The stories behind the 49 victims of the Orlando massacre

Faces of the Orlando victims

The Orlando mass shooting, at the hands of 29-year-old Omar Mateen, is considered one of the deadliest in U.S. history. Here is a look at the victims of the shooting.
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The Orlando mass shooting, at the hands of 29-year-old Omar Mateen, is considered one of the deadliest in U.S. history. Here is a look at the victims of the shooting.

One man’s last words came via text to his mother: “Mommy I love you.”

Author J.K. Rowling offered her condolences to another young man who worked on a Harry Potter-themed ride at Universal Studios.

A third victim just finished high school and was on her way to college with a basketball scholarship.

By Monday, all 49 names of the people killed at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub massacre had been released. Stories of bravery, love and remembrance began to surface throughout the day.

Here is a look at the victims, who range in age from 18 to 50. They were dancers, college students, servers and entrepreneurs:

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34

Sotomayor, who lived in Sarasota, was a national brand manager for Al and Chuck Gay Travel.

His friend James De La Fuente described Sotomayor — affectionately known by his friends as Top Hat Eddie because he had a signature look with his top hat — as “genuinely good.”

“He was worldly,” said De La Fuenta, friends with him for three years. “Diversified and fair. Honest and true. Edward really went above and beyond for people.”

His cousin David Sotomayor, who lives in Chicago, discovered he was related to Edward after meeting him at Orlando’s Gay Days festival about 10 years ago. They last saw each other earlier this year at a filming of the reality television show RuPaul’s Drag Race.

“He was just always part of the fun,” David Sotomayor told the Associated Press.

Stanley Almodovar III, 23

Almodovar, a Springfield, Massachusetts, native, was a technician at a pharmacy in Clermont, where he lived, according to his Facebook profile. Friends and family flooded his page with condolences and disbelief.

“Stanley was one of the most friendly people I’ve ever had a chance to meet,” said Caitlin Rodrigues, one of Almodovar’s friends. “He had the personality anyone could get along with.”

Luis Almodovar, 24, no relation, said he and Almodovar bonded on Facebook over their shared last name nearly four years ago. While they never got the chance to meet, Almodovar had talked about visiting Luis in Philadelphia.

“All I can say is, he’s a really good person,” Luis said.

“My heart literally broke, because he was one of my best friends that I could talk to when I was upset about something.”

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20

Ocasio-Capo was a dancer, according to his Facebook page.

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22

Guerrero started attending college at the University of Central Florida and worked as a telemarketer, his cousin Robert Guerrero said.

“He was always this amazing person, he was like a big brother to me,” Robert Guerrero said of his cousin. “He was never the type to go out to parties, would rather stay home and take care of his niece and nephew.”

Guerrero was at the club with his partner, Christopher Leinonen, 32, who was also killed.

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36

Ortiz-Rivera was originally from Puerto Rico and lived in Miami in recent years. “He was an amazing guy. I’m sure that he’s the best friend you can ever have,” said Jose Morales, a friend from Puerto Rico. Morales and Ortiz-Rivera moved to Orlando together in 2007.

“He was a very, very, very good friend,” Morales said. “Very careful, very humble. He was something out of nothing.” Ortiz-Rivera had recently moved back to Orlando.

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22

Gonzalez-Cruz graduated from Colonia High School in 2013 and worked at UPS, his Facebook page said. He was from Benoni, South Africa. Marcos Rios, 31, a friend of Gonzalez-Cruz and other victims, said he was known for his dancing and outgoing personality.

“He was always dancing salsa, teaching other people how to dance salsa,” Rios said. “He amused people.”

Luis S. Vielma, 22

Vielma, who lived in Orlando, worked at Universal Orlando Resort at one of the Harry Potter rides. J.K. Rowling posted his picture on Twitter, offering condolences.

“Luis was by and far the best person I knew,” his friend Will Randle said. “He inherently made us all better people by simply existing around us. Part of him will always live on in every good decision I make.”

Nelson Thielen, 21, described Vielma as “the kindest, gentlest soul I’ve ever known.” The two were like brothers, he said, after years of meetings, trips and retreats with All Souls Catholic Church in Sanford. Vielma was set to go on another mission trip as an adult leader with the youth group at the end of June to Richmond, Va.

