Note: One year ago, 49 souls were taken from us at Pulse NightClub in Orlando, Florida, when a man used a firearm to attack the space where they were enjoying Latin Night. This is a tribute to them.
John Donne, the English poet, wrote that “no man is an island entire of itself,” essentially saying that we are all connected to each other in a very real way, in a way that changes who we all are as one community. The poem Donne wrote also contains lines that spoke out through the ages as we all continue to make sense of the Pulse NightClub tragedy in Orlando.
“If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me…”
We all exist in our own communities, and the pain we felt here in Denver after the Pulse tragedy cannot be compared to the pain felt by the loved ones of those we lost and the Orlando community. But if anyone out there is reading this, know we are all part of one community together, and the deaths of these 49 spectacular individuals have devastated us in a way that leaves us ready to heal with you.
One part of what I call the “after-tragedy,” that immediate period that all of us experience, is healing. The other part, remembering. As we continue to create safe spaces for healing, we want to take the time to remember as well. These are the 49 souls we lost one year ago.
Akyra Murray, 18, was the youngest victim of the Pulse tragedy. Akyra was in Orlando with her family to celebrate graduating third in her class from West Catholic Preparatory High School. She was a successful basketball player and had plans to continue playing at Mercyhurst University. Her mother described her to the Associated Press as “out to help anybody.”
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21, was from Cuba, where his mother still lives, and had moved to Orlando only recently before his life was taken from him. He moved to Orlando to live with his father. He was a regular at Pulse, and a friend told The Orlando Sentinel that he had limited English fluency, but that it didn’t stop him from having many friends.
Amanda Alvear, 25, was a fashionista according to her family, and the day she died, she had taken her nieces shopping. She had gone through significant weight loss and went to gay clubs because she felt free there. She was working as a pharmacy technician but was hoping to become a nurse.
Angel Luis Candelario Padro, 28, was from Guanica, Puerto Rico but had lived in Chicago until he moved to Orlando. In Puerto Rico, Angel earned a degree in nursing from the Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico Recinto Metropolitano. Angel studied at the Illinois College of Optometry while living in the state. He was an ophthalmic technician at Florida Retina Institute, and he also worked as a zumba instructor.
Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25, was from Puerto Rico and had been a communications student at Universidad Del Sagrado Corazon before moving to Orlando to pursue his passion for dance. His cousin told the The Orlando Sentinel that she wanted people to remember Anthony as “someone who was very happy and very kind.”
Antonio Davon Brown, 29, was a captain in the Army Reserve at the time of his passing. Antonio had been in ROTC and served his country in Iraq and Afghanistan. From Cocoa Beach, he graduated from Florida A&M University with a degree in criminal justice in 2008. He was remembered by a friend to The Orlando Sentinel as a “down to earth guy.”
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49, was at Pulse with her cousin and son when she was taken from us. She was known for enjoying music and being a strong person, having overcome both breast and bone cancer. She was the mother of 11 children.
Christopher Sanfeliz, 24, was a former high school marching band member and community college student living in Tampa. He worked at JPMorgan Chase. His brother remembered him as “kind and generous.”
Cory James Connell, 21, worked at Publix and was studying sports journalism/broadcasting at Valencia Community College. Cory lived in Ocoee and was a football player as well as an assistant coach for a women’s football team in Orlando. He was at Pulse that night to celebrate his birthday with friends, one of whom was Jerald Wright, who was also murdered.
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29, lived in Jacksonville and was a member of a community service and professional networking group in the city. He worked as a financial aid officer at Keiser University, a private school. Darryl’s best friend remembered him as the kind of person who was “always giving great advice to anyone who would listen.”
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32, was a bartender at Pulse the night she was murdered. Deonka’s girlfriend, whom she had a child with, talked about how she had a cruise booked and was excited to go. Deonka’s girlfriend said their child, who is three, didn’t understand what was going on and could only point her out in pictures as “Mommie.”
Drew Leinonen, 32, was from Detroit and had celebrated a birthday that month. He had been at Pulse that night with his boyfriend, Juan Guerrero, who was also murdered at Pulse. Drew’s sister told TIME that he and his boyfriend were in love. They planned to marry and had a joint funeral.
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30, was an accountant who went to Pulse that night with his best friend Demetrice. Before his life was ended, he texted his mother, “Mommy I love you.”
Edward Sotomayor, 34, was a traveler living in Sarasota, where he worked at the gay travel agency AlAndChuck.travel and had recently organized the first-ever gay cruise to Cuba, according to The Orlando Sentinel. Edward’s employer said that he was someone who would always say, “we cannot be afraid.”
