Who They Were: Portraits of the Orlando Victims | NECN
Orlando Nightclub Massacre

Orlando Nightclub Massacre

Coverage of the Orlando nightclub massacre, June 12, 2016

Who They Were: Portraits of the Orlando Victims

"I couldn't believe that he was gone. That he is gone. That this is happening"

Family Photos
From top left, clockwise: Mercedez Marisol Flores, Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, Kimberly "KJ" Morris, Shane Evan Tomlinson, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, and Edward Sotomayor Jr. were among the 49 killed in a shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub on Sunday, June 12, 2016.

They were dancers, immigrants, world travelers, partners. One was his family's "superhero," another deployed to Kuwait in the Army Reserve. The youngest had only just graduated from high school. All have been described as kind, loving and full of joy.

Their lives were cut short when a gunman wielding a semi-automatic rifle and a handgun opened fire inside a packed gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, early Sunday, killing 49 in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Here are some of the victims' stories: 

From left: Stanley Almodovar III, Amanda Alvear, Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, Alejandro Barrios Martinez
Photo credit: facebook

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.

'He Seemed So Sweet': Shooter's Former Neighbor Shocked'He Seemed So Sweet': Shooter's Former Neighbor ShockedA former neighbor of the Orlando nightclub shooter says she never noticed anything strange about Omar Mateen and that the woman who lived with him was "extremely nice." Tricia Adorno recalled seeing Mateen every day in his security guard uniform, and one time he helped her work on her car. Adorno was shocked to learn Mateen was behind the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. (Published Tuesday, June 14, 2016)

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."

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Amanda Alvear, 25, had bonded with friend Sandy Marte over breakups and health problems. Marte said he was trying to comfort her after the breakup. She had lost a lot of weight following gastric bypass surgery and Marte encouraged her to socialize and enjoy life. 

"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. She was a really good person." 

Both Alvear and her friend, Mercedez Marisol Flores, posted on Snapchat from the nightclub before the shooting. Flores was also killed.

Orlando Survivor: 'I Regret Having the Second Chance'Orlando Survivor: 'I Regret Having the Second Chance'Luis Burbano felt his bones shake when bullets started flying early Sunday at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. At first, he thought it was part of the music. Burbano, who rushed to the aid of the injured, is now unable to sleep and struggling to understand why he was spared. (Published Tuesday, June 14, 2016)

Marte said Alvear's post on Snapchat showed a packed club full of revelers, flashing lights and thumping music — then a selfie video of Alvear with a series of gunshots in the background. 

Marte said he understands what it's like to be at a nightclub during a shooting. He was at the Glitz Ultra Lounge in Orlando in February when two people were killed. He said he froze in place from the shock of it.

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Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26, lived with his partner, Simon Adrian Carillo-Fernandez, and three Chihuahuas in a home they bought last year, a friend, Andrea Herrera, told the Orlando Sentinel. 

Yamilka Pimentel, a cousin, said Araceno-Montero moved with his father from the Dominican Republic to Central Florida as a child. 

"Oscar was a very sweet guy. Very sweet to everybody," Pimentel told the newspaper. "Every time he met somebody they would like him a lot. He was the type of guy who goes along with anybody."

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Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33, was a biologics supervisor at the OneBlood donation center, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

"He's alive in the people's lives that he saved," said Mat Simons, who worked under Ayala-Ayala and said his supervisor was also a blood donor.

Orlando Shooter Was a 'Regular' at Pulse: PatronOrlando Shooter Was a 'Regular' at Pulse: PatronRegular customers of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando say they recall seeing shooter Omar Mateen at the gay bar on several occasions. Jim Van Horn, 71, said he was a frequent patron at Pulse and Mateen was another "regular." Van Horn told The Associated Press on Monday that Mateen "was a homosexual and he was trying to pick up men." (Published Wednesday, June 15, 2016)

Ayala-Ayala had bought a car and a house within the past year. Wednesday would have been his one-year anniversary of home-ownership.

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Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21, had recently moved to Florida from Cuba and was still trying to master English, according to a friend.

Sarai Torres told the Orlando Sentinel she met Martinez last year, and he "always had a smile on his face."

"Every interaction I had with him was totally positive," she said, adding that she remembers Martinez as an outgoing person who introduced her to his other friends. "He's the type of person [who would] see you in a parking lot and he'd have a whole conversation with you."

Torres, 30, said she saw Martinez several times at Pulse nightclub, which she described as a good place to meet new people. She was not at the club during the shooting.