“He often went out of his way to make friends with everyone, and make sure everyone was comfortable,” Thielen said. “He was often the first person to introduce himself, but never made himself the center of attention.”

Vielma was proud of his Mexican heritage, Thielen said, and his Facebook page is filled with videos of him juggling a soccer ball. He said Vielma didn’t often go to clubs.

“He just happened to be there one of the few nights he ever really went out to that kind of thing,” Thielen said. “It was the wrong night.”

Kimberly Morris, 37

Kimberly “KJ” Morris moved to Orlando recently to help her mother and grandmother. She was a bouncer at Pulse.

“She was so excited. She’d just started working there and told me how she was thrilled to get more involved in the LGBT community there,” ex-girlfriend Starr Shelton to the Orlando Sentinel.

Morris lived in Hawaii before moving to Orlando and played college basketball at Post University in Connecticut.

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30

When bullets started flying, Justice texted his mother.

The first message reached Mina Justice’s phone at 2:06 a.m.: “Mommy I love you.”

They would exchange sporadic text messages until just before 3 a.m.: “He’s coming. I’m gonna die,” he wrote at about 2:40 a.m.

“He’s a terror.”

Justice, Mina told the Associated Press, was an accountant who lived in downtown Orlando. He lived rich, she said.

Normally a homebody who liked to eat and work out, Justice, she said, liked to make everyone laugh.

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29

Burt was a financial aid officer at Keiser University in Jacksonville and worked with the school’s military students, the Florida Times-Union reported. He was previously a store manager at McDonald’s.

“We are very saddened to be dealing with this loss,” Keiser President Lisamarie Winslow said. “He was one of our family members and team members and he was very respected as an employee and friend.”

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32

Drayton worked at Pulse, according to a Facebook post by her aunt.

“My niece, Deonka ‘Dee Dee’ Drayton was killed in this horrible tragedy,” Patricia Drayton Banks said. “Senseless. She was at work! R.I.P. Dee Dee. You know this Auntie will miss you.”

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21

“I have no words to express how painful it has been,” Martinez’s aunt, Meibys Martinez of Hialeah, said. “This has been very devastating for all of us.”

Martinez, who spoke very little English, was visiting Ilia Sola because he need help translating a letter, the Tampa Bay Times reported. He spent four days on Sola’s couch before visiting the night club Sunday.

Sola told the Times that he loved playing around with his 8-year-old half-sister.

“I know he was a really nice person,” Sola told a reporter. “He was always happy.”

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25

Laureanodisla, who lived in Orlando and was from Puerto Rico, studied at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón, according to Facebook.

“I can’t believe it,” his friend Alexandel Rivera posted. “Always said that we were going to die old together. RIP Anthony Laureano my dancer, my brother.”

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35

Perez had been dating Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, another victim, for about eight years, said Daniel Gmy-Casiano, a friend of Wilson-Leon’s. Gmy-Casiano met Perez in Orlando a few years ago and was struck by his kindness and physical fitness.

“Jean was always really fit,” Gmy-Casiano said. “I was sitting in the living room when I first met him and he was doing push-ups.”

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50

Franky was a visual merchandiser at Forever 21 and was also a professional dancer specializing in Jibaro, a type of Puerto Rican folk music, the Daily Beast said. He lived in Orlando and is originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Amanda Alvear, 25

Alvarez was months away from beginning nursing school at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

The deposit on a house was due Tuesday and the boxes were prepared for Alvarez and her parents to move to Tampa.

The 25-year-old had been working two jobs, at a local hospital and a local CVS pharmacy, to prepare and save up for an eventual nursing career.

“That was her passion,” said her cousin, Lizbeth Marie Davila Benabe, 30. “She had the heart for it.”

Pulse, Benabe said, was a favorite destination for Alvear and her friends — including Mercedez Flores, 26, who also was killed in the shooting. The two women, who had known each other for about 12 years, had already taken trips to New York and Puerto Rico together.

“We lost love, light,” said Joshua Davila, her 23-year-old cousin. “She was just great, you know? She will be missed dearly, she was a phenomenal person who loved unconditionally.”

A GoFundMe has been established for Alvear’s family. In 2001, Alvear, one of three children, lost her older brother, Nelson, to osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, Benabe said.

