Orlando Heartbreak: Remembering the Pulse Shooting's 49 Victims 4 Years Later
The victims of the horrific 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando had a wide range of backgrounds and interests
Editor’s note: This story was originally published on June 14, 2016. PEOPLE is republishing it to mark the four-year anniversary of the tragic Pulse nightclub shooting, which claimed 49 victims' lives before the gunman’s death.
One was known for his relentless positivity and the top-hat he wore to events. Another was a professional dancer who had traveled the world. Another professional dancer was a father to a 5-year-old child.
The victims of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, had diverse backgrounds and interests. But all came to Pulse expecting a fun night out at a place known for its inclusive spirit, and all became victims of what authorities are calling the worst mass shooting in United States history, which killed 49 innocent people.
Orlando set up a website to identify victims after their families have been notified of their deaths. A day after the shooting, the 49th and final name was added to the list.
PEOPLE spoke to friends and family members who lost their loved ones. Here are their stories.
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34
A friend of Sotomayor, who was a brand manager for LGBT travel agency ALandCHUCK.travel, tells PEOPLE he was known as “Top-Hat Eddie” because of the black top hat he always wore to events. “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,” the friend, Jason Howell, tells PEOPLE.
Of confirming that Sotomayor had died, Howell says, “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.”
Franky Jimmy DeJesus Velazquez, 50
DeJesus was a professional dancer who had danced in Puerto Rico and had traveled the world. “Jimmy was lovable, outgoing,” his sister, Sarah Lopez, tells PEOPLE. “He was one of those guys that you wanted to be friends with, you know? One of those people who brightened a room when he walked in.
“How many people can do that with a smile? Not many. But Jimmy did.”
Stanley Almodovar III, 23
Almodovar, who was originally from Springfield, Massachusetts, worked as a pharmacy technician at Avella Specialty Pharmacy and lived in nearby Clermont, Florida, according to his Instagram page and Facebook account.
A GoFundMe page set up to help with funeral costs says, “Stanley was a kind soul with a great personality. He had a great sense of humor and kept us laughing. He will truly be missed.”
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35
Rosado was the father of a 5-year-old child and also a professional dancer, specializing in salsa. Close friend Glenda Padua, 32, tells PEOPLE that he used to dance for Disney and Universal Studios.
“He was a great, great father,” she says. “He was just the most fun, happiest guy you could ever know.”
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40
Jorge-Reyes had a passion for life, according to friend Dr. Charmaine Ortiz. Ortiz met Jorge-Reyes, who was originally from Puerto Rico, through her practice, and says, “He was so funny and so alive and savvy.”
“He had an extreme talent for the arts and was very creative with makeup,” she shares.
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33
Tomlinson was a lead singer in Frequency Band, a local cover band that performed top 40 songs, according to longtime friend Jai Saint.
“He has a great voice, he is so popular around here. Honestly it’s hard not to enjoy his voice,” Saint tells PEOPLE of his best friend of 10 years. “When he sings it just kinda flows and makes you happy. Orlando will miss his voice. The world will miss his voice.”
Saint continues, “He’s extremely positive, he’s all about life and living it to the fullest. He had amazing energy, which is hard to come by these days.”
Tomlinson graduated from East Carolina University in 2003 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Communication with a minor in Business Administration.
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20
Ocasio-Capo, who went by “Omar,” was a 2015 graduate of La Vergne High School in Tennessee, according to Nashville Public Radio.
Daniel Suarez-Ortiz, who went to LaVergne High School in Tennessee with Omar, tells PEOPLE, “He was such a caring, loving person. If you ever needed advice, he was that person. He was just that person to go to for anything.”
Tamandra Diaz, 27, was his dance teacher and longtime friend. She tells PEOPLE, “Dancing was life for him. He loved to dance.”
She adds, “With Omar, all anybody can say about him is that he was always happy.”