From left: Martin Benitez Torres, Antonio Davon Brown, Darryl Roman Burt II, Jonathan A. Camuy, Angel L. Candelario-Padro
Photo credit: facebook

Martin Benitez Torres, 33, had recently moved to Orlando and was working to become a pharmacy technician.

Benitez was a student at a Tampa satellite campus of the Ana G. Mendez University System, based in Puerto Rico, where he was born. In a university statement, one of his professors called him a "diligent and extremely hardworking student."

Benitez was "thankful for the opportunity to advance his career and hopeful to make his dreams a reality," according to Spanish professor Carla Zayas.

He posted several photos and videos on his Facebook page in the days before the shooting, including one in the kitchen cooking with family members.

The cover photo on his Facebook profile includes a quote in Spanish: "If God takes away my eyesight, it's because I've been allowed to see everything that's beautiful in the world."

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Capt. Antonio Davon Brown, 29, served in the Army Reserve and deployed to Kuwait for nearly a year.

Brown graduated in 2008 from Florida A&M, where he majored in criminal justice and participated in the ROTC program.

Lt. Col. Kelvin Scott, a ROTC instructor, remembered Brown's positive attitude and sense of humor.

"He kept a smile on his face," Scott told the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper. "He was willing to work very hard to earn his commission."

Tributes to Orlando Shooting Victims Pour in From Around the WorldTributes to Orlando Shooting Victims Pour in From Around the World

Devonta White, a friend of Brown's, said Brown was known in their dorm for waking up early for drills and becoming close friends with his fellow trainees, but also making friends outside of ROTC.

"He had a car so when he went to Wal-Mart, I would ride with him," White said. "We just became good friends over time. He helped me more than he knows."

An Army service record shows Brown deployed to Kuwait from April 2010 to March 2011.

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Darryl Roman Burt II, 29, worked as a financial aid officer for Keiser University's Jacksonville, Florida, campus.

As a volunteer, he co-chaired a clothing drive for the homeless for the Jacksonville Jaycees, a nonprofit organization.

"Darryl was very passionate about working in the community and wasn't afraid to take the lead," Jacksonville Jaycees President Shawn DeVries told the Indianapolis Star. "If someone needed anything, he'd usually just ask for the details: where, when and what are the deadlines."

Burt left behind family in central Indiana, and recently earned a degree in human resources management.

Keiser University's chancellor, Arthur Keiser, called Burt "a highly respected member of the KU team" on the school's website, and the school was providing grief counselors to help Burt's colleagues.

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Jonathan Camuy, 25, moved to Central Florida from his native Puerto Rico to work for the Spanish-language television network Telemundo, which is owned by NBCUniversal.

"We want to extend our thoughts, prayers and deepest condolences to Jonathan's family and friends," NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises Chairman Cesar Conde said in a statement.

Camuy was a contractor who worked in audience management on the Telemundo show "La Voz Kids," a singing competition for children inspired by NBC's "The Voice," according to NBCUniversal President and CEO Steve Burke.

He previously worked for Telemundo Puerto Rico's "Alexandra de Noche" and was killed at Pulse, family and friends told Telemundo.

Camuy was also a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, which confirmed his death in a statement from the president Monday.

Those who knew Camuy described him as caring and talented with a bright future.

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Angel Candelario-Padro moved to Orlando from Chicago in January to be closer to family. 

The 28-year-old nurse from Guanica, Puerto Rico, soon found a new job and a new love. 

"He was a humble boy, a good student. He liked to work and wasn't too much into partying," his aunt Leticia Padro told Univision

But he made an exception Saturday night, when he and his boyfriend went to Pulse with friends. 

Witness Account from Pulse Nightclub in OrlandoWitness Account from Pulse Nightclub in OrlandoChristopher Hansen describes what he did to help save someone's life. (Published Sunday, June 12, 2016)

Leticia Padro said her nephew's boyfriend, who was shot several times and is in the hospital, told her that after hearing several shots he turned to Candelario-Padro and asked if he was OK. 

"He told him he was OK, but in that instant he fell to the floor," Padro said. 

Minutes before the shooting, Candelario-Padro had posted a photo on Facebook that showed him smiling broadly while standing next to his boyfriend and two friends. 

Candelario-Padro, who served in the National Guard, loved music and had played the clarinet in his hometown's band, Efrain Padro, an uncle who lives in Guanica, told The Associated Press. 

