Crime & Justice

Orlando shooting: Friends, family remember victims

Flags fly at half-staff around the Washington Monument at daybreak in Washington with the US Capitol in the background Monday, June 13, 2016. President Barack Obama ordered flags lowered to half-staff to honor the victims of the Orlando nightclub shootings.
Flags fly at half-staff around the Washington Monument at daybreak in Washington with the US Capitol in the background Monday, June 13, 2016. President Barack Obama ordered flags lowered to half-staff to honor the victims of the Orlando nightclub shootings.
J. David Ake/AP

A gunman wielding an assault-type rifle and a handgun opened fire inside a crowded gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, early Sunday, leaving 49 people and the shooter dead in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said that GLAAD is on the ground in Florida working with local organization Equality Florida to get the stories of the victims out to the press.

"I think we are going to hear 49 incredible stories coming out of Orlando who were wonderful, and colorful and were big parts of their community, and whose lives were lost way too soon," Ellis told KPCC. "It’s about getting our personal stories out there. It’s about being visible as LGBTQ and not going back in the closet."

Here are some of those stories:

Edward Sotomayor

Edward Sotomayor, 34, was a caring, energetic man known for wearing a silly top hat on cruises, according to David Sotomayor, who said the two discovered they were cousins after meeting at Orlando's annual Gay Days festival around a decade ago.

David Sotomayor, who lives in Chicago, told The Associated Press Sunday that Edward worked for a company that held gay cruises and often traveled to promote the company's events.

"He was just always part of the fun," David Sotomayor said.

The two texted regularly and kept in touch, last seeing each other earlier this year at a filming of the television reality show "RuPaul's Drag Race," David Sotomayor said.

David Sotomayor is a drag queen who appeared on a season of the show using the name "Jade." He said Edward Sotomayor supported him and often sent him Facebook messages. They last exchanged messages late last week.

"You never think that's going to be the last time you speak to him," David Sotomayor said. "It's just heartbreaking to know it just can happen anytime."

— AP

Juan Ramon Guerrero


Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22, told his cousin Robert Guerrero he was gay about two years ago, but he was worried about how the rest of his family would react. He did not tell them until just before the beginning of this year. And when he did?

"They were very accepting," said Guerrero, 19. "As long as he was happy, they were OK with it."

On Sunday morning, after learning that so many people had died at a gay nightclub, Pulse, that his cousin had gone to once in a while, Guerrero started to become concerned. Later in the day, his fears were realized when the family learned that Guerrero was identified as one of the victims.

Robert Guerrero said his cousin worked as a telemarketer and in recent months he started attending college at the University of Central Florida. Guerrero said his cousin didn't quite know what he wanted to study, but he was happy to be in school. And he was happy in a relationship with a person his relatives came to regard as a member of the family, Guerrero said.

"He was always this amazing person (and) he was like a big brother to me," he said of his cousin. "He was never the type to go out to parties, would rather stay home and care for his niece and nephew."

— AP

Stanley Almodovar III

Stanley Almodovar III's mother had prepared a tomato-and-cheese dip for him to eat when he came home from his night out.

Instead, Rosalie Ramos was awakened by a call at 2 a.m. Sunday telling her something had happened.

Ramos told the Orlando Sentinel her son, a 23-year-old pharmacy technician, posted a Snapchat video of himself singing and laughing on his way to Pulse nightclub.

"I wish I had that (video) to remember him forever," she told the newspaper.

A friend, Hazel Ramirez, told the Washington Post she also saw a video from Almodovar on Snapchat 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. It was so easy to be myself with him.

— AP

Kimberly Morris

Kimberly Morris, 37, moved to Orlando just months ago and had taken a job at Pulse nightclub as a bouncer, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

"She was so excited," ex-girlfriend Starr Shelton told the newspaper. "She'd just started working there and told me how she was thrilled to get more involved in the LGBT community there," Shelton said.

Friends described Morris as a kind, sweet person.

Narvell Benning met Morris when they were in college at Post University in Waterbury, Connecticut, where Benning said they both played basketball.

"I can't think of a time when I did not see a smile on her face," Benning told the Sentinel. "I'm so thankful of the good memories I have of her. This is just unreal."

— AP

Luis Vielma

Everyone loved Luis Vielma, a 22-year-old who worked at Universal Studios, friends said.

High school friend Eddi Anderson told the Tampa Bay Times that Vielma loved his job at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and was known for his pleasant attitude and warm demeanor.

