By Nick Madigan, Benjamin Mueller, and Sheryl Gay Stolberg
June 13, 2016
Louis Omar Ocasio-Capo was 20, worked at a Starbucks in a Target store, and lived to dance. Stanley Almodovar III, a 23-year-old pharmacy technician, had posted a Snapchat video of himself singing and laughing on his way to the Pulse nightclub on Saturday. Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36, nicknamed Shaki, had been married to his husband for about a year, worked at a Party City and a Sunglasses Hut, and was entranced by interior design.
The dead were mostly young, mostly Latino and mostly gay — though some were none of those and a fair number were straight men and women enjoying an evening of Latin music. And on Monday, when their names were read aloud in the auditorium of a red-brick senior center, the worst fears of their families came true as the roster of the victims of the Orlando attack became horribly real.
Juan Ramon Guerrero was less than a month shy of his 23rdbirthday and in his third year at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He was quiet and kind, his uncle Robert Guerrero, 51, recalled. Like other members of his Dominican family, he liked Latin music, which is why he went to Pulse on Saturday night.
“He was not a party boy,” Mr. Guerrero said. The family found out that Juan had been hurt when someone saw him being carried out of the club and into an ambulance. Family members began a frantic search. Finally, a hospital confirmed the awful news. The bereft uncle, like so many other relatives, turned to Facebook to pour out his rage.
“Once again the tentacles of death have touched our family, this time at the hands of a coward, a scoundrel, a disgusting human being without any scruples,” he wrote.
Cesar Flores, who moved to the United States from Guatemala in 1984 to chase what he called the American dream, learned around 1 a.m. Monday that his only daughter, Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26, had died in the club along with a girlfriend, Amanda Alvear, 25.
“She was my best, my only girl,” Mr. Flores, who has two sons, said quietly, with evident grief, outside the Beardall Senior Center, where he was to receive help with arrangements to receive his daughter’s body for burial. “She was a happy girl all the time, but now she’s gone.”
The attacker, Mr. Flores said, should be forgiven. “I cannot hang on to that hate,” he said. “It’s not weapons that kill — it’s the heart. That kind of hate is in the blood.”
As he spoke, two people nearby hugged each other for a long time and sobbed. From the front door of the building, a procession of relatives and friends emerged after the briefing, heads bowed. Each family was surrounded by a team of church volunteers in bright T-shirts, their hands linked to protect their charges from reporters’ questions.
One woman, Eileen Villega, said the name of a family friend who had been in the nightclub, Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 27, had not appeared on any of the lists of dead or injured. “His boyfriend is in the hospital, but he doesn’t appear anywhere,” she said. Later, after she had left, his name was indeed found listed among the dead.
Orlando is a city that cannot be divorced from its tourist attractions, among them Disney World and Universal Studios, where some of the victims were employed. Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35, was the father of a young son and worked at DisneyLive!, according to his Facebook page. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that he had danced in the Atlanta Bachata Fest, a celebration of Latin dance and music.
Luis S. Vielma, 22, worked on a Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios, and was mourned on Twitter by the author J.K. Rowling. He was also an emergency medical student at Seminole State College, whose president, E. Ann McGee, was among several college presidents who found themselves issuing statements of sorrow on Monday, a testimony to the youth lost in the rampage.
“We are saddened by the tragic events this weekend, and the loss of one of our own,” Dr. McGee said.
Shane Evan Tomlinson, who often sang with his band, Frequency, at Orlando’s Blue Martini nightclub, performed just hours before he was killed. Friends and fellow singers struggled to process the news of a charismatic life cut short.
“We’re all really feeling that numbness right now, and just the shock,” said Deejay Young, who met Mr. Tomlinson in a gospel show at Epcot. “It could have been any one of us.”
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31, was one of those Disney World cast members who seemed to never run out of energy for helping guests, and who, as a Spanish-speaking man whose family was from Colombia, forged a particularly close bond with Latin American visitors.
He was also straight, two friends who worked with Mr. Wright said. He had gone to Pulse on Saturday night to celebrate the birthday of a friend, Cory James Connell, 21, who was also killed.
“It’s a great atmosphere,” said Jessica Weyl, 23, a friend who is also straight and goes to Pulse occasionally. “People aren’t judgmental. People aren’t feeling the need necessarily to impress each other.”
She added, “At Pulse it’s just calm, cool, and collected. No one felt pressure to be anyone they weren’t. I’m straight and I love going there. My brother is gay and he loves going there.”
Ms. Weyl had just finished training for a job in Tomorrowland when she met Mr. Wright.
“He took me under his wing and kind of showed me everything,” she said. She turned to him for questions about Disney policies, but especially when she encountered a guest who spoke Spanish. “He really connected with a lot of guests — we do have a lot of South Americans come,” she said. “He connected especially to those people.”
Mexico’s Foreign Ministry confirmed Monday that three Mexicans were among the dead. The Mexican Consulate in Orlando was working to determine if a fourth victim was of Mexican origin.
President Enrique Peña Nieto said the tragedy’s origins lay in “expressions of hatred, of discrimination, of phobia against certain people.”
Many Latinos in Orlando are of Puerto Rican descent. Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34, was among them. He was proud of his heritage, and had made it his life’s mission to open doors for gay travelers, especially in Latin America. As the national brand manager for ALandCHUCK.travel, an agency that caters to gay people, he organized what the company’s owner, Al Ferguson, called the first-ever gay cruise to Cuba. “He fell in love with Cuba,” Mr. Ferguson said.
During the trip, in April, Mr. Sotomayor and Mr. Ferguson met with Mariela Castro, Raúl Castro’s daughter and a prominent gay rights activist there. The two men also posed in front of a poster left over from President Obama’s recent trip.
On Sunday morning at Pulse, Mr. Sotomayor’s boyfriend of about three years had gone outside to put some things in his car when the shots broke out. Mr. Sotomayor texted him that he was hiding, but safe, and told him not to come back inside, Mr. Ferguson said. About 25 minutes later, he texted his boyfriend again, saying he was still hiding. That was the last message the boyfriend got.
Mr. Ferguson said the boyfriend’s parents, who live in Mexico, do not know he is gay.
“It’s a double catastrophe,” he said. “You face such horrible loss and then can’t share it.”
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