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22
Guerrero worked as a telemarketer, his cousin said, and was in school at the University of Central Florida. He was at Pulse with his boyfriend, Christopher Andrew “Drew” Leinonen, who also died in the attack.
“Juan and Drew were soul mates, and they were great together,” Christopher Irizarry-Drozd, a friend of the couple, told PEOPLE. “Every time I actually did go out, they made the time so much better! They were a light that will always be with us. Everyone who knew them knows they were just some of the best people ever.”
A joint funeral was held in remembrance of the couple, who planned to marry.
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36
Ortiz-Rivera was a newlywed, just married to his husband for about a year, his cousin Orlando Gonzalez told The New York Times. He lived in downtown Orlando and worked at both a Party City and a Sunglass Hut.
According to Gonzalez, Ortiz-Rivera was a “goofball” with an artistic side.
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22
A UPS employee, Gonzalez-Cruz loved to goof around and enjoyed making customers laugh, his friend Pia Crawford tells PEOPLE.
“We would do accents and crack each other up,” Crawford says. “He was truly a delight, and I always cheered up when I’d see him.”
Luis S. Vielma, 22
“He was very bright one of those exuberant people who radiates positivity and love,” Amber Smyth, a former coworker of Vielma’s at Universal Orlando Resort, told PEOPLE. “I worked with him a couple times in a few places, and he was always a good person to have by your side. A true Gryffindor.”
“Luis always included everyone. I’m much older, so I rarely get invited to do fun stuff with the team,” added another coworker of Vielma’s, Cherah Parker, who added that he was “freakin’ hilarious!”
“Luis always made certain I was included,” she continued. “He was one of the kindest individuals I have ever known. He loved soccer. He loved dancing. Luis’ love for people was, and is, the stuff of fairy tales.”
He was also an Emergency Medical Services student at Seminole State College and was enrolled in a CPR class this summer, according to a statement from the college.
Kimberly Morris, 37
Morris, a bouncer at the nightclub, was a former basketball player at Post University in Connecticut, her friend, Narvell Benning, tells PEOPLE.
Says Benning, “She was tough and played hard on the basketball court but off the court she was all smiles.”
“She always had a smile on her face,” Benning added.
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30
Justice worked as an accountant and lived in downtown Orlando, according to the Washington Post. He loved accessorizing with flashy jewelry and making others laugh.
Justice’s mother Mina received texts from her son throughout the shooting as he hid in the bathroom. At one point he wrote, “He’s coming. I’m gonna die.”
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29
Burt was a member of the Jacksonville Jaycees, a young professionals group in Florida, president Shawn DeVries tells PEOPLE.
“He was personable, social and easy going,” DeVries says of Burt. “Both socially and professionally he was always interested in making positive impact on people’s lives and in the community.”
A hard worker, Burt had recently been recommended for a position on the Jaycee’s Board of Directors.
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32
Drayton, 32, had been through rough times, a friend tells PEOPLE, but was pulling herself together and was happy living in Orlando.
“She was getting it together,” says the friend, who asked not to be named out of consideration to the family. “She was in a good place.”
Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25
Disla was a talented dancer, who excelled in a variety of styles including salsa, mambo, tango or ballroom was in Orlando to pursue a career as both a dancer and choreographer.
His mother, Olga M. Disla, tells PEOPLE: “He was lovely, kind and respectful of others all the time. He liked to help anyone who needed help.”
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35
“He was always happy,” Claudia Agudelo, Perez’s coworker at the Orlando Perfumania told the Orlando Sentinel. She shared, “He laughed with the people and would make jokes.”
Perez, born in Puerto Rico, was obsessed with fitness and loved testing out new fragrances, Agudelo said. He met his longtime partner Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon at the store. Wilson-Leon was also a victim of the shooting.
Friend Marisa Castano tells PEOPLE, “Nicest guy you’d ever meet. Both of them, actually. They were magnetic. They’d walk into the room and everyone would turn to look, because they were just so handsome.”
