Orlando Shooting Victim Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala Was a 'Bright, Amazing, Beautiful, Magical Soul,' Says Friend
'Rody is like an angel,' one of the 33-year-old's coworkers tells PEOPLE
Coworkers of Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala remember him as a fun-loving and compassionate man who always kept a smile on their faces.
“He was a very, very vibrant person, very dedicated to his work,” Kelly Gollert, director of manufacturing for the OneBlood blood bank in Orlando, where Ayala-Ayala worked as a Biologics Assistant, tells PEOPLE.
Adds Gollert, “He was very dedicated to his work and had very high expectations for his team because what we do is in service to patients, and he was very proud of that. But he was also a very supportive and loving person.”
Ayala-Ayala, 33, was one of 49 innocent victims fatally shot in the mass shooting at Pulse, an Orlando nightclub, early Sunday morning in what authorities have called the worst mass shooting in United States history.
Gollert says Ayala-Ayala had recently been promoted to supervisor of a team coordinating platelet products for patients. OneBlood centers in Orlando received scores of donors after the shooting.
Adam Colon, a member of Ayala-Ayala’s team, describes him as “a prankster” and “a kind, warm-hearted soul.”
“Rody would not hurt a fly. He was gentle and sweet and charismatic,” Colon says. “He had an infectious smile. If you were having a bad day, he would come in the room with his smile and he would brighten up the whole room.”
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
Colon also remembers Ayala-Ayala’s unique sense of style.
“He could rock a bowtie. He was famous for the bowtie. He wore very vibrant colors. Suspenders. A full hawk one day and the following day, blond hair. You could spot him a mile away,” Colon says.
“His personality went hand in hand with that outfit,” Colon continues. “He was very proud of being a gay man in the community. No one could tell him different. He wasn’t ashamed of it. He was out there and that is who he was and if you didn’t like it – tough cookie. He wasn’t going to let nobody bring him down.”
Another coworker, Matt Simons, agrees that Ayala-Ayala was unabashed about being himself at all times.
“He was unafraid to be himself and enjoy it and not let anybody judge him or place any restrictions on who he wanted to be or what was inside of him,” Simons says. “That is an incredibly magical and beautiful thing. You could see in his eyes he was very bright-eyed toward the world.”
Simons says that Ayala-Ayala, a “huge Ricky Martin fan,” was a great dancer (the cha-cha and merengue were his favorites) and loved to joke around in Spanish.
“He was compassionate and kind-hearted. I just can’t imagine anybody in life or existence wanting to do any damage to such a beautiful soul ever and that is such a repulsive and disgusting thing that happened to him,” Simons says. “Rody is like an angel. He is on another platform of existence, just a bright, amazing, beautiful, magical soul.”
• Reporting by CHRISTINE PELISEK