Mason, 70, who worked with him the 20-year-old at the Starbucks inside a Kissimmee Target store. But after getting to know him, “I realized he had a very outgoing personality,” Mason told the Sentinel. “Omar got along with everyone. Young, old, male, female, gay or straight, it didn’t matter.’’

Ocasio-Capo was hired as a cashier at Target before moving to Starbucks, and became a great barista, she said. “I think he found his niche,” she said.

What's more, “He was one of the most amazing dancers,” said his sister, Belinette Ocasio-Capo. “He would always call me and say, ‘I’m going to be the next Hollywood star.’''

 

 

 

Amanda Alvear, 25, loved fashion and was infectiously enthusiastic, relatives told the Orlando Sentinel. "People got caught in her wake. Whatever she was doing, that's what they were going to do and have fun doing it," her brother Brian Alvear said. He said she went to gay and lesbian clubs because they were fun and she felt able to be herself there: "She wouldn't want anyone to spread hate for her. She'd rather they spread more love."

Alvear had lost a lot of weight following gastric bypass surgery, according to Sandy Marte, a friend with whom she’d bonded over health and relationship problems. “She was loving, she was caring, she always had an open ear, she always wanted to help people,” Marte said of Alvear. “She had an amazing heart.”

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Leroy Valentin Fernandez recently was hired as a leasing agent for an apartment complex, his friend, Jennifer Rodriguez, told The Associated Press. “He had finally found something he liked. He was taking care of his mom.”

Fernandez, her hair stylist, became one of her best friends. “He was like a brother. He was just really very spirited and always happy, you know?”

Fernandez, 25, recently had been dating an older man, a dancer known by the stage name Eman Valentino. That was Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35, who also died. He left a young son who’d graduated from pre-kindergarten earlier this month. “I have no words to express how proud and happy I am of my little boy,” Rosado had written on Facebook.

A YouTube video shows him dancing as an elegantly dressed Eman Valentino at the Orlando club Parliament House. He wears a cape, tie and gloves and collects tips from the audience between high kicks and spins.

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Contributing: J. D. Gallop, Rick Neale and John McCarthy, Florida Today


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