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37
Wilson-Leon was the manager of a shoe store and longtime love of fellow victim Perez.
“They faced the odds, Luis came from Puerto Rico and being gay isn’t totally accepted, obviously here, but it’s not totally accepted there as well,” his cousin Luis Wilson tells PEOPLE. “He is an inspiration. He grew up conflicted but found peace with himself and those around him and he finally had found acceptance and love. Finally found it. And now look.”
Wilson said the couple bonded over dancing. “Dancing was their passion,” he says. “Those two just liked to have fun. And what’s wrong with that? They knew what the important things in life were.”
Amanda Alvear, 25
Alvear was attending school to be a nurse, and had recently been promoted to the lead pharmacy technician at the pharmacy where she worked, Shannon Marie Baxley, her sister-in-law, tells PEOPLE.
“She loved the gay community, the LGBT community. She was straight herself but those were her people, those were her family. She was a magnetic person,” Baxley shares. “She was the loveliest girl, just the sweetest girl.”
A doting aunt, Alvear spent her final day shopping with her 8 and 12-year-old nieces, Baxley’s children. “She was a fighter and fierce in everything that she did,” Baxley says of the former prom queen.
Martin Benitez Torres, 33
Melissa Del Valle, a former coworker and longtime friend of Torres, tells PEOPLE that he just had moved to Florida at the end of the last year to continue working for Hertz. He was also studying marketing at Sistema Universitario Ana G Mndez.
“He was one of a kind,” she shares. “He was always a person that you could talk to. He was our confidant. He was always surrounded by all of us. We were all women where we used to work, so we used to laugh with him, we used to cry with him. He was a good friend.”
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31
Wright worked in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, according to a Facebook post from a former employee.
“Jerry was a great guy to work with,” the former employee wrote. “I remember seeing him one of my last days in the tunnel when I was leaving, he was telling me how much he was enjoying working on Main Street since had had left Tomorrowland.”
Another person who worked with him added that he was “hard-working” and “loved his job.” “He was one of the first to say hi and make us smile and laugh,” he commented.
Cory James Connell, 21
“Anytime anyone needed somebody to talk to or just somebody to lean on, he was always there,” says friend Adrianna Estrada.
Estrada, 22, recalls how Connell helped her through the grieving process when her father died. “When my father passed,” she says, “he was actually one of the first people who found out and just about every day for almost two weeks he would send me messages reminding me that God gives his greatest battles to His strongest warriors.”
Estrada tells PEOPLE that Connell enjoyed playing football and basketball and had dreams of becoming a firefighter. While still in pursuit of that dream, Connell studied at Valencia Community College in Orlando and worked stocking shelves at the Publix in Orlando’s Edgewater neighborhood.
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49
McCool, a mother of 11, was battling leukemia when her life was cut short, her niece, Neila Rodriguez, tells PEOPLE. At Pulse with her son Isaiah, McCool was shot in the back and told him to “just run, go.”
“She was a modern mom. She was very updated. She tried to talk like the kids would talk,” Rodriguez says.
“She was a cool mom. She was really down-to-earth and open-minded.”
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32
ABC featured an extremely emotional interview with Christine Leinonen, Christopher’s mom, waiting to hear if her son — who was known as “Drew” to his friends — made it out of the attack.
Christine told ABC through tears that her son established the gay-straight alliance at his high school and received a humanitarian award for his efforts.
“Drew not only started his GSA at his own high school (Seminole High), but also assisted us at Largo High with starting one of our own,” Wil Toro told PEOPLE, adding that Christopher was involved with many organizations throughout Pinellas County, Florida.
Christopher attended Pulse on Saturday with his boyfriend, Juan Guerrero, who also died in the shooting.
“Drew (as I first knew him, Chris) is my oldest friend. We went to elementary, high school and college together,” Michael Eyermann told PEOPLE. “His passion for LGBT rights was infectious, and he taught me about compassion. I wouldn’t be an ally without him. I owe every relationship I have with the LGBT community to him. He was a great man you can tell by looking at his Facebook wall. People relied on him, and he will be missed.”