Enrique L. Rios Jr., 25, was from Brooklyn, New York. He earned a degree from St. Francis College in Brooklyn and worked as a social worker in the area. He left behind a community of loved ones and friends in New York and Florida.
Eric Ivan Ortiz Rivera, 36, was from Puerto Rico and was not a “club-scene person,” a friend told The Orlando Sentinel. He had been at Pulse for a friend’s housewarming party. His friend described him as generous and said he was, “always willing to help everybody.” He had a communications degree from Universidad Central de Bayamon. He was about to celebrate his first wedding anniversary.
Frankie Hernandez, 27, went by the name Frank Escalante and was from Weslaco, Texas. Frankie had gone to Pulse with his partner Brett Rigas, who survived the shooting.
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50, was the oldest person taken from us at Pulse, according to The Advocate. He worked at Forever 21 and was from San Juan in Puerto Rico, like many other victims and survivors in the Orlando community.
Geraldo Ortiz Jimenez, 25, was from Santo Domingo but moved to Puerto Rico later in life. Geraldo, who bore some resemblance to Drake and went by the name on the internet, said online that he was a law student at Universidad Del Este in Carolina, Puerto Rico. He is remembered as someone who liked dancing, listening to music, going out to watch movies, and going to the club.
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25, was from Manti, Puerto Rico and was in a relationship at the time of his passing. He also worked at Speedway as a sales associate.
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19, had been recognized for his 4.0 GPA at Southern Technical College, where he was working towards becoming an office specialist. He was a native son of Orlando, was a cheerleader in high school, and enjoyed Jeremiah’s Italian Ice. Videos and messages he left behind on social media reveal a silly and also emotionally complex human being.
Javier Jorge Reyes, 40, was from Guayama, Puerto Rico and worked at Gucci after leaving his longtime position at Guess. He loved So You Think You Can Dance. He had a “sarcastic sense of humor,” loved his mini Schnauzer, and bragged about his nephews and siblings on Facebook.
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35, was at Pulse with his partner Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, who was also taken from us. He worked at Perfumania. He was from Puerto Rico but had moved to Florida as a teenager and was living in Kissimmee. He enjoyed going out, and his sister-in-law told The Orlando Sentinel that he was a loving uncle who spoiled her children.
Jean Carlos Nieves Rodriguez, 27, was from Puerto Rico and went to high school in Orlando. At the time of his passing, he was a general manager at a check cashing business. He had recently purchased his first house and was hoping to help his mother find a new home as well. A friend remembered him, saying that he wanted to be the best and was always putting in the work to make that happen. That friend also talked about his caring nature saying, “he was just a caring, loving guy — just like a big teddy bear.”
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31, worked in marketing and sales and also as a seasonal worker at Disney World in Magic Kingdom. He had a degree in hospitality management from Florida International University and studied marketing at Northeastern. He was at Pulse to celebrate the 21st birthday of a friend, Cory Connell, who also had his life taken from him that night.
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32, was from Veracruz, Mexico and had lived in Ocoee before moving to Tampa. He worked in the area to send money to his family back in Mexico. One of his favorite quotes seems to fit his legacy well: “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”
Jonathan Camuy Vega, 24, was from Puerto Rico and died at Pulse trying to protect his friend, Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, whose life was taken as well. He worked for Telemundo in Puerto Rico, and moved to Orlando to work for the media outlet, eventually working for La Voz Kids, a show on Telemundo.
Juan Chavez Martinez, 25, was one of three Mexican citizens who died at Pulse, according to The Orlando Sentinel. Juan was living in Davenport and working as a housekeeping supervisor in Kissimmee, a job he had for seven years. His supervisor remembered him as “extremely friendly, very dedicated to his family, to his coworkers…” At the time, some in his family could not go back to Mexico for his funeral because of their immigration status.
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37, was at Pulse to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Juan came to Pulse that night with his husband, Luis Daniel Conde, who he had been a peer in high school in Puerto Rico before working with him at Alta Peluqueria D’Magazine Salon. Salon regulars loved Juan, as did his surviving family.
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22, was a telemarketer who had recently come out to his accepting family and had been a student at the University of Central Florida. Juan’s cousin told the Associated Press that he was not someone to go out to parties and that he would “rather stay home and care for his niece and nephew.” He was at Pulse with his boyfriend, Christopher “Drew” Leinonen, another victim of the Pulse tragedy.
KJ Morris, 37, was a college basketball player from Connecticut who was passionate about mixed martial arts and performed in drag as “Daddy K.” That night, she was working as a bouncer and her ex-girlfriend told The Orlando Sentinel that she was “thrilled to get more involved in the LGBT community” in Orlando.
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25, was from Ponce, Puerto Rico. He worked as a leasing agent, did hair, and was a huge