In every issue since the Pulse Nightclub shootings, Orlando Weekly profiled a person killed on June 12, 2016. Here are all of their stories.
Antonio “Tony” Davon Brown, 30 years old
U.S. Army Reserve Capt. Antonio “Tony” Davon Brown was known among his fellow troops for his smile and unwavering spirit.
Brown, originally from Port St. John, lived in Orlando and wanted to go to the gay nightclub Pulse on June 12 to have some fun, says his friend Keinon Carter. During the mass shooting that night, Brown and 48 other people died from their injuries.
“He was a newfound friend,” Carter says. “We hung out every day. We were kind of like new brothers. I just miss him.”
Brown served an 11-month tour in Kuwait during the Iraq War in 2010 and had been promoted to captain in 2012. He was a highly decorated soldier whose awards included a Meritorious Service Medal, two Army Achievement Medals, and the National Defense Service Medal. Before his death, he was working at Lowe’s as a human resources manager.
In a statement, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the attack in Orlando was a cowardly assault on the freedoms that Brown had devoted his life to protect.“Capt. Antonio Davon Brown served his country for nearly a decade, stepping forward to do the noblest thing a young person can do, which is to protect others,” he said. “His service both at home and overseas gave his fellow Americans the security to dream their dreams and live full lives.”
Brown graduated from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in 2008 with a major in criminal justice and was a member of the school’s ROTC program. He also earned a master’s in business administration from the University of Mary in North Dakota.
At Brown’s funeral, James Hickey told mourners that his older brother was a genuine person who had a joy for living, Florida Today reports. “He had a kind heart, and a loving soul, and he never met a stranger,” Hickey said. “To honor my brother, love somebody. Because that’s what he did.”
Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old
Stanley Almodovar was always happy and loved to have a good time, according to his stepbrother Alex Rodriguez. "He was the type of person that if he came into a room and everyone was frowning, he would put a smile on everyone's face," Rodriguez says. After his death, the city of Clermont officially declared June 28 Stanley Almodovar III Day in his memory. More than anything, Rodriguez says he wants people to remember his brother as the amazing person that he was and how positive he always seemed to be.
"I would like for people to remember his smile," Rodriguez says. "He was always enjoying life and living every day as if it were his last."
Amanda Alvear, 25 years old
Amanda Alvear loved hugs. After the Pulse shooting robbed her family and friends of her future embraces, her brother Brian started a "Hugs, Not Hate" campaign, giving hugs to hundreds of random strangers around Central Florida.
The night of the shooting, Alvear was at Pulse with her two best friends. On her Snapchat account, Alvear posted video snippets of the three dancing, drinking and having a good time at Latin Night. Her last video shows her confused as round after round of bullets is heard in the background.
"In every lifetime you are only afforded the opportunity to meet a handful of truly amazing people," Alvear's friend Craig Johnson wrote on Facebook. "There is no doubt that Amanda Alvear in my lifetime has been one of these people. ... She was epic in every sense of the word."
Oscar Aracena Montero, 26 years old
One of Oscar Aracena Montero's last dreams was to bring his mother from the Dominican Republican to Florida. He had left her in Santo Domingo as a child almost 10 years ago to move to Tampa with his father.
Listín Diario reports his mother, Altagracia Montero Díaz, was a month away from reuniting with her son when Aracena Montero perished at Pulse.
"Oscar played piano, he sang and he loved God since he was a child," his uncle said at a vigil after his death. "In my prayers for him, I remember a verse from the Bible that says, 'For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.'"
Rodolfo Ayala Ayala, 33 years old
Rodolfo Ayala Ayala was quiet and polite until you got to know him, says his friend Aileen Carrillo. The Puerto Rican native (often seen wearing a bow tie) was always positive, to the extent that he had a hard time listening to his friends complaining.
"He was extremely happy," Carrillo says. "He didn't give importance to negative things." In his spare time, Carrillo says, Ayala liked to bake cheesecakes for his loved ones at his new Kissimmee home and dance to bachata. But Ayala also worked a serious job as a platelet supervisor in Orlando's OneBlood laboratory, where he was passionate about saving lives.
After his death, his co-workers at OneBlood mourned "Rody" as they dealt with long lines of people waiting to donate blood for the surviving victims of Pulse.
Alejandro Barrios Martínez, 21 years old
Alejandro Barrios Martínez was full of dreams when he immigrated to the U.S.
He left his mother and grandmother in Cuba to come to Orlando in 2014. Barrios Martínez had recently gotten a new job and decided to celebrate at Pulse on June 12. When the shooting started, Barrios Martínez sent texts to his partner, Aday Suarez Molina, as he waited trapped in the bathroom. "I'm fine, but I don't know if I'll get out alive," he wrote in Spanish. "I'm writing to tell you I love you."
Barrios Martínez did not survive. "I promise you I will always, always love you, as you did until the final minute of your life," Suarez Molina wrote on Facebook after his death. His mother, Orquídea Martínez, was issued a humanitarian visa to see her son one last time.
Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old
Just hours before the shooting at Pulse nightclub, Martin Benitez Torres was posting videos to his Facebook page, laughing with his family as they cooked a meal on Saturday morning. His last post was a picture with family members, jokingly referring to them as the Kardashian sisters.
Originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico, Torres was in Orlando visiting his family. He was studying to be a pharmacy tech at a Tampa satellite campus of the Puerto Rican university Sistema Universitario Ana G. Méndez.
Torres, his friends wrote, was always able to appreciate the beauty around him. In his Facebook cover photo, he highlighted this quality with 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."
Darryl Roman Burt Jr., 29 years old
Beneath his dapper bow ties and professionalism, Darryl "DJ" Burt was someone who could make you laugh until your stomach hurt, says his cousin Takesha Burt. "DJ has been my best friend for the past 29 years," she says. "He was so smart and even though I was a year older, I really looked up to him."
Burt was a financial aid officer at Keiser University in Jacksonville. He had recently become a member of the Jacksonville Jaycees. "He was definitely one who wasn't afraid to take the lead," says Shawn DeVries, the president of the Jacksonville Jaycees. "He really wanted to help others." In June, Burt graduated from DeVry University with a master's degree in human resources management. On June 12, he was out with friends celebrating at Pulse.
On Facebook, Burt's mother posted baby pictures of her son. "We refuse to let the hatred of others steal the joy of our child," she wrote.
Jonathan Camuy Vega, 24 years old
Carlos Camuy says God planted a seed of love in his son's heart the day he was born. It was only after he died that they were able to see all the fruits of that love at his funeral. Hundreds came to pay their last respects in both Kissimmee and Puerto Rico to the young man who worked as a producer in Orlando for Telemundo's La Voz Kids, a singing competition for children.
A graduate of the University of Puerto Rico en Arecibo, Camuy Vega moved to Florida in 2015. His mother, Lourdes Vega, says he would text or call every day, and several times he made surprise visits back to Puerto Rico. Camuy Vega's partner says he called his mother his "eternal girlfriend" because she was the only woman who would never break his heart.
Camuy Vega died trying to protect his friend Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan from the shooting at Pulse. They, along with 47 others, both died in the massacre.
Ángel Luis Candelario Padró, 28 years old
Ángel Candelario Padró was preparing to start a new chapter in his life. Originally from Guánica, Puerto Rico, Candelario Padró was to start a new job as an ophthalmic technician at Florida Retina Institute in Orlando on June 20. He had also recently found love. On June 12, Candelario Padró was at Pulse with his boyfriend when he was killed.
The FRI says its physicians and employees were shocked to hear about Candelario Padró's death. "We were all looking forward to Angel becoming a part of our team," FRI said in a statement. "We cannot express how deeply grieved we are at this horrible turn of events."
Before moving to Orlando, Candelario Padró worked for nearly two years at the Illinois College of Optometry. "Our staff, faculty, and students are saddened by this tragedy and senseless loss of life," ICO said in a statement. "We will celebrate all that Angel was, and draw solace from his life and the imprint he made on our community."
At his funeral on the island, Candelario Padró was buried in a white lab coat with his stethoscope.
Simón Adrian Carrillo Fernández, 31 years old
Simón Carrillo Fernández came looking for the American Dream and found it in Kissimmee.
Originally from Venezuela, Carrillo Fernández moved to Florida in 2006 as the situation in his country worsened, says his sister Aileen Carrillo. Almost 10 years later, Carrillo Fernández had become a U.S. citizen and was studying to become an accountant.
"He was really spectacular in so many different ways," his sister says. "He was the baby, but sometimes it felt like he was the older sibling. He looked out for all of us." She also remembers him as someone who made her double over with his jokes. The last time she physically saw him months before his death, he made her laugh so much she called it "laughter therapy."
"It was never in my plans to lose you so quickly," she wrote to her brother on Facebook in Spanish. "How could I forget someone who gave me so much to remember?"
Juan Chávez Martínez, 25 years old
By day, Juan Chávez Martínez worked diligently as a housekeeping supervisor at the Reunion Resort in Kissimmee. But in his spare time, the Davenport resident dreamed of being a hairstylist, a makeup artist or a decorator, according to his friends.
Originally from Huichapan, Mexico, Chávez Martínez left his home almost a decade ago to help his parents out of poverty by sending them money. His sister-in-law Angelia Garza Chávez says he worked in construction for about a year with his brother in Bartow before moving closer to Central Florida's tourism district. Chávez Martínez was dancing at Pulse with his friends Selvin Dubon and Joel Rayón Paniagua on June 12. When the shooting started, Dubon was able to escape, but Chávez Martínez and Rayón Paniagua perished.