"A lot of people know our family in Guanica and are showing a lot of support in this tough time," he said. "We're waiting for his body to be brought home. We will welcome him with music." 

From left: Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, Juan Chavez-Martinez, Luis Daniel Conde, Cory James Connell, Tevin Eugene Crosby
Photo credit: facebook

Simon Adrian Carrillo-Fernandez, 31, loved to travel and "worked to be able to enjoy his life," said co-worker Ivonne Irizarry.

A manager at McDonald's, Carillo-Fernandez had traveled to the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Mexico and went on cruises, Irizarry said.

He and his partner, Oscar Aracena-Montero, who also was killed at the nightclub, had just returned from Niagara Falls, Irizarry told the Orlando Sentinel.

Pulse Is More Than a Nightclub, But 'Place of Solidarity': ObamaPulse Is More Than a Nightclub, But 'Place of Solidarity': ObamaPresident Barack Obama spoke about the deadly shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, calling Pulse more than a night club, but "a place of solidarity, empowerment, where people have come together, to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights." (Published Sunday, June 12, 2016)

Carillo-Fernandez never forgot a birthday, she said, and would bring in cakes for his McDonald's co-workers.

Colleagues said Carrillo-Fernandez's attention to detail was a trademark of his leadership style.

"He had to be the best, that was his thing. I cook the best, I clean the best, I work the best," she said of him.

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Juan Chavez Martinez, 25, was a beloved boss and friend, friends and co-workers told the Orlando Sentinel.

Friends said Martinez came to the U.S. from Huichapan, Mexico, and worked as a housekeeping supervisor for a hospitality service company.

"He was extremely friendly, very dedicated to his family, to his co-workers . It is very difficult. Everybody loved him," said Alicia Amarro, chief financial officer for the company, APDC Services.

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Jose Crisantos used to work with Martinez at Reunion Resorts and also remembered Martinez's kindness.

"He was very well known among us as very kind and loving," Crisantos said. "There was nobody else like him. It is a devastating loss."

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Luis Daniel Conde, 39, ran Alta Peluqueria D'magazine, a beauty salon in Kissimmee, with his longtime partner, Juan Pablo Rivera Velasquez, who was also killed at Pulse.

"Everyone knows about this beauty salon," Irene Rivera told the Orlando Sentinel. She spoke of the couple's work on the Belieza Latina pageant.

Tania Mercador was in tears as she described how she was supposed to have joined Conde and Velasquez at Pulse the night they died.

"I used GPS and got lost," she said. "It kept sending me to the wrong address."

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Cory James Connell, 21, was his family's superhero, his brother Ryan said in a Facebook post.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, friends and even a former middle school teacher posted to Facebook remembering Connell.

"I've taught almost 1,700 kids at Lee. He was so special," said Shelley Klein, a science teacher at Lee Middle School. "All of his teachers at Lee adored him. We describe him as our all-time favorite."

Deadly Nightclub Shooting Leaves Orlando ReelingDeadly Nightclub Shooting Leaves Orlando Reeling

Nancy Robbinson, a member of the Orange County School Board, remembered the smiles and hugs Connell greeted her with when she saw him at Publix where he worked.

"Every time I saw him, he greeted me with a warm, inviting smile and a cheery, 'Hey, Mrs. Robbinson,' and sometimes I was even blessed to get a hug," she wrote. "I just saw him at Publix a week ago and got one of those great hugs.

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Tevin Eugene Crosby's inspirational posts on Facebook — "2016 will be the best year ever" — represented his drive for success. 

Chavis Crosby, told the Orlando Sentinel that his brother was ambitious and hard-working. "Whatever goal he had in mind, he worked hard. Whether alone or on a team, he worked on that goal." 

Tevin Crosby, 25, was director of operations for a Michigan marketing firm. He recently visited his family in Statesville, North Carolina, to watch several nieces and nephews graduate. Then he traveled to Orlando after passing along some brotherly advice about business and setting goals. He loved to travel for work and fun, Chavis Crosby said. 

"He was definitely a good person and a good brother to me," he said.

From left: Franky Jimmy De Jesus Velazquez, Deonka Deirdra Drayton, Frank Escalante Hernandez, Mercedez Marisol Flores, Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz
Photo credit: facebook

Franky Jimmy De Jesus Velazquez, 50, worked as a visual merchandiser, designing displays for an Orlando clothing store, according to his Facebook page. He posted international and funny messages on his page, including a T-shirt that read: "Never underestimate an old man who is also a visual merchandiser."