J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books that spawned the movies and Orlando theme park, tweeted a picture of Vielma in a Hogwarts school tie, and said: "I can't stop crying."


Josh Boesch, who worked with Vielma at Universal, told the Orlando Sentinel: "He was always a friend you could call. He was always open and available."

Vielma "just wanted to make people smile," another co-worker, Olga Glomba, said.

— AP

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 — known among family and friends as "Ommy" — was always the life of the party.

"Peter makes a difference everywhere he goes. He was a happy person. If Peter is not at the party, no one wants to go," his aunt, Sonia Cruz, said.

Gonzalez-Cruz went to Pulse on Saturday night with his best friend, 25-year-old Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez. After news of the mass shooting emerged, Cruz said she held out hope for hours that her nephew would turn up in a hospital bed.

But late Sunday afternoon, she was told he was among those killed at the club.

Cruz said she had her nephew's car keys and was hoping to collect his car Sunday evening. It was parked at a Wendy's across the street from Pulse, one of many with yellow police caution tape tucked under the windshield wipers, vehicles left behind by victims of the shooting.

Cruz said her nephew worked at UPS.

— AP

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo

At first, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo seemed brash to 70-year-old Claudia Mason, who worked with "Omar" at the Starbucks inside a Kissimmee Target store.

But after getting to know her much younger co-worker, "I realized he had a very outgoing personality," said Mason. "His sense of humor was definitely his defining personality trait."

Ocasio-Capo, 20, was hired as a cashier before moving over to the Starbucks, and became a great barista, Mason said.

"I think he found his niche at Starbucks," she said. "Omar got along with everyone. Young, old, male, female, gay, or straight, it didn't matter to Omar."


Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera

Ortiz-Rivera was the man everyone in his family asked for design advice, his cousin Orlando Gonzalez told The New York Times.

"He was very artistic," Gonzalez told the Times. "He was all about interior design."

The paper reports that the 36-year-old "goofball" — Gonzalez's words — lived in downtown Orlando with his husband.


Eddie Jamoldroy Justice

Eddie Justice, 30, was an accountant, living in downtown Orlando, who loved to eat and work out, The Associated Press reports. He woke his mother up shortly after 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, with a text message:

"Mommy I love you." Then: "In club they shooting."

Mina Justice and her son exchanged messages for nearly an hour, the AP reports. Eddie Justice was trapped in a bathroom at Pulse as the hostage situation began. He asked his mother to call the police, telling her a man was shooting, lots of people were wounded.

"He has us," he told her. "He's in the bathroom with us."

"He's a terror."

His death was announced Monday.


Darryl Roman Burt II

Burt, 29, was a financial aid officer at Keiser University in Jacksonville, the Florida Times-Union reports.

"He always had a smile on his face and was a very nice guy. He definitely leaves an impression and had a big personality and he is missed," campus president Lisamarie Winslow told the newspaper.

He was known for his colorful bowties, reporter Jenna Bourne has tweeted.


Deonka Deidra Drayton

A woman who identified herself as Drayton's aunt posted on Facebook that Drayton, 32, had been at work when she was shot.

Instagram user Melody Maia, posted a photo of Drayton (center) taken on Friday, a day before the shooting.


Anthony Luis Laureanodisla

Laureanodisla, 25, who studied at the University of the Sacred Heart in San Juan, Puerto Rico, performed in drag as Alanis Laurell. "It is with deepest sorrow that we report that a member of the Drag community has lost their life due to the shooting at pulse night club in Orlando Florida," says a Facebook post from the community page Drag Around the World. "Alanis Laurell was a[n] amazing performer and a beautiful person inside and out."

Originally from Puerto Rico, Laureanodisla studied education at the university, according to a Facebook tribute page. He moved to Orlando three years ago to "pursue a career as a dancer and choreographer," according to the Orlando Sentinel. He'd gone dancing at Pulse with his roommates on Saturday, and his family grew alarmed when they didn't hear from him after he texted them at 2:07 a.m. "What I have now is a pain beyond repair," wrote cousin Lucas Daniel Acosta D'oleo.


Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50

Amanda Alvear, 25

Martin Benitez Torres, 33

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31

Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26

Enrique L. Rios Jr., 25

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19

Cory James Connell, 21

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37

Luis Daniel Conde, 39

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25

Associated Press reporters Nomaan Merchant reported from Dallas and Don Babwin from Chicago. AP reporter Jason Dearen contributed from Orlando.

This story has been updated.