Leroy Valentín Fernández, 25 years old
Leroy Valentín Fernández was a diva, but not a Mariah Carey or a Madonna. Fernández lived by Beyoncé's definition of the word: "Diva is the female version of a hustler."
By day, the Puerto Rican native worked as a leasing agent through Bridge Property Management, and on the side, he went to people's houses to do their hair and makeup, says his best friend and co-worker, Pedro Feliciano. Once the lights went down, the entertainer side of Fernández emerged, and it was named Indara Valkayre. Wearing lush wigs, tight bodysuits and high boots, Fernández emulated his idol Queen B in drag, re-creating her dance routines on stage perfectly.
Feliciano says Fernández recently told him that he was the happiest he'd ever been because of his months-long relationship with Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, who was 10 years his senior. Their last night together was at Pulse; both men died in the shooting on June 12.
Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old
Luis Daniel Conde worked to make people in his community feel beautiful.
Originally from San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, Conde ran Alta Peluquería D'Magazine Salon with his partner, Juan Pablo Rivera Velazquez, in Kissimmee. They transformed people with makeup, hairstyles and fashion tips into who they wanted to be, says Wanda Ferrer, a friend and client of the salon. "They were tremendous people," she says. "They always had a smile for their customers."
Ferrer says Conde and his partner loved to go to Pulse on weekends. It's where they were during the early-morning hours of June 12.
His friends Albert and Iris Rivas Diaz wrote on Facebook that they would always remember his pure and sincere smile.
"You are someone who will stay tattooed in our hearts and will never be erased until the day we meet again," the couple said.
Cory James Connell, 21 years old
Cory Connell wanted to save lives as a firefighter. He never fully realized his dream, but on June 12, he proved himself a hero.
The graduate of Edgewater High School in Orlando worked at the College Park Publix while he studied at Valencia College. On June 12, he was out celebrating with his girlfriend, Paula Blanco, and members of her all-female football team at Pulse. When the mass shooting started, ABC News reports Blanco was shot in the arm and told her boyfriend to run. Instead, he pushed her out of the way and saved her life while sacrificing his own. After his death, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs named him an honorary firefighter.
His siblings, Ryan, Amanda and Ashley Connell, called him a "superhero." On what would have been his 22nd birthday, Blanco wrote on Facebook that she never thought the person who made her believe in love would vanish.
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old
As the New Year was about to begin, Tevin Eugene Crosby was so excited he posted a Facebook status saying, "2016 will be the best year ever."
Crosby had recently moved to Michigan to start a marketing business. He tried to keep his team passionate with inspirational quotes, bowling nights and leadership awards.
His sister Shenetra Harris, the oldest of three children, still remembers Crosby coming home from school upset that he'd gotten a B. He always loved to excel, whether it was on the honor roll or later in life by going after new business ventures.
"My brother was full of light, full of energy," she says. "He just always went for everything he wanted in life."
Harris says her brother had traveled back on June 9 as a surprise to spend time with his family, then went to Orlando to visit friends. On June 12, he and Richard Aiken went out for a night of fun at Pulse. During the shooting, Aiken and Crosby were trapped in the bathrooms. Aiken made it out alive, but Crosby and 48 other people were killed in the club.
Franky DeJesús Velázquez, 50 years old
His first name was listed as Franky, but the people who loved him and searched for him on June 12 knew him as Jimmy.
Jimmy DeJesús Velázquez lived in Orlando but was originally from Puerto Rico. During his time on the island, he had an illustrious dancing career traveling the world with Gíbaro de Puerto Rico, a troupe dedicated to the folk music made popular by the island's peasant farmers, known as jíbaros. In pictures the troupe posted online, DeJesús Velázquez is all smiles, dressed in straw hats and colorful scarves. He moved to Florida almost a decade ago and worked as a visual merchandiser.
As families and friends waited to hear news of their loved ones on June 12, DeJesús Velázquez's friend Sara López called him her "brother" and said he was with his best friends that night for a good time at Pulse. When they first heard the shots, they thought it was music until they started seeing people fall down. The three friends held on to each other as they tried to hide, but DeJesús Velázquez was lost in the panic.
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old
Her friends knew her as "Zeus."
Deonka Deidra Drayton was a larger-than-life personality known for her dreadlocks, snapback hats, jokes and the love she gave to those she cared for, says her friend Lexington Martinez. Drayton was working at Pulse during the early morning of June 12 when the shooting started. Her former partner, Emmy Addison, says Drayton loved all children, including Diyari, a small boy that they were raising together. "We loved her so very much," Addison says. "It has been truly heartbreaking to see him want for his other mother so badly and not being able to explain to him in a way for him to understand that she is in heaven."
Her mother, Andrea Drayton, says her daughter was a loving person who was close to God. "I would always say she was 3-D," she says. "Everything she did was in full force. Whether she was playing basketball or any sport, it felt like she was jumping out at you. We loved every bit of it."