“Drew was the best person I’ve ever met. He was a film buff, enjoyed meeting new people, and always put others before himself,” said Leinonen’s friend Joshua Yehl. “His boyfriend Juan made him so happy, and they deserved to enjoy that happiness instead of having it taken away from them in a senseless act of violence. Love never goes away and so we will never forget them or how much better they made our lives.”
Christopher’s friends have banded together to share stories about him on social media, using the hashtag #thedruproject, a nod to his longtime online username.
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33
According to his Facebook page, Ayala was a Biologics Assistant at OneBlood, a local blood bank. He lived in Kissimmee, Florida.
Kelly Gollert, director of manufacturing for OneBlood in Orlando, says, “He was a very, very vibrant person.” She adds, “He liked to joke with his staff and play pranks. Just an overall wonderful person.”
Co-worker Adam Colon tells PEOPLE, “He had a unique style. He could rock a bow tie. He was famous for the bow tie. He wore very vibrant colors. Suspenders. A full hawk one day and the following day blond hair.”
Colon adds, “He had an infectious smile. If u were having a bad day he would come in the room with his smile and he would brighten up the whole room. He was just a warm-hearted person. He had so much charisma.”
Luis Daniel Conde, 39
Conde was with his husband and partner of 13 years, Juan P. Rivera, celebrating a friend’s birthday at Pulse.
“Juan and Luis were the kind of guys that made you feel welcomed without knowing you,” a former client tells PEOPLE of the pair, adding, “Juan and Luis were always happy. I can’t recall seeing them upset or in an angry state.”
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25
Fernandez loved performing, on stage or off.
Yolanda Quinones-Perez, Fernandez’s friend and manager at his job as a leasing agent, tells PEOPLE, “Leroy was full of music. He was a performer. He would sing at local bars and restaurants.”
Fernandez went by the name Leroy Valentin at work, and the name Indara onstage.
Says Quinones-Perez, “He was very special.”
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19
Originally from Haiti, Josaphat was an aspiring photographer who was hedging his bets by studying nursing at Valencia Community College in Orlando, his father, Jackson Josaphat, tells PEOPLE.
“He was very excited about his journey,” Josaphat’s uncle, Christopher Long, told the Sentinel.
Frank Hernandez, 27
Hernandez worked at a Calvin Klein store in Orlando and had lived in the city for three years, according to the Bradenton Herald.
Hernandez’s younger sister, Julissa Leal, and his mother drove 12 hours from Louisiana after receiving a panicked phone call from Hernandez’s boyfriend. Leal last saw her brother in May at her high school graduation.
Akyra Murray, 18
Murray’s former high school, West Catholic Prep, issued a statement saying, “We are terribly saddened to report that Akyra Murray ’16 has been confirmed as a victim in the mass shooting in Orlando this weekend. Akyra was on a family vacation to celebrate graduation and visit her brother.”
Murray, an honors student, had recently graduated third in her class from the school. She scored 1,000 points for West Catholic Prep’s basketball team and had signed a letter of intent to play at Mercyhurst College.
The school’s principal, Jim Gallagher, tells PEOPLE, “She carried herself with great character and great dignity. She really treated everybody in this building as if they were family.”
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26
Flores and fellow victim Amanda Alvear were best friends, Alvear’s cousin, Lizbeth Davila Benabe, tells PEOPLE. “Mercedez and Amanda were the same. They had the same character. They basically were Bonnie and Clyde.”
The pair had a 12-year friendship, and had traveled together to places like New York and Puerto Rico.
She studied literature at Valencia College, and was an avid music fan, the Sentinel reported. “She really did live her life the way she wanted to,” Flores’ niece Jennifer Flores told the paper.