On a list of victims with an average age of 29 years old, Velazquez was the oldest. But age never became a barrier for Velazquez, former co-worker Bret Werner said.

"He was a very outgoing, friendly person," said Werner, who worked with him at a clothing store in Miami. "Everyone wanted to be around him."

Among family and friends in his native Puerto Rico, Velazquez was known for Jibaro folk dancing, said his sister Shiela De Jesus. "He was a very loved person."

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Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32, was quick to tell someone off if she thought they were in the wrong, but it was her way of showing she cared, an ex-girlfriend said.

Drayton had been in legal trouble involving drugs, but Ashleigh Alleyne told the Orlando Sentinel Drayton was changing after they had been arrested together a couple years ago.

"She was actually putting in effort, because we both hit rock bottom at the same time," Alleyne said. "She pushed me to get through her issues,a nd I always tried to do the same for her."

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Frank Escalante Hernandez, 27, loved fashion and lived to purchase the finest pieces of clothing at Calvin Klein or Armani.

"He had the best of everything, the most expensive," said Jessica Leal, 19, one of his five siblings. "He liked the good stuff. And he worked hard for it."

A manager at a Calvin Klein store in Orlando, Hernandez grew up in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, near the U.S.-Mexico border, and had lived in Central Florida for three years.

Pulse Nightclub Massacre Witness Speaks on TragedyPulse Nightclub Massacre Witness Speaks on TragedyA clubgoer followed his instinct and left Pulse Nightclub in Orlando after he says he smelled ammunition. NBC10's George Spencer is in Orlando and spoke to the witness about what he saw. (Published Monday, June 13, 2016)

Hernandez also loved Beyonce and going out to dance, and he frequented Pulse, Leal said. According to media reports, Hernandez's boyfriend was able to escape, but lost track of Hernandez in the chaos.

His sister has planned a fitting tribute: She'll wear Calvin Klein at his funeral.

"I'm pretty sure he'd love it if he saw it," she said.

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Mercedez Marisol Flores went to Pulse nightclub almost every weekend, Flores' sister-in-law said Monday, often with her best friend Amanda Alvear. Both women died in the shooting. 

"She was very outgoing," Nancy Flores said of Mercedez Flores. "She had lots of friends. They used to always meet up at Pulse." 

Born in Queens, New York, the 26-year-old Flores moved to Florida when she was a child, her sister-in-law said. She worked at Target and studied at Valencia College, a local community college. She wanted to become a party planner so she could coordinate events with her two older brothers, who are both DJs. 

Flores' family spent hours waiting at Orlando Regional Medical Center, then a staging area at a nearby hotel. 

Someone came to read the names of victims still hospitalized or being released. Mercedez Flores' name wasn't on the list. 

It wasn't until the early hours of Monday that her father got a call from the sheriff's office that his daughter had died, Nancy Flores said.

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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," said his aunt, Sonia Cruz.

Gonzalez-Cruz went to Pulse on Saturday night with his best friend, 25-year-oldGilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, who was also killed. 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. 

‘I Would Have Arrested Him Myself’: Orlando Shooter’s Father‘I Would Have Arrested Him Myself’: Orlando Shooter’s FatherThe father of the man authorities say opened fire at a gay Florida nightclub in a massacre that left 49 victims dead says the attack goes against everything he taught his son.

Speaking to reporters Monday morning, Seddique Mir Mateen — the father of gunman Omar Mateen — said the family is shocked by what happened and that if he'd known what his son was planning, he would have arrested him himself. (Published Monday, June 13, 2016)

Silva grew up in Manati, Puerto Rico, and moved to Orlando a few years ago, his cousin Irma Silva-Lauer told the Orlando Sentinel. He was an only child and "the light and the life of all the family gatherings," Silva-Lauer said.

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.

From left: Juan Ramon Guerrero, Paul Terrell Henry, Miguel Angel Honorato, Javier Jorge-Reyes, Jason Benjamin Josaphat
Photo credit: facebook

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.

Top News Photos of the WeekTop News Photos of the Week

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."

Guerrero's boyfriend was identified as Christopher Leinonen, and Robert Guerrero said Juan's boyfriend was regarded by relatives as part of the family.

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Paul Terrell Henry, 41, was a caring father of two who loved to dance, play piano and sing, according to his friends and his boyfriend.