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old
In her photos, Mercedez Marisol Flores looks quiet and introspective. By day, she worked at Target and attended Valencia College. But at night, her friends remembered her as a music lover who blasted any genre on the radio and wanted to become a party planner.
Josean Garcia remembers meeting Flores and their mutual friend Amanda Alvear in middle school. At Ridge Community High School in Davenport, Florida, their group was known as "the Hyenas" because they were always laughing loudly in the lunchroom. After they graduated in 2008, they started going to Pulse together, he says. It was a place where they all felt safe, even if Alvear and Flores were not gay themselves.
Three of the Hyenas went into Pulse on June 12, but only one emerged. Garcia says he was in a different part of the club when the gunman started shooting, and he was able to escape.
The day after her murder, her brother Cesar wrote on Facebook, "It is not fair that such a horrific act of hate would take the life of a beautiful soul."
Peter O. Gonzalez Cruz, 22 years old
Peter "Ommy" Gonzalez Cruz was known for a contagious joyful energy and an infectious smile.
Among his family and friends, Gonzalez Cruz was known as the life of any party. He worked at UPS in Orlando and his customers remembered him as always smiling. On June 12, Gonzalez Cruz went out with his best friend Gilberto Silva Menéndez and other friends to Pulse. Gonzalez Cruz, Silva Menéndez and many of their other friends died in the shooting that night.
"In a way that night we said bye to each other with all the hugs and kisses you gave me and you told me you loved me too many times," wrote Adrian Lopez, who escaped Pulse that night, on Facebook. "One day we will meet each other again."
On Facebook, his mother Bernardette Cruz said that her son's smile "reflected true love."
"A piece of my life was torn away," she wrote in Spanish. "I want to keep sleeping to remember all the best moments we had together as a family and the best thing, your smile."
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old
The first time Brandon Wolf met his friend Drew Leinonen's boyfriend, Juan Ramon Guerrero, he was a little skeptical. Guerrero was quiet compared to the affable Leinonen, 32. Wolf had been friends with Leinonen for years and had met many dates and boyfriends. "I don't know about this," he thought.
To his great pleasure, he was completely wrong about Guerrero. "It took a minute for him to warm up to our friend group, but within months, he could make you laugh no matter what," he says. "The day could be wrecked, but he would walk in the room and you were smiling in seconds. He just had that infectious personality. From the moment he met Drew, you could feel the love."
Wolf was at Pulse on June 12 with Guerrero, Leinonen and other friends. Guerrero and Leinonen perished along with 47 others in the early morning hours. Guerrero's Dominican family told Time magazine he would have married Leinonen if they hadn't died.
Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old
To his friends, Paul Terrell Henry was a bright light. He was a regular at the Parliament House, where he loved to dance. But it was at the pool table where you'd be most like to find him.
"He taught me," says Angel Laroyale Lewis, a friend of Henry's. "I wasn't as good as him, but he would teach me a couple of things."
The morning of June 12, Lewis says, she was at Pulse with Henry. She says they were supposed to leave the club earlier, but decided to stay late. It's something she still struggles with.
"I want people to remember that he had a heart full of gold," Jaymie Glaspie, another friend, says. "He was a pure person, just loving. He would do anything for you if it was in his power."
Frank Hernández Escalante, 27 years old
Tattooed on his left bicep in black ink, Frank Hernández Escalante kept a saying close to his heart: "Love has no gender."
He was proud of his identity, often posting pictures with rainbow colors or his "GAY O.K." shirt. Two years ago, he left Texas for Orlando. He was making a life in the City Beautiful with his longtime boyfriend, Brett Rigas, and their two dogs.
Months before they were about to celebrate their three-year anniversary, the couple went to Pulse for a night of dancing and fun. When the shooting began, the two men lost each other in the dark. Rigas escaped the club with his life on June 12, but Hernández Escalante did not.
Miguel Ángel Honorato, 30 years old
After years of hard work, Miguel Ángel Honorato and his family were enjoying the fruits of their American dream.
They traveled from Guerrero, Mexico, across the U.S. border and settled in Apopka. They didn't know English or have jobs, so the family decided to sell tacos in front of theme parks to make ends meet. Their eight children helped them run their taco truck, including Miguel Ángel, who made tortillas and ran the cash register. After decades of work, the Honoratos now own several businesses, all of which Miguel Ángel helped manage.
His wife, Minerva Honorato, told Aquí y Ahora she met her husband when they were in high school. Together they had three children, and Miguel Ángel was a doting father who helped plan birthday parties.
The last time she saw her husband he told her he was going to the store. Hours later, police officers informed her Miguel Ángel had been invited by some friends to Pulse and died during the mass shooting on June 12.
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old
Jason Benjamin Josaphat had the entire world ahead of him.
Born in Fort Lauderdale to Haitian parents, Josaphat attended school in Orlando before moving out of state. He graduated in 2014 from Skyline High School in Arizona and more recently from Southern Technical Institute as a business office specialist. His obituary said he was known for his "memorable gleaming smile."
