When Jason Howell first heard his friend Edward Sotomayor Jr. was on the list of victims killed early Sunday morning by a gunman at a popular gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, he was in complete shock.
“I first started shaking, wondering if he was okay,” Howell tells PEOPLE about finding out Sotomayor Jr. was missing.
But after seeing his friend’s name on the official list, “I just started bursting into tears, and I’ve been like that all day. You never think that one of your friends is going to be killed in a terrorist attack.”
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Howell and Sotomayor Jr. – who was a brand manager for LGBT travel agency ALandCHUCK.travel and only 34 years old when he died – first met a couple years ago on a Drag Stars at Sea cruise. “I was brought on stage as a special guest two years ago . . . him and I had a very good relationship,” says Howell. “He would say that whatever I needed, he would help promote. He was always there.”
Known to his friends as “top-hat Eddie” because of the black top hat he always wore to events, Sotomayor Jr. was “very outgoing, very friendly” and an “all-around great guy,” says Howell. “He was one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met. He touched so many people’s lives because he’s such a positive person. He would do anything for anybody.”
Howell last spoke to his friend a week ago, and wants Sotomayor Jr. to be remembered as more than just a shooting victim. “It’d be sad for people to think he was just some random guy who was just the first announced victim,” he says. “He was a lot more than that. A lot more.”