Florida

Memorial T-shirts a tribute to Omar Mateen’s victims

Drew Malcolm pulls a memorial t-shirt for Pulse shooting victim Amanda Alvear, 22, off the press at Custom Signs and Embroidery at the Main Gate Flea Market in Kissimmee on Thursday afternoon, June 16, 2016. Malcolm said he made approximately 200 memorial shirts for the families of four of the victims on Thursday.
Drew Malcolm pulls a memorial t-shirt for Pulse shooting victim Amanda Alvear, 22, off the press at Custom Signs and Embroidery at the Main Gate Flea Market in Kissimmee on Thursday afternoon, June 16, 2016. Malcolm said he made approximately 200 memorial shirts for the families of four of the victims on Thursday. emichot@miamiherald.com

At the very back of this flea market south of the city, past the juice stand and the Mickey Mouse ears, past the Bob Marley towels and the rows of sunglasses, the family waits as the memorial T-shirts are printed.

The first cousin they had grown up with, the one who always organized family karaoke and dancing, was among the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. Amanda Alvear, 25, will be laid to rest next week, but first honored and celebrated by her family wearing T-shirts bearing her smiling face on the front.

And the solemn bookmark on the back: 12/12/1990-6/12/2016.

“We wanted to find a way to keep her close to our hearts,” said Lizbeth Benabe, one of 11 first cousins born of four siblings that moved here from Puerto Rico.

In the days after what is now the nation’s deadliest shooting by a lone gunman, Alvear’s family joined an anguished procession of families creating memorial T-shirts to wear as public expressions of grief, a way to capture a loved one’s life. And death.

Custom Signs & Embroidery shop, at a flea market in Kissimmee, has already printed 200 T-shirts for the family and friends of four of the shooting victims, including Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20, one of the youngest shooting victims.

“This is about always remembering him,” said Jelian Rivera, Ocasio-Capo’s friend, wearing a T-shirt with a digital image of him surrounded by clouds and doves. She said 50 T-shirts were made.

Alvear and her best friend since middle school, Mercedes Flores, were at the club together on the night of the shooting. Alvear, who was recording Snapchat clips from inside the club, captured the sudden barrage of loud gunshots. Both women were killed.

Alvear’s family planned to wear the memorial T-shirts — featuring eight different images of Alvear and family members on separate shirts — at a joint vigil Friday for the two in Davenport, about 35 miles south of Orlando. Alvear will be buried next week in Tampa, where she was moving to in the summer to start nursing school.

“We want this to be happy because that is how she was,” said another of Alvear’s cousins, Valeria Benabe. “She was the one in our family that made you laugh. She made everything into a family affair, and her smile was infectious.”

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