On June 12, Josaphat died at Pulse. His mother, Myrlande Bébé, said on Facebook that her son died to save Tiara Parker from the shooter while they were trapped in the bathroom. "Nice cars or nice house, or diamond or anything people would say can't ever, ever bring Jason back," she wrote. "But at the end of the day he is a hero. He is hero by saving that beautiful young woman."
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old
His friends knew him as Brycen Banks.
That's the nickname Eddie Jamoldroy Justice created for himself. It makes sense when you learn he was an accountant, and as his friend Guardini Bellefleur described him, a little bougie. He drove a Mercedes, owned a business and lived in a high-rise in downtown Orlando, "in a sky house, like the Jeffersons," his mother, Wilhelmina Justice, told the Associated Press. In early 2016, he met Alejandro Ortega and they fell deeply in love.
Justice also loved Latin Night at Pulse. When the gunman attacked, Justice was there with a group, including his best friend and survivor of the shooting, Demetrice Naulings. Naulings told CBS News that during the shooting, Justice told him, "Take care of me. Please don't leave me." He was separated from his friends in the rush to escape the club and was trapped in one of the club's bathrooms. During that time, he texted his mother, "Mommy I love you." In his final text, he called the gunman in the bathroom with them "a terror."
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old
Javier Jorge-Reyes was known for his friendliness, sass and smile. He spread this bright energy every day at his sales jobs at Guess and Gucci. But his flair really appeared outside of work.
"He loved hanging with friends and doing drag," his friend Taylor Lianne Chandler says. "When I say doing drag, that is an understatement. He was great at it and breathtaking."
She remembers walking with Jorge-Reyes through the streets of downtown Orlando during the city's Come Out With Pride celebration in 2015. They laughed and carried on through the whole parade, Jorge-Reyes dressed as Alice from Alice in Wonderland. The next night, the friends went to Parliament House and entered the costume contest, taking funny videos that Chandler says are now some of her most treasured possessions.
Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25 years old
Anthony Laureano Disla was the type of performer who could charm you in a suit or in a dress.
The native of Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, was a talented dancer who liked to wear suspenders and fedoras when he danced to mambo, salsa and ballroom. But when he performed in drag as Alanis Laurell, he preferred blonde wigs and shiny ensembles as he lip-synced to Olga Tañon and Jennifer Lopez. Laureano Disla studied at Universidad Del Sagrado Corazon on the island before coming to Orlando about three years ago to focus on his career as a dancer and choreographer.
He wasn't performing at Pulse on June 12, but he was there that night to party with his friends when the shooting started. His mother, Olga Disla, says her son was a true artist. "He would call me every day to make sure I was OK," she says in Spanish. "My son was a marvelous boy who always fought for his dreams."
Christopher "Drew" Leinonen, 32 years old
Paula Lupton says she would describe her friend Christopher "Drew" Leinonen as a renaissance man. As a Seminole High School student, he started a Gay-Straight Alliance student chapter, which earned him the Anne Frank Humanitarian Award. The University of Central Florida graduate worked as a licensed mental health counselor by day and in his free time explored cinema, photography, history, politics, vegetarianism and the intricacies of playing Dance Dance Revolution.
He died at Pulse on June 12. On July 27, his mother, Christine Leinonen, captured a nation as she spoke at the Democratic National Convention. In between advocating for common-sense gun policies, she told thousands of delegates that her son was a "big Hillary supporter," whose belief that "love trumps hate" was etched in his DNA: His paternal grandparents met and fell in love at a Japanese internment camp during World War II.
"Christopher was my only child," she says. "As I used to tell him, you can't do better than perfect."
Brenda Marquez McCool, 49 years old
Brenda McCool spent her last moments as a hero.
The Brooklyn mother of 11 children was dancing with her son Isaiah Henderson at Pulse when the shooting started. Her sister-in-law Ada Pressley told the New York Daily News McCool saw the gunman point his weapon toward them and shielded her son with her body.
Before that day, McCool was already a hero. The single mother who beat cancer twice was known as a fighter, according to actor Wilson Cruz, whose mother was McCool's stepsister.
"For Brenda, [Pulse] was the place where she could spend time with her son where he was his most authentic self, and it was beautiful," he says. "Brenda protected her son by jumping in front of the gun. ... Maybe she thought she was indestructible but more likely it was instinct, a lioness protecting her cub."
Jean Carlos Méndez Pérez, 35 years old
Jean Carlos Méndez Pérez found love through a scent. He was working at Perfumania in the Orlando Premium Outlets when Luis Daniel Wilson-León walked in. It was love at first sight, remembers Wilson-León's cousin, Laly Santiago-León.