Martin Benitez Torres, 33

Torres had just arrived in Orlando to visit family a few days before the Pulse nightclub shooting, the Orlando Sentinel said. He was a student at Sistema Universitario Ana G. Méndez in San Juan.

Torres posted videos on his Facebook page, one of which showed food sent to Orlando by his mother, the Sentinel said.

“Going to miss that big smile always happy,” his cousin, Sonia N. Crapps, said. “I can’t believe that my cousin is gone too soon. He was an amazing person inside and outside. I am so tired of people killing other people like our family and friends.”

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37

Wilson was always different while growing up in the Pentecostal Church, sporting long hair and sideburns even though the church disapproved. Daniel Gmy-Casiano, 39, grew up with Wilson in Puerto Rico and they came out to each other before anyone else knew.

“I sat down and started crying and told Danny, ‘I’m gay,’ ” Gmy-Casiano said. “He protected me, protected my secret and felt this courage I gave him coming out, so he came out to me.”

Wilson moved to the United States for a fresh start, settling in Vero Beach despite a limited knowledge of English.

“He needed to breathe, needed to be free so he decided to move to the States,” Gmy-Casiano said. “He gave me a job at a shoe store from 2008 to 2009 and we went through a lot.”

Gmy-Casanio left Orlando for work in Texas, and shortly thereafter Wilson met Juan Carlos Mendez Perez, 35, another victim in Sunday’s shooting.

Wilson and Gmy-Casiano often talked about their sexuality and how it would impact their faith. One day, Gmy-Casiano asked Wilson if they would go to hell for being gay.

“I don’t know, we’ll find out when we’re dead,” Wilson said to Gmy-Casiano. “We have to love ourselves the way we are.”

“He was the first person on this earth I came out to, and he always protected and loved his friends,” Gmys-Casiano said on Facebook. “A wonderful young man full of life, who encountered countless days of bullying while growing up.”

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26

Flores was originally from Queens and worked at Target, according to Facebook. She was living in Davenport, Fla.

“It is not fair that such a horrific act of hate would take the life of a beautiful soul,” her brother Cesar Flores said on Facebook. “No words can describe the pain my family is going through.”

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35

Serrano worked at Disney Live, according to his Facebook page.

“I am so happy you are no longer in pain, but this entire world feels the impact of you not being here,” his friend Matt Molandes said on Facebook. “Look over us, watch over us, we live in your name.”

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25

Menendez worked as a sales associate at Speedway and studied healthcare management at Ana G. Méndez Metro Orlando campus, according to Facebook. He was originally from Manati, Puerto Rico.

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31

Carrillo was at Pulse with Oscar Aracena, who also was killed.

“Simon A. Carrillo and Oscar Aracena Rest in Peace you beautiful souls,” Denise Ortiz-Pagan said on Facebook. “And may we all find a way to heal and go on.”

Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26

Aracena was at Pulse with his boyfriend, Simon Carrillo.

“Still hard to believe that I don’t have my partner with me,” his cousin Joel Aracena said. “I’m going to miss you.”

Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25

Rios was a coordinator at True Care Home Health Care Agency and lived in Brooklyn, according to Facebook. He attended St. Francis College in Brooklyn.

“He was a great person with a heart of gold,” his cousin Christine Jimenez said on Facebook. “He touched so many lives and now he is gone forever!”

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30

Hororato, from Apopka, Fla., was at Pulse with three friends who all made it out safely. He had a wife and three children according to the Guardian.

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40

Jorge-Reyes was a supervisor at Gucci and was from Puerto Rico, according to Facebook.

“Today I woke up to the news I spent all night hoping not to hear,” his friend Ellen Taaffe said. “Your smile was contagious and your sass always entertaining! You made me fee like a beautiful woman and mother even on days I couldn’t see it, and you had an uncanny knack for making my baby kick on demand when I was pregnant! You are so very loved and never forgotten.”

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32

According to Mexican media reports, Paniagua came to the United States from the Mexican state of Veracruz in search of a better life. He had lived in Florida for six years.

“He worked day and night to send money to his family,” his friend Norman Joel de Jesus wrote on Facebook. “For him, his family was everything. I will never forget when he would text me at 5 in the morning just to tell me to have a good day. Joel, I will always carry you in my thoughts...I will never forget your humility.”

