On Monday, the 42-year-old actor revealed to Entertainment Tonight that his mother’s stepsister, Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, was among the 49 people who have died since the horrific massacre.
“Brenda went to Pulse the way she frequently did, with her 21-year-old openly gay son, Isaiah,” Cruz told ET. “They loved to go there on that night because it was Latin night and they could be with their friends, dance salsa and find refuge in a safe space.”
The Red Band Society actor said he and McCool were close in age and she was more like a cousin to him than a distant relative.
Omar Mateen opened fire on the gay-friendly hot spot at around 2 a.m. on Sunday before dying in a shootout with authorities. Along with the dead, at least 53 people were injured in the attack.
Now, Cruz is one of many mourning after the deadliest mass shooting in American history.
“She and her joy for life were taken from us, and we are devastated,” he told ET.
Cruz, 42, honored McCool in a Facebook post on Sunday, posting a photo of himself alongside the woman.
“This was the last time I saw Brenda McCool She was a fighter. A cancer survivor. A stellar mother. A proud and fierce advocate for her LGBT family. She spoke passionately about how much she loved her children,” Cruz wrote alongside the photo.
“She was hilarious and loving and tore up the dance floor when salsa or anything was playing. I can’t believe she’s gone. I mourn with her kids and my entire family.”
McCool’s daughter, Khalisha Pressley, told NBC News that her mother did not survive the shooting, but her brother made it out alive.
“He had to watch his mother die,” she said. “He saw everybody getting killed.”