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25
Menendez’s aunt, Irma Silva-Lauer, tells PEOPLE, “He was so happy and so caring. He went above and behind for mother and his grandmother and his son. That was his world right there.”
She says Menendez had an associates degree as a pulmonary tech and then went to cosmetology school. He wanted to become a nurse and was going back to school in September.
He was born in Manati, Puerto Rico, and moved to Orlando, where he lived with his mother and grandmother.
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31
Hildamaris Negro, Fernandez’s ex-wife, tells PEOPLE that he was “friendly” and “always helping people.”
“He was always attentive to his family and he was always caring for them,” she says, noting that they had divorced after eight years of marriage this past April.
The store manager at a local McDonald’s, Fernandez, “loved listening to music, eating, watching cars and he loved buying watches.”
Fernandez’s family lives in Venezuela.
Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26
“Oscar was a very sweet guy. Very sweet to everybody,” Acarena-Montero’s cousin Yamilka Pimentel told the Sentinel. “Every time he met somebody they would like him a lot. He was the type of guy who goes along with anybody.”
Pimentel said that Acarena-Montero had been on vacation just one day before the attacks, returning from New York on Saturday.
Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25
Juan Oliveras, who went to school with Rios, describes him as “a fun loving, all around great guy.” He tells PEOPLE that Rios worked as a home health care worker.
Rios was in Orlando for a friend’s birthday party and had planned to return to New York City in time for Sunday’s Puerto Rican Day Parade. He wanted “to kick back and have a good time,” Oliveras says. “This was supposed to be his vacation. I wish he never went.”
“He didn’t deserve this,” his cousin Eric Perez says.
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30
Honorato was a married father of three boys, aged 15, 2, and 1. The manager of his family’s restaurant, Tortilleria #2, Honorato was a hard worker and a dog lover who enjoyed spending time with his extended family and friends.
His brother Jose tells PEOPLE that he had gone to pulse with two friends on Sunday. “He got invited to the wrong place,” Jose says.
A Mexico native, Honorato loved traveling, and had been in the United States as a teenager.
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37
Rivera, another Puerto Rico native, was the owner of Alta Peluqueria D’magazine hair salon in Kissimmee, according to Facebook.
Wrote one Facebook reviewer of the salon, “I drive over an hour to get my hair done here. Excellent service and OMG I am always 125 percent satisfied with the work. Juan is the best. If there was God of hairs he would be it.”
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25
A native of Hidalgo, Mexico, Chavez-Martinez came to the Orlando area to visit with family members and “to have fun,” his cousin Margarita Perez tells PEOPLE. He had been in Florida for roughly a year when he was killed.
“He was a happy person; he would always help people out,” Perez said. “He aspired to become a hair stylist, but spent his working hours cleaning hotel rooms.”
“He wanted to do hair,” said Ashley Chavez, his 17-year-old niece. “He learned on
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25
Crosby was voted West Iredell High’s “unsung hero” when he graduated from the North Carolina school in 2010, reported the Charlotte Observer. The designation meant that while Crosby wasn’t “the strongest academically,” he showed “integrity and determination,” his former English teacher Jacqueline Scott said.
“I remember his smile, his love of life. … I want people to know the laughter and the joy he spread,” she said, noting that he was “doing well for himself.”
Living in Michigan, Crosby was a business owner was only visiting Orlando on Sunday.
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24
Camuy worked on Telemundo’s hit show La Voz Kids, a show similar in format to The Voice, according to a statement by the National Association for Hispanic Journalists.
In the statement, Cesar Conde, Chairman of NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, wrote, “He was a great assistant producer and had been working with us since Yo Soy el Artista and previously at Telemundo Puerto Rico.
Most recently, he was working in audience management in the current season of La Voz Kids. Jonathan will be missed dearly.”
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24
Sanfeliz was graduate of Tampa’s Gaither High School who worked at JP Morgan Chase, Fox 13 News reported.