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19

Josaphat, one of the youngest victims identified in the shooting, was interested in computers, photography and working out.

“He was very excited about his journey,” his uncle, Christopher Long, told the Orlando Sentinel. “He mentioned to me that he wanted to start taking pictures. He had a passion for photography. He was just real special.”

His relatives spent Sunday trying to find out what happened and were eventually sent home from the hospital on Sunday night before learning the tragic news on Monday morning.

Cory James Connell, 21

Connell studied sports journalism and broadcasting at Valencia Community College, according to his Facebook profile. A GoFundMe established by staff at the College Park Community Paper had raised over $2,000 in an hour.

Chris Richards, a friend of Connell’s since high school, said Connell dreamed of being a firefighter and had just been accepted to a local EMT school in Orlando.

“He was very passionate about helping people and always put others before himself,” Richards said.

He remembers bowling and jet skiing with Connell, who loved sports.

“Cory was the type of person who would always put a smile on your face and the friend who was always there for you,” Richards said.

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37

Rivera was at Pulse with his partner, Luis Daniel Conde, who also was killed in the attack. They were celebrating a friend’s birthday.

Luis Daniel Conde, 39

Conde was at Pulse with Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, who also was killed. He was from San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, according to Facebook. They were celebrating a friend’s birthday.

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33

Tomlinson sang with his band Frequency on Saturday night at Blue Martini nightclub, the Orlando Sentinel reported. His band frequently performed at the club and was known for covering songs from the 1970s through the 2010s. Frequency was scheduled to play three shows in the next two weeks at the Blue Martinis in Tampa and Orlando.

Tomlinson graduated from East Carolina University in 2003 and graduated from Northwest Cabarrus High School in 1999.

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25

Chevez-Martinez worked at Reunion Resorts. A fellow employee told the Orlando Sentinel he was “very kind and loving.”

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31

Wright was a seasonal employee who worked at Walt Disney World. He went to Pulse to celebrate his friend’s 21st birthday, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25

Fernandez was a lover of music, performing choreographed dances while singing Beyoncé or Jennifer Lopez, the Orlando Sentinel said.

“He filled our office with music,” said Yolando Quinones-Perez, Fernandez’s friend. “He sang Adele in the office until we couldn’t take it anymore. It just feels very quiet now.”

Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25

Crosby was a business owner who had his own marketing firm, Total Enterprise Concepts, according to the Orlando Sentinel. He frequently posted inspirational memes on Facebook.

“He was very ambitious,” his brother Chavis Crosby said. “Whatever goal he had in mind, he worked hard. Whether alone or on a team, he worked on that goal. He was definitely a good person and a good brother to me.”

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24

Camuy was a student journalist in Puerto Rico and moved to Florida to work for Telemundo. He worked on the show La Voz Kids that airs on the network and is produced in Orlando.

“We want to extend our thoughts, prayers and deepest condolences to Jonathan’s family and friends,” Cesar Conde, chairman of NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, said. “He was a great assistant producer and had been working with us since Yo Soy el Artista and previously at Telemundo Puerto Rico. Jonathan will be missed dearly.”

Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27

Rodriguez bought his first house a month and a half ago so his mother could live someplace nice, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

“He was just a caring, loving guy — just like a big teddy bear,” said one of his best friends, Ivonne Irizarry.

Rodriguez was the general manager of a check-cashing store. He loved cars and going to the beach.

“Whatever you needed, you could count on him,” Irizarry said. “Whatever the situation was, good or bad, he was with me. He was a friend. He was family. He was a brother. And it didn’t matter the time. If you called him and you needed help, he’d be there.”

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33

Ayala, a Puerto Rico native, was a biology assistant at OneBlood, according to his Facebook profile. OneBlood, a southeastern blood bank, has been at the forefront of collecting blood for the victims of the Orlando massacre.

Ayala, who graduated from a Puerto Rican university in 2005, was most recently living in Kissimmee.

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49

McCool posted at midnight on the 11th a video of people dancing at Pulse nightclub.

Farrell Marshall, one of McCool’s 11 children, started a GoFundMe page in his mother’s honor. The page had raised $4,500 in less than 24 hours.

