A gunman wielding an assault-type rifle and a handgun opened fire inside a crowded gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, early Sunday, leaving at least 49 people dead in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Here are stories of some of the victims.
Eddie Jamoldroy “Droy” Justice, 30, was normally a homebody who liked to eat and work out. He liked to make everyone laugh. He worked as an accountant and lived in a condo in downtown Orlando. “Lives in a sky house, like the Jeffersons,” said his mother, Mina Justice. “He lives rich.”
On this night, he was out at Pulse nightclub. But at 2:06 a.m., Mina received a pair of text messages:
“Mommy I love you.”
“In club they shooting.”
Mina Justice tried calling her son. No answer. She tapped out a response: “U ok”.
At 2:07 a.m., he wrote: “Trapp in bathroom.”
Justice asked what club, and he responded: “Pulse. Downtown. Call police.”
Then at 2:08: “I’m gonna die.”
Now wide awake, Justice dialed 911 and sent a flurry of texts over the next several minutes.
“I’m calling them now.” “U still in there”. “Answer our damn phone”. “Call them”. “Call me.”
At 2:39 a.m., he responded: “Call them mommy”. “Now.”
He wrote that he was in the bathroom.
“He’s coming.” “I’m gonna die.”
Justice asked her son if anyone was hurt and which bathroom he was in.
“Lots. Yes,” he responded at 2:42 a.m.
“Text me please,” she wrote.
“No,” he wrote four minutes later. “Still here in bathroom. He has us. They need to come get us.”
“Hurry,” he wrote three minutes later. “He’s in the bathroom with us.”
She asked, “Is the man in the bathroom wit u?”
At 2:50 a.m.: “He’s a terror.”
Then, a final text from her son a minute later: “Yes.”
City officials confirmed on Monday that Justice was among the dead.
Last Monday, Akyra Murray, who turned 18 in January, graduated third in her class of 42 students at West Catholic Preparatory High School in Philadelphia, where she had also been a 1,000-point scorer on the basketball team. She had recently signed a letter of intent to play basketball at Mercyhurst University in Erie.
“She was very loving, caring, out to help anybody,” her mother, Natalie Murray, recalled.
To celebrate her graduation, Akyra, her parents and her 4-year-old sister travelled to Orlando for a family vacation.
On Saturday, Murray told her parents she wanted to party in downtown Orlando. They dropped her off at Pulse at 11:30 Saturday night.
At about 2 a.m., Akyra Murray sent a text message to her mother, saying that she and her cousins wanted to be picked up. She said there had been a shooting.
Moments later, the phone rang.
“She was saying she was shot and she was screaming, saying she was losing a lot of blood,” Natalie Murray said.
Murray said her daughter was hiding in a bathroom stall, cowering from the shooter, her arm bleeding for hours with no medical treatment.
Akyra Murray told her mother to call police and send help.
They never spoke again. “It was devastating,” Natalie Murray said.
Leroy Valentin Fernandez recently had found a job as a leasing agent for an Orlando apartment complex, said his friend, Jennifer Rodriguez. “He had finally found something he liked. He was taking care of his mom,” she said.
He was her hair stylist and became one of her best friends, she said. “He was like a brother,” she said. “He was just really very spirited and always happy, you know?”
Fernandez, 25, recently had been dating an older man, a dancer known by the stage name Eman Valentino. That dancer was Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35, who also died and left behind a young son who had graduated from pre-kindergarten earlier this month.
“I have no words to express how proud and happy I am of my little boy,” Rosado, 35, wrote on Facebook recently about his son.
A friend described Rosado as hard-working, talkative and friendly. Said Yemil Royce: “He was a lovely friend, brother and father.”
A YouTube video shows him dancing as an elegantly dressed Eman Valentino at the Orlando club Parliament House. He wears a cape, tie and gloves and collects tips from the audience between high kicks and spins.
Mercedez Marisol Flores went to Pulse nightclub almost every weekend, Flores’ sister-in-law said Monday, often with her best friend Amanda Alvear. Both women died in the shooting.
“She was very outgoing,” Nancy Flores said of Mercedez Flores. “She had lots of friends. They used to always meet up at Pulse.”
Born in Queens, New York, the 26-year-old Flores moved to Florida when she was a child, her sister-in-law said. She worked at Target and studied at Valencia College, a local community college. She wanted to become a party planner so she could co-ordinate events with her two older brothers, who are both DJs.
Alvear, 25, had bonded with friend Sandy Marte over breakups and health problems. Marte said he was trying to comfort her after the breakup. She had lost a lot of weight following gastric bypass surgery and Marte encouraged her to socialize and enjoy life.
“She was loving, she was caring, she always had an open ear, she always wanted to help people,” Marte said of his friend Alvear. “She had an amazing heart. She was a really good person.”
Both women posted on Snapchat from the nightclub before the shooting.
Flores’ family spent hours waiting at Orlando Regional Medical Center, then a staging area at a nearby hotel.
Someone came to read the names of victims still hospitalized or being released. Mercedez Flores’ name wasn’t on the list.
It wasn’t until the early hours of Monday that her father got a call from the sheriff’s office that his daughter had died, Nancy Flores said.
Marte said a post from Alvear on Snapchat showed a packed club full of revelers, flashing lights and thumping music. Then a selfie video of Alvear with a series of gunshots in the background.
Marte said he understands what it’s like to be at a nightclub during a shooting. He was at the Glitz Ultra Lounge in Orlando in February when two people were killed. He said he froze in place from the shock of it.