“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,” Junior Sanfeliz wrote in an Facebook post about his late brother. He also shared, “Everyone knows the bond that I had with my brother, we would finish each other’s sentences, knew each other’s thoughts, and could sense when the other was upset.”
Paul Terrell Henry, 41
Jaymie Glaspie, who said he was Henry’s best friend, tells PEOPLE, “He was an outgoing and fun-loving guy. He was very nurturing, very caring.”
Glaspie says Henry had a son. “He was a really great dad. It’s so sad,” he tells PEOPLE.
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32
Paniagua’s cousin Jose Luis tells PEOPLE that the last he heard from the 32-year-old was that he was texting with a friend. “At a certain point, he stopped responding,” Luis says.
Paniagua didn’t go to the club very much but liked Pulse because it was so inclusive: “There were men and women there. Anybody could go.”
Jean C. Nieves Rodriguez, 27
Mariluz Calderon, Rodriguez’s cousin, posted a message in Spanish on her Facebook that reads: “With great sadness that I announce that among the fallen of the massacre in Orlando was Jean Carlos Nieves, the cousin of my husband Julito Mendez.
“The whole Nieves, Loperena and Mendez family are very devastated and in shock at the news. I pray to God to give you the strength to get through this tragedy and also for all those families who lost their loved one. May God give eternal rest to all. r.i.p.”
Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24
Solivan was a married mother of two sons, according to a GoFundMe page her family set up.
“She was the most loving and caring person you could ever meet, her smile lit up the room and her laughter brought a smile to your heart!” wrote her sister Natalia Canlan.
She was at Pulse Saturday night with her brother-in-law William Sabad Borges and their friend Jonathan A. Camuy. Both Solivan and Camuy were killed. Borges was shot twice, but survived, according to a post on his Facebook page.
“I want to tell you that I feel fine. I got two bullets but it didn’t go further. What I have torn apart is the heart and the soul. I ask you to please keep asking the Lord for my sister-in-law, the mother of my two angels,” he wrote.
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28
Candelario-Padro’s close friend Jorge Martinez describes him as “a child of the world, who could light up your world.”
Originally from Puerto Rico, Candelario-Padro moved to the Chicago to attend optometry school. He was about to join the Florida Retina Institute in Lake Mary, Florida, as an ophthalmic technician on June 20, according to Martinez.
As a side gig, Candelario-Padro worked as a Zumba teacher. “He could dance up a storm,” his friend adds.
“He always had a smile on his face. If you were feeling down, he could make you better just from seeing that smile.”
Antonio Davon Brown, 29
Brown, a native of Cocoa Beach, Florida, was a 2008 graduate from the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University where he majored in criminal justice and was part of the ROTC program.
“He was a very positive young man,” Lt. Col. Kelvin Scott, Brown’s ROTC instructor at FAMU, told the Tallahassee Democrat. “He kept a smile on his face. He was a very positive person with a very good sense of humor.
“He was willing to work very hard to earn his commission.”
Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25
“He was the sweetest person ever. Always positive, caring,” Ortiz-Jimenez’s niece tells PEOPLE. “He only came to Orlando to come to a concert from his favorite artist Selena Gomez, since his birthday was coming up and he wanted that as a gift to himself.”
Ortiz-Jimemez was in school for acting. A resident of Carolina in Puerto Rico, he was Dominican by birth.
“We can’t even imagine how it’s going to be without him,” his niece said.
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21
Martinez relocated to Florida just one year before the shooting from Cuba, a friend of the 21-year-old told the the Sentinel.
Always with a smile on his face, Martinez was “the type of person who would see you in a parking lot and he’d have a whole conversation with you.”
• With reporting by ELAINE ARADILLAS, MARY GREEN, CHRIS HARRIS, STEVE HELLING, JEN JUNEAU, CAITLIN KEATING, ROSE MINUTAGLIO, SIOBHAN MORRISSEY, CHRISTINE PELISEK, HARRIET SOKMENSUER and JEFF TRUESDELL