“All I ask is for prayers and whatever you can to help me and brothers sisters to pick up the pieces where she left off,” Marshall said.

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24

Known as Mary, Solivan was at the club with friends and family Sunday, the New York Times reported.

Her brother-in-law, William Sabad Borges, posted a picture on Facebook taken with Solivan and Jonathan Vega, another victim, just before the gunman opened fire. In his post, he said Vega was found shielding Solivan’s body.

“Mary, you leave with a pain that I never thought I would feel,” Borges wrote in Spanish on Facebook. “Mary, I love you with all the strength of my being.”

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32

Leinonen moved from Detroit to Orlando years ago, WXYZ reported. His mother, Christine Leinonen, pleaded on national television for her son’s safety before his death was announced.

“I left him with ‘I love you Chris,’ ” she said on ABC news. “We’re on this earth for such a short time. Let’s try to get rid of the hatred and the violence, please!”

Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28

Candelario-Padro, an Orlando resident, worked as an ophthalmic technician at Florida Retina Institute, according to his Facebook profile. He studied nursing at Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico Recinto Metropolitano. He described himself in his Facebook intro as “an adventurous, easygoing but responsible man that would like to live the life completely.”

Frank Hernandez, 27

Julissa Leal drove 12 hours from Louisiana to Orlando to find her older brother.

Leal received a call from his boyfriend, who had lost track of Hernandez in the chaos of bullets and the screams. The boyfriend had been shot, but would survive.

“He told us that when the man started shooting, he got hit and started running,” said Leal, 18. “But when he looked back, he didn’t see him.”

He worked at a Calvin Klein store in Orlando and had been living in the city for three years.

Paul Terrell Henry, 41

Henry, a Chicago native, loved to dance and have fun, his boyfriend Francisco Hernandez told the Orlando Sentinel.

“I miss him. I love him,’’ Hernandez said in an email to the Sentinel. “I took care of him, and he took care of me. Such a loving spirit. I’ll always have him in my heart.

His daughter, Alexia, had just graduated high school.

Antonio Davon Brown, 29

Brown was serving in the U.S. Army as a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve. He was also a former student at Florida A&M University.

FAMU released this statement on Monday:

“Our hearts go out to all of the families of those affected in the tragic shooting that took place in Orlando on Sunday morning. The horrendous incident happened not far from the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University Law School in downtown Orlando.

“We are especially saddened by the news that one of the victims was part of the FAMU family. 29-year-old Antonio Davon Brown was a criminal justice major from Cocoa Beach, Florida and a member of ROTC during his time on the Hill. He graduated from FAMU in 2008 and is being remembered fondly by classmates and fellow alumni on social media. We will continue to update you about plans for a memorial or service of remembrance for alumnus Brown.

“In the meantime, the Florida A&M University community stands with the entire Orlando community in the wake of tragedy. Our thoughts, and prayers for peace, are with everyone in central Florida and across this nation.”

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24

Sanfeliz worked for JP Morgan Chase, according to his Facebook profile. Coworkers and friends posted on social media, remembering him from his work as a personal banker or from marching band at Gaither High School in Tampa.

Gabriel Santiago, 30, remembers helping Sanfeliz figure out how to tie his necktie as co-workers at JP Morgan Chase in Tampa.

“It was a brotherhood connection that will never be replaced,” he said of their friendship and work together.

More than anything, Santiago said, Sanfeliz tried to make everyone laugh and smile.

“That smile could definitely light up a room,” Santiago said, describing Sanfeliz as a prankster and jokester.

“He was an overall excellent human being.”

Akyra Monet Murray, 18

Murray’s mother was on the phone with her wounded daughter as she hunched in a bathroom stall, hiding from the shooter, the AP reported. Murray was in Orlando celebrating her graduation from West Catholic Preparatory School in Philadelphia.

The 18-year-old graduated third in her class last week and was headed to Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., the AP reported. She was the youngest victim.

Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25

Ortiz-Jimenez, a native of the Dominican Republic, lived in Carolina, Puerto Rico and attended Universidad del Este, according to his Facebook page.

A Selena Gomez fan, he attended her Revival tour performance in Orlando Friday night and posted several photos and videos from the concert on his Facebook page, calling her the “queen of the night” in Spanish.

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