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo wanted to be a star. The 20-year-old dancer was working at Starbucks inside a Kissimmee Target store while studying theatre, and would have auditioned on Tuesday for a play, said his sister, Belinette Ocasio-Capo.
“He was one of the most amazing dancers,” she said. “He would always call me and say, ‘I’m going to be the next Hollywood star.’ He really did want to make it and be known.
“Now his name ended up being all around the world, like he wanted — just not this way.”
Omar, as he was known to family and friends, seemed brash to 70-year-old Claudia Mason, who worked with him at Starbucks. But after getting to know her much younger co-worker, “I realized he had a very outgoing personality,” said Mason. “His sense of humour was definitely his defining personality trait.”
Ocasio-Capo was hired as a cashier before moving over to the Starbucks, and became a great barista, Mason said.
“Omar got along with everyone. Young, old, male, female, gay, or straight, it didn’t matter to Omar,” she said.
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 — known among family and friends as “Ommy” — was always the life of the party.
“Peter makes a difference everywhere he goes. He was a happy person. If Peter is not at the party, no one wants to go,” his aunt, Sonia Cruz, said.
Gonzalez-Cruz went to Pulse on Saturday night with his best friend, 25-year-old Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez. After news of the mass shooting emerged, Cruz said she held out hope for hours that her nephew would turn up in a hospital bed.
But late Sunday afternoon, she was told he was among those killed at the club.
Cruz said she had her nephew’s car keys and was hoping to collect his car Sunday evening. It was parked at a Wendy’s across the street from Pulse, one of many with yellow police caution tape tucked under the windshield wipers, vehicles left behind by victims of the shooting.
Cruz said her nephew worked at UPS.
Edward Sotomayor, 34, was a caring, energetic man known for wearing a silly top hat on cruises, according to David Sotomayor, who said the two discovered they were cousins after meeting at Orlando’s annual Gay Days festival around a decade ago.
David Sotomayor, who lives in Chicago, told The Associated Press Sunday that Edward worked for a company that held gay cruises and often travelled to promote the company’s events.
“He was just always part of the fun,” David Sotomayor said.
The two texted regularly and kept in touch, last seeing each other earlier this year at a filming of the television reality show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” David Sotomayor said.
David Sotomayor is a drag queen who appeared on a season of the show using the name “Jade.” He said Edward Sotomayor supported him and often sent him Facebook messages. They last exchanged messages late last week.
“You never think that’s going to be the last time you speak to him,” David Sotomayor said. “It’s just heartbreaking to know it just can happen anytime.”
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22, told his cousin Robert Guerrero he was gay about two years ago, but he was worried about how the rest of his family would react. He did not tell them until just before the beginning of this year. And when he did?
“They were very accepting,” said Guerrero, 19. “As long as he was happy, they were OK with it.”
On Sunday morning, after learning that so many people had died at a gay nightclub, Pulse, that his cousin had gone to once in a while, Guerrero started to become concerned. Later in the day, his fears were realized when the family learned that Guerrero was identified as one of the victims.
Robert Guerrero said his cousin worked as a telemarketer and in recent months he started attending college at the University of Central Florida. Guerrero said his cousin didn’t quite know what he wanted to study, but he was happy to be in school. And he was happy in a relationship with a person his relatives came to regard as a member of the family, Guerrero said.
“He was always this amazing person (and) he was like a big brother to me,” he said of his cousin. “He was never the type to go out to parties, would rather stay home and care for his niece and nephew.”
Stanley Almodovar III‘s mother had prepared a tomato-and-cheese dip for him to eat when he came home from his night out.
Instead, Rosalie Ramos was awakened by a call at 2 a.m. Sunday telling her something had happened.
Ramos told the Orlando Sentinel her son, a 23-year-old pharmacy technician, posted a Snapchat video of himself singing and laughing on his way to Pulse nightclub.
“I wish I had that (video) to remember him forever,” she told the newspaper.
A friend, Hazel Ramirez, told the Washington Post she also saw a video from Almodovar on Snapchat and learned Sunday afternoon what had happened.
Ramirez described Almodovar as “kind, but sassy,” and someone who was comfortable with his own sexual identity.
“He was so proud of who he was,” she told the Post. “He would do his makeup better than anyone else. It was so easy to be myself with him.
Kimberly Morris, 37, moved to Orlando just months ago and had taken a job at Pulse nightclub as a bouncer, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
“She was so excited,” ex-girlfriend Starr Shelton told the newspaper. “She’d just started working there and told me how she was thrilled to get more involved in the LGBT community there,” Shelton said.
Friends described Morris as a kind, sweet person.
Narvell Benning met Morris when they were in college at Post University in Waterbury, Connecticut, where Benning said they both played basketball.
“I can’t think of a time when I did not see a smile on her face,” Benning told the Sentinel. “I’m so thankful of the good memories I have of her. This is just unreal.”
Everyone loved Luis Vielma, a 22-year-old who worked at Universal Studios, friends said.
High school friend Eddi Anderson told the Tampa Bay Times that Vielma loved his job at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and was known for his pleasant attitude and warm demeanour.
J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books that spawned the movies and Orlando theme park, tweeted a picture of Vielma in a Hogwarts school tie, and said: “I can’t stop crying.”
Josh Boesch, who worked with Vielma at Universal, told the Orlando Sentinel: “He was always a friend you could call. He was always open and available.”
Vielma “just wanted to make people smile,” another co-worker, Olga Glomba, said.