Wanda Ferrer, a close friend of the couple, describes them as polar opposites who couldn't live without each other. Wilson-León was an outgoing person and loved to eat mofongo, pinchos and alcapurrias, while Méndez Pérez was a reserved person and liked going to the gym and spending hours in the bathroom primping his face, for which no cream was too expensive. They lived together in Kissimmee. Both from Puerto Rico, they understood what it was like to have family members who loved them, but could not accept their devotion to each other, Ferrer says.
"Their love was greater than anything," she says. "They fought like everybody else, but they were going to last a lifetime. Dani would say, 'He makes me mad, but I love him the way he is.'"
Kimberly "KJ" Morris, 37 years old
On stage, Kimberly "KJ" Morris used her infectious smile and suave dance moves to give life to "Daddy K," her magnetic drag king personality.
Juan Anderson-Burgos, one of Morris' friends and a drag colleague, described her drag as "bold."
"It's hard to explain, but she was energetic, expressive, colorful, alive," he says. "She earned and owned that stage. She was a beautiful spirit."
Morris moved to Orlando in April 2016 to take care of her aging mother and grandmother. She had recently found work as a bouncer at the gay nightclub Pulse; her mother said she still hadn't unpacked some of her boxes. Two months after moving to Orlando, Morris died at Pulse.
"She left behind a legacy here," Her friend Allie Thorpe says. "Nobody has forgotten her. She's very much alive in our hearts."
Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old
People who met Akyra Monet Murray knew she was going somewhere.
The honors student had recently graduated from West Catholic Preparatory High School third in her class. The Philadelphia teenager known by the nickname "Kira" was also a star athlete who scored 1,000 points while she played on the Lady Burrs basketball team. She had signed a letter of intent to play basketball at Mercyhurst College on a full scholarship.
With all the promise in the world and a long list of accomplishments, Murray and her family came to celebrate in Orlando a week after her graduation. In the early morning hours of June 12, Murray was having a good time with her cousin Tiara Parker and their friend Patience Carter at Pulse. When the shooting began, Murray and Carter made it out of the club, but went back in to find Parker. Carter and Parker survived the shooting, but Murray did not, making her the youngest victim of the shooting.
Jean Carlos Nieves Rodriguez, 27 years old
In his final musings, Jean Carlos Nieves Rodriguez wrote on Facebook about love. "I want and I wish to feel how it feels that someone loves you," he said before his death.
Nieves Rodriguez may not have found his true love, but the love he showed others was moving. He bought a house so he and his mother could live in a nicer place, and sometimes paid his sister's phone bill when she couldn't.
Nieves, a graduate from Orlando's Oak Ridge High School, had worked at McDonald's since he was 15 and recently became the manager of a check-cashing store. His mother, Dimarie Rodriguez, says, "I raised him by myself, as his mom and his dad. ... I was there for him in his sadness and his happiness. We were always together."
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo spent his final hours doing what he loved the most: dancing. Known to people by his second name, Omar, he danced to anything you put on, be it salsa, bachata, hip-hop or one of the many cultural dances he participated in as a child, says his sister, Belinnette Ocasio-Capo.
"Omar was a such a happy person," she says. "He was the peacemaker in the family."
From their childhood in Ponce, Puerto Rico, to their later youth in Cleveland, Ocasio-Capo and his siblings were always dancing at parades and festivals, his sister says. After graduating from high school in Tennessee, Ocasio-Capo moved to Kissimmee with his mother. He had registered for theater classes at Valencia College, which he was supposed to start the week of June 12.
His sister says before Ocasio-Capo left with a friend to Pulse, he hugged his mother tight. His mother jokingly asked him, "Are you going to die today that you miss me so much?"
"My mom asked him not to go, but he said he didn't want to leave anyone hanging," his sister says. "He gave her a big kiss and he told her, 'Mamí, I'll see you later.' Then later never happened."
Geraldo A. Ortiz Jimenez, 25 years old
Just hours before heading out to the gay nightclub Pulse, Geraldo Ortiz Jimenez was hitting the gym. An avid gym rat, Ortiz wouldn't even let up on his workout routine while he was on vacation. He was visiting Orlando to see a Selena Gomez concert at the Amway Center, something he posted about for months on Facebook.
Originally from the Dominican Republic and currently a college student studying law in Puerto Rico, Ortiz made the trip specifically to see his favorite singer. A self-proclaimed "Selenator," he often posted videos singing along to Gomez's music on his social media accounts. That weekend, while in Orlando, he posted a picture to his Instagram account as he posed with the singer's wax figure while visiting Madame Tussauds.
"With the love of my life," Ortiz wrote in Spanish, pretending to give the singer a kiss on the cheek.
Eric Ivan Ortiz Rivera, 36 years old
Eric Ivan Ortiz Rivera was days away from celebrating his first wedding anniversary with his beloved husband, Ivan Domínguez. They married on June 26 – the same day the U.S. Supreme Court decided that same-sex couples across the country have the right to marry, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy writing for the majority, "No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were."