Francisco Hernandez, Henry's boyfriend, told the Orlando Sentinel the Chicago native's main priority was to make sure his kids were taken care of.

"Such a loving spirit. I'll always have him in my heart," said Hernandez, who added that he will most remember Henry for his smile.

Bettye Edwards, of Oviedo, told the newspaper that she and Henry started a church briefly and that Henry had a master's degree in business from Florida State University and a theological degree. Henry never took a lesson, Edwards said, but he was a talented musician who sang and played the organ and piano.

Danielle Biggers, of Orlando, said she worked with Henry as a sales representative at a resort company.

"He always would make sure he would say hello," she said. "He just was over the top and made everybody smile."

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Jose Honorato wrote a simple, heartfelt message on his brother's Facebook page Sunday: "Come home bro, I'm waiting for you." 

Miguel Honorato did not survive the shooting.

A father of three, among them a one and two-year-old, 30-year-old Miguel Honorato managed four restaurants in central Florida along with a catering business on the side and was always the one to drop everything to help out his family, which included seven siblings. 

"He was my mentor and my supporter. He helped very much in my parent's house and work," Jose Honorato said. Even though Miguel was younger he was the one who gave sage advice about the family business, his brother said. 

Jose Honorato changed his Facebook photo Monday to one of the two brothers smiling over a charcoal grill, one of many happy memories cooking together.

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Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40, was known as "Javi" by his friends and as "Harvey George-Kings" on Facebook — a literal English translation of his name.

But his Facebook profile name belied a deep pride in his Latino heritage, friends told the Orlando Sentinel.

"He was proud to be Latino, super proud," friend Jose Diaz told the newspaper, adding: "He was always positive. He was very humble. He was a lovely friend."

Diaz recalled being sold a wallet by Jorge-Reyes, who worked at a Gucci store at an Orlando mall.

Another friend, Edith Colon of Miami, said Jorge-Reyes was a top salesman and makeup artist.

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Jason Josaphat, 19, called his mother as a gunman opened fire to ask for help, his aunt and uncle said.

She stayed on the line with him and could hear gunshots in the background, but tried to calm him down as he hid in the bathroom, Jimmy and Myrleine Inelus told KPNX-TV in Arizona, where Josaphat went to high school.

His mother then didn't hear anything for as many as 20 seconds.

"It was dead silence on the phone ... I think that's when the gunman finally made his way into the bathroom," Jimmy Inelus said.

Josaphat moved to Orlando after graduating from high school in 2014. A childhood friend, Messiah McMillian, told KNXV-TV that he was one of the first people whom Josaphat told he was gay.

"When I found out, I never judged him," McMillian said. "I never looked at him any differently. He was always my friend."

From left: Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, Christopher Andrew Leinonen, Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez
Photo credit: facebook

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice tapped out a series of chilling text messages to his mother from a bathroom at the Orlando nightclub. The 45-minute exchange began with a message of love. 

"Mommy I love you," the first message to Mina Justice said at 2:06 a.m. The messages became more frantic as he confirmed to her that the shooter was in the bathroom where he was hiding. 

"He's a terror," her son said. 

Eddie Justice, 30, was normally a homebody who liked to eat and work out, his mother said. He liked to make everyone laugh. He worked as an accountant and lived in a condo in downtown Orlando. 

"Lives in a sky house, like the Jeffersons," his mother said she liked to say, referring to the TV sitcom about a family living in a hi-rise.

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Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25, started dancing at the age of 10 and was comfortable with any number of styles, from salsa to ballroom, his cousin Ana Figueroa said. 

Figueroa told the Orlando Sentinel that Laureano Disla invited her out for a night of dancing at Pulse nightclub, but she told him she was too tired. 

He was out with two roommates, both of whom were injured in the shooting, she said. The newspaper did not identify the roommates. 

Born in Puerto Rico, Laureano Disla moved to Orlando about three years ago to become a dancer and choreographer, Figueroa said. 

"I want people to remember Anthony as someone who was very happy and very kind," Figueroa said. "This is just devastating for our family and his friends."

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Christopher Leinonen, 32, was at Pulse with his boyfriend, Juan Ramon Guerrero, and friend Brandon Wolf, who sent a text to Leinonen's mother to say a shooting had occurred and her son was missing. 

Christine Leinonen drove to Orlando at 4 a.m. from Polk County, southwest of the city. When she arrived, she began checking emergency rooms to find her son. She never did. 

"These are nonsensical killings of our children," she said, sobbing. "They're killing our babies!" 

She said Wolf survived by hiding in a bathroom and running out as the bullets flew.

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Isaiah Henderson watched his mother die. The 21-year-old was out with Brenda Lee Marquez McCool when bullets sprayed the crowd at Pulse nightclub shortly after 2 a.m. Sunday. McCool, 49, would often visit the club with her son, who is gay.

A two-time cancer survivor and mother of 11, McCool had roots in New York and spent time in California before heading back east. She settled down in Florida with six of her kids, her oldest daughter, Khalisha Pressley, told NBC News.

"She was always really cool, but really a mom at the end of the day," Pressley explained, calling McCool "the lovingest person in the world."

Pressley answered her brother's call early Sunday. He was screaming.

"He saw everybody getting killed," Pressley said, adding that Henderson, who survived, "feels it was his fault" their mother died.

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Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35, had a humor and warmth that made him a great salesman — and helped him find love, a co-worker said. 

"He laughed with the people and would make jokes," said Claudia Agudelo, who worked with Perez at a perfume store. "He was always happy." 

Mendez Perez met his longtime partner, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, about a decade ago when he sold him the fragrance Declaration by Cartier, Agudelo told the Orlando Sentinel. Wilson-Leon also died in the nightclub shooting. 

Mendez Perez moved to the U.S. from Puerto Rico when he was a teenager, and made friends quickly, father Angel Mendez said. 

"He was a real dynamic kid," he said. 

Sister-in-law Katia Mendez said Mendez Perez also was a fun-loving and doting uncle who would buy her three children candy and ice cream. 

"He was like a little kid when he was with them," she said.

From left: Kimberly KJ Morris, Akyra Monet Murray, Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez
Photo credit: facebook

Kimberly Morris, 37, moved to Orlando just months ago and had taken a job at Pulse nightclub as a bouncer, friends told NBC Connecticut. Morris was a native of Torrington, Connecticut.

"She was so excited," ex-girlfriend Starr Shelton told the Orlando Sentinel. "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."

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Akyra Murray — the youngest victim to be identified — was barely a week out of high school when she was slain.

The 18-year-old basketball star at Philadelphia's West Catholic Preparatory High School was on vacation visiting her brother when she ventured to the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. She never left.

Murray, who had a full ride to Mercyhurst College, graduated third in her class and was a leading scorer on the basketball team, hitting the 1,000-point mark early in her senior season, according to the school.

"Akyra was a superstar who was a leader amongst her classmates and teammates," the school said in a statement posted on its website Monday.

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Jean Carlos Nieves Rodriguez, 27, was remembered by family and friends as a kind man and a hard worker.

Nieves Rodriguez, originally from Puerto Rico, had worked as manager of a McDonald's and a check-cashing store and bought his first house a month and a half ago, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

"He wanted to be the best at what he did, and he would work very hard to achieve that... That's why whatever job he went to, he became a manager," friend Ivonne Irizarry told the newspaper.

His sister Valeria Monroig said he "cared more about others than about himself."

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Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo wanted to be a star. The 20-year-old dancer was working at Starbucks inside a Kissimmee Target store while studying theater, and would have auditioned on Tuesday for a play, said his sister, Belinette Ocasio-Capo. 

"He was one of the most amazing dancers," she said. "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. 

"Now his name ended up being all around the world, like he wanted — just not this way." 

Omar, as he was known to family and friends, seemed brash to 70-year-old Claudia Mason, who worked with him at Starbucks. 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 was hired as a cashier before moving over to the Starbucks, and became a great barista, Mason said. 

"Omar got along with everyone. Young, old, male, female, gay, or straight, it didn't matter to Omar," she said.

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Geraldo Ortiz-Jimenez, 25, was known to friends and on Facebook as "Drake." He was proud of his Dominican heritage, posing with a flag of the Dominican Republic in celebration of a Dominican model winning Nuestra Belleza Latina 2016. The photo, posted on Facebook, included Spanish-language hashtags that translate as #proud #Dominican. 

Ortiz-Jimenez graduated from J.P. McCaskey High School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 2010, school district spokeswoman Kelly Burkholder told The Associated Press. He was living in Puerto Rico, according to his social media accounts, and studying at Universidad del Este in Carolina, Puerto Rico. 

Kevin Ortiz, a friend from college, described him as a humble man who was always concerned about staying fit and working toward fulfilling his dream of being a dancer.

From left: Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, Joel Rayon Paniagua, Enrique L. Rios Jr., Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan
Photo credit: facebook

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36, followed the crowd from a housewarming party to Pulse, according to former roommate Abismael Colon Gomez.

"I am really in shock that he was in the club, because he was not usually a club-scene person," Colon Gomez told the Orlando Sentinel.

Ortiz-Rivera worked in merchandise management and had earned a degree in communications from a university in Puerto Rico.

He left behind his husband of a year, Ivan Dominguez; they were married June 26, the day the U.S. Supreme Court gave same-sex couples the right to marry in all 50 states.

"It was a big and happy coincidence," Dominguez, 30, told The Associated Press. Dominguez is grieving, but said he still feels connected to his husband. He was not at the nightclub because he was supposed to work the next day.

Another friend posted on Ortiz-Rivera's Facebook page after learning of his death: "God just gained one funny and caring angel today."

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Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32, moved to Florida from Mexico in the early 2000s in search of a better life. 

He went back to his home state of Veracruz for several years to live with his family but returned to Tampa less than a year ago, relatives and friends said. 

"We came here for a better life," his cousin Jose Paniagua told Newsday. "We came because here in the United States there are many opportunities here and because we were fleeing because in our country there was a lot of crime, violence and death ... and we expect it should be more peaceful here." 

Rayon Paniagua, a construction worker, was looking forward to meeting friends at Pulse nightclub for another night of dancing, something he loved to do, longtime friend Lorena Barragan told the Orlando Sentinel

Barragan said Rayon Paniagua was a hard worker who sent money back home. 

"He was the best," said Barragan, who met Rayon Paniagua at church. "He was loyal. He was always trying to do stuff to make you feel better." 

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Enrique Rios Jr. — a churchgoer and college student from New York — was on vacation when he was gunned down at the Pulse nightclub. He was in Orlando to celebrate a friend's birthday.

"I'm not angry at the gunman. I'm angry about the situation. I'm going to forever miss my son ... but I still have the hope that I'm going to see him again one day," Rios' mother, Gertrude Merced, told reporters as she packed her bags outside her New York apartment and headed to Florida.

The 25-year-old lived in Brooklyn and studied at St. Francis College, where he had transferred last summer in hopes of completing his degree, the school said.

"Sadly, his dreams were cut short by this senseless act of violence," St. Francis College said in a statement to NBC New York.

Neighbors in Brooklyn remembered Rios as a "sweet person" who was community oriented and "always smiling."

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Juan Pablo Rivera Velazquez, 37, worked at Alta Peluqueria D'Magazine with Conde.

Client Alexandra Ale told the Orlando Sentinel the salon would often be filled with clients who were there just to see the Velazquez and Conde.

Ale said the salon would often provide free services to women who had been victims of domestic abuse.

"They would take the shirt off their back to help others," said Jocelyn De Leon, another client.

Messages were left in chalk on the sidewalk outside their salon. "We will always thank you for making us feel beautiful," one message read.

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Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24, was out for a night of dancing with her brother-in law and a friend, and posed for a photo before a gunman opened fire. 

Known as "Mary" to family and friends, Rodriguez Solivan was married to race car driver Juan Borges and had two children, the Orlando Sentinel reported. 

Her friend, Jonathan Antonio Camuy, also died. Her brother-in-law, William Sabad Borges, was shot twice, but the injuries were not serious, the newspaper reported. 

"I swear, my heart has a ladder tall enough to reach you both," Sabad Borges wrote on Facebook. "Mary, you leave me with a pain that I never thought I would feel."

From left: Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, Edward Sotomayor Jr., Shane Evan Tomlinson
Photo credit: facebook

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24, was always friendly and outgoing, "the most positive guy I've ever known," friend Josh Palange said.

They became friends during middle school, and in high school, took honors classes and band together — Sanfeliz on trumpet. Though they didn't see each other much after graduating in 2010, "we stayed friends on Facebook," Palange told the Tampa Bay Times.

Sanfeliz's family moved there from Cuba in the 1960s, family friend Mike Wallace said. Sanfeliz took business classes at a community college and was hired as a bank teller and worked his way up to become a personal banker, Wallace said.

"He (was) a wonderful person and this is such a tragedy," said Wallace. "He was cut down in his prime."

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Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35, went by Eman Valentino on the stage. He dressed elegantly in a top hat, tie and gloves, collecting tips from the audience between high kicks and spins, according to a YouTube video. 

Off the stage, Rosado had a young son who had graduated from pre-kindergarten. 

"I have no words to express how proud and happy I am of my little boy," Rosado wrote on Facebook recently about his son. 

Yemil Royce, a friend, described Rosado as hard-working, talkative and friendly: "He was a lovely friend, brother and father."

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Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25, moved to Orlando a few years ago, his cousin, Irma Silva-Lauer, told the Orlando Sentinel. 

He was an only child and "the light and the life of all the family gatherings," Silva-Lauer said.

He worked at UPS and died at Pulse alongside his best friend, Peter "Ommy" Gonzalez-Cruz.

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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."

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."

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Singing was Shane Tomlinson's passion. He had just performed as the lead vocalist with "The Frequency Band" on Saturday night at Blue Martini club before going to Pulse, according to the Orlando Sentinel. 

"He was destined for a grand stage and he was doing exactly what he wanted to do," said Dr. Lathan Turner, associate director of student transitions at East Carolina University, where Tomlinson graduated in 2003 with a degree in communication. 

Tomlinson, 33, was a vibrant and charismatic lead vocalist for the band, performing at night clubs and weddings in the Orlando area. 

"I've never met anyone like him," said Carey Sobel, an Orlando resident who hired Tomlinson's band to play for his upcoming wedding. "He was really special." 

Tarrick Cox, an adviser for Eastern Carolina's gospel choir who worked with Tomlinson when he was a member, remembers his contagious personality and the laughter that surrounded him. 

"He was gifted and creative. He was a go-getter," Cox said in a statement from the university. 

From left: Leroy Valentin Fernandez, Luis S. Vielma, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, Jerald Arthur Wright
Photo credit: facebook

Leroy Valentin Fernandez recently had found a job as a leasing agent for an Orlando apartment complex, said his friend, Jennifer Rodriguez. "He had finally found something he liked. He was taking care of his mom," she said. 

He was her hair stylist and became one of her best friends, she said. "He was like a brother," she said. "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 dancer was Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35, who also died and left behind a young son who had graduated from pre-kindergarten earlier this month. 

"I have no words to express how proud and happy I am of my little boy," Rosado, 35, wrote on Facebook recently about his son. 

A friend described Rosado as hard-working, talkative and friendly. Said Yemil Royce: "He was a lovely friend, brother and father." 

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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Luis Vielma worked as a ride attendant at Universal Studios' Wizarding World of Harry Potter, according to NBCUniversal president and CEO Steve Burke.

Author J.K. Rowling tweeted about Vielma's death.

"Luis Vielma worked on the Harry Potter ride at Universal. He was 22 years old. I can't stop crying," she wrote.

Vielma studied emergency medical services at Seminole State College and was enrolled in a CPR class over the summer, according to a press release from the college.

"These events have shocked and saddened the Central Florida community and we are heartbroken over the tragic events this weekend," the college wrote.

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. 

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.

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Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, who went by Dani, barely spoke English when he moved from Puerto Rico to Florida in 2004, but he wasn't deterred by the language barrier. His cousin, Laly Santiago-Leon, said he learned English in six months, got a job at a store that sells fragrances and quickly rose through the ranks. 

"He was loved by everyone," Santiago-Leon said. "He walked into the room and all eyes were on him because of his positive energy, just what he radiated." 

She said her cousin frequented Pulse nightclub with his partner of six years, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, who also was killed in the attack. The two loved Latin Night, and Wilson-Leon, 37, had posted pictures of the club online before Sunday morning's rampage. 

Santiago-Leon, 40, said her cousin wanted to be treated like everybody else, to be a family man, to be a good person and to help people in need. He had an infectious laugh and loved to cook Puerto Rican food, she said. 

She learned of his death Sunday. 

"I couldn't believe that he was gone. That he is gone. That this is happening," she said. "I'm heartbroken."

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Jerald Arthur Wright, 31, was quiet but knew how to treat guests at Walt Disney World, where he worked as a seasonal employee, a former co-worker said.

"He was one of the kindest people you could meet," co-worker Kenneth Berrios told the Orlando Sentinel. "We had students from the London program ... and Jerry was always willing to give rides to them and show them around town."

Wright "was a great guy to work with," former co-worker Scott Dickison said. "He was quiet but really wonderful with all the guests. He always had a smile on his face."

Dickison said Wright had worked most recently in merchandising on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, but also had worked in Tomorrowland and at Universal Studios in Orlando.