Ortiz Rivera and his husband could not be together to celebrate that union last year. On June 12, he was one of 49 people who died at Pulse. "My heart is torn to pieces," his husband wrote on Facebook the day of Ortiz Rivera's death.
Joel Rayón Paniagua, 31 years old
Joel Rayón Paniagua was the hard-working breadwinner for his family back in Veracruz, Mexico.
He left his country to work in gardening and construction so he could send money home. By June 2016, Rayón Paniagua had paid off the last of the debt he owed to the guide who helped him get to the U.S. and was starting to save for a better life. He would never get to see it – during the early morning hours of June 12, Rayón Paniagua was with friends at Pulse when he was killed.
Rayón Paniagua's friends described him as a friendly and fun person who loved to dance. At his funeral, bands played mariachi and norteño music for a final goodbye, including a song with the lyrics, "I don't want a coffin worth millions. All I want is for them to sing songs. May the death of a poor man be a great celebration."
Enrique L. Rios Jr., 25 years old
Nia Garcia can't help but laugh when she remembers the pranks she pulled with her cousin Enrique L. Rios Jr. The two grew up together, and one of their favorite activities was playing tricks on their family and friends. Garcia says he was definitely a clown, but also a good man raised in a devout Baptist family.
Rios was on vacation in Orlando last June when he was shot and killed at Pulse. He lived in Brooklyn, New York, working as a coordinator at a home health care agency. Garcia says he loved to work with older people, supporting and caring for them.
"He had this gift where he would see the good in people and knew how to encourage you with his words," she says. "He really did have a way with words where he made you feel brand-new after hearing him."
Juan Pablo Rivera Velázquez, 37 years old
With a flick of his wrist to apply black winged eyeliner or the careful precision he used to slick on glittery lip gloss, Juan Pablo Rivera Velázquez could give people the makeover of a lifetime.
The makeup artist and hairstylist nurtured a fan base at Alta Peluquería D'Magazine Salon, a business he ran with his 16-year partner, Luis Daniel Conde, in Kissimmee. Together they helped women in their community feel beautiful, says Wanda Ferrer, a friend and client of the couple.
Six months after his death, Rivera Velázquez's sister reopened her brother's beauty salon and relaunched his makeup line, "Color Face Creation," dubbing it "CFC by Juan P." "I couldn't just leave everything he worked for and suffered for," Jessica Silva says. "His dream has become my dream."
Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old
The last photo of Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan shows a young woman smiling so hard inside Pulse that her eyes crinkled at the corners.
Known to most as Mary, Rodriguez Solivan was married to racecar driver Juan Borges and the mother of two young boys, including a 3-month-old son.
"Mary was an amazing daughter and an extraordinary sister," her sister Natalia Canlan wrote on a GoFundMe fundraiser for her sister's husband and sons. "Her smile lit up the room and her laughter brought a smile to your heart!"
Rodriguez Solivan was showing off her smile the night of June 12 at Pulse along with her brother-in-law William Sabad Borges and a friend, Jonathan Camuy Vega. During the shooting, Camuy Vega tried to protect Rodriguez Solivan from the bullets. Both ultimately perished in the attack.
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz shone bright, like a diamond, his childhood friend says.
Nicole Irizarry remembers that Sanfeliz started calling the people he loved "diamonds" after they tried to stay up all night to watch a meteor shower on Cocoa Beach about two years ago.
"I remember Chris said, 'Oh my god, diamonds are falling out of the sky,'" she says. "From then on, he would tell his friends, 'You're my diamonds.' There's a wrenching feeling in my gut from just remembering it."
A Tampa native of Cuban descent, Sanfeliz worked as a personal banker at JPMorgan Chase. After Sanfeliz's death, his older brother, Carlos Sanfeliz Jr., wrote on Facebook that his heart was "completely broken."
"My little brother, the most important person in my life, has passed away due to his injuries," Carlos Sanfeliz Jr. wrote. "He was the light of my family and I know that he will continue to bless us and his light will be radiating down from a better place."
Xavier Serrano Rosado, 35 years old
Xavier Serrano Rosado had many passions in life, but his focus always stayed on one: his 5-year-old son, Kelvyn. Originally from Ponce, Puerto Rico, Serrano Rosado performed at local theme parks, including Disney World and Universal, before leaving to work at a shoe store to provide income and spend more time with his child, even though it meant not being a full-time dancer, says Kelvyn's mother, Wilmariel Lozano. A video of one of his last performances as Eman Valentino at Parliament House shows Serrano Rosado lip-syncing and doing pirouettes under strobe lights, dressed in a bejeweled top hat and cape.
"There was nothing that made him happier than dancing," she says in Spanish. "But he left that to get a better job with better hours. His son was his life."
Serrano Rosado was in a happy relationship with Leroy Valentín Fernández. Their last night together was at Pulse; both men died in the shooting.
Eddie Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old
Eddie Sotomayor was the glue that kept his family together, says his sister Kimberly Jackson Sotomayor.
He was five years older than her and served as a natural protector, teacher, confidant and stylist, she says. He loved sweet things: Sour Patch Kids, his grandmother's teriyaki chicken and Chick-fil-A lemonade. As children, they once convinced their mother to let them get on the coffee table and dance to Paula Abdul's "Straight Up," while wearing sunglasses and singing into toy microphones. "He was so bright and full of life; super sarcastic and witty but sweet on the inside," she says.
Sotomayor grew up into a charming, self-confident man with brilliant green eyes who worked as the national brand manager for alandchuck.travel, an LGBT travel agency. There he became known as "Top Hat Eddie," after he took to wearing a black top hat on guided travel tours so patrons could easily find him in a crowd. He was working on organizing the first gay cruise to Cuba.
"In every person's life, you encounter special people that forever change you," writes Al Ferguson, owner of the travel agency. "Edward Sotomayor was one of those people."
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menéndez, 25 years old
Gilberto Silva Menéndez left this world to the sounds of drums and those who loved him dancing to plena music with rainbow flags.
Silva Menéndez, also known as "Culi" and "Junito," was one of 49 people killed at Pulse June 12. At his funeral, his family didn't want mourners to wear black. They wanted people to celebrate in the way that reflected Silva Menéndez's joyfulness by dressing in bright colors, holding balloons and dancing to Puerto Rican folk music.
Silva Menéndez, 25, was originally from Manati, Puerto Rico, and moved to Orlando a few years ago. Before his death, he was studying health care management at the Ana G. Méndez University's Orlando campus. His friends and family knew him as a happy person who loved music and life.
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old
The first thing people hear about Shane Evan Tomlinson is how beautiful his voice was. But the most beautiful part about Tomlinson was his giving heart, says his best friend, Quinten Simmons.
The singer liked to help people in need, Simmons says. "He poured into people. He loved hard, whether it was through agreements or disagreements. He encouraged people to be the best they could be. He didn't need a stage for that." Hours before his death, Tomlinson had performed with his band at Blue Martini nightclub. Tomlinson later went to Pulse, where he perished in early hours of June 12.
Simmons says he speaks every day with Tomlinson's parents. "I find myself still having conversations with him every day," he says. "He lived every moment and he enjoyed every minute of it."
Luis Sergio Vielma, 22 years old
When his co-workers raised their wands for Luis Vielma outside the Hogwarts castle at Universal Orlando, they remembered the fallen Gryffindor for his bravery and kindness.
Vielma was an attendant for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. He graduated from Seminole High School in 2011 and from Seminole State College in 2014. Recently, he had enrolled at the college again to train as an emergency medical technician. In his free time, he volunteered at the All Souls Catholic church in Sanford and played soccer with the Deltona Adult Soccer League.
After Vielma's death, J.K. Rowling, the creator of the world he loved so much, sent a wreath of red flowers to his funeral and a handwritten card.
"To Luis, who died for love," the author wrote. "You will never be forgotten."
Luis Daniel Wilson-León, 37 years old
For Luis Daniel Wilson-León, Florida was the first place he could be himself. Growing up in a religious household in Ponce, Puerto Rico, he "endured countless days of bullying while growing up, by cruel people calling him all sorts of horrendous homophobic slurs," said his childhood friend Daniel Gmys-Casiano. "He was the first person on this earth I came out to, and he always protected and loved his friends," Gmys-Casiano says. "We were both members of the same church and we both [rebelled] against it, and against the spiritual tyrants that kept condemning us for giving what the world needs the most: love."
About eight years ago, he found love when Jean Carlos Méndez Pérez sold him a bottle of perfume. The couple was at Pulse during the attack on June 12 and died together. Although they had a joint wake, Wilson-León's body was taken to Puerto Rico, while Méndez Pérez was buried in Kissimmee.
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old
Jerry Wright's mother says her son wasn't a genius in school, a good athlete or someone who stood out in the crowd. María Jose Wright says what made Jerry a beautiful jewel of a human being was his ability to love and care for others.
"He wasn't the life of the party, but he was the person who would make sure you were having a good time at the party," she says. "He was just a really sweet, loving spirit. He was the one everyone could count on to be there."
Wright grew up in Miami. As a child, his mother says, he struggled with severe dyslexia and a speech impediment, and had to wear a full body brace to straighten his spine. But none of that stopped him from trying to communicate with others.
María Jose Wright says she thinks her son's love of making people feel special pushed him into a career in hospitality. On June 10, her son called to tell her he'd been promoted at Disney. Two days later, he died at Pulse.
His mother says over 800 people attended his funeral, and she learned how kind her son was not just to her, but to everyone he knew.
María Jose Wright says after her son's death, her daughter named her newborn son Jerald after her brother. The family misses him terribly, but they're trying to honor his legacy by advocating for gun reform.
"He gave a lot of love to a lot of people in the 31 years he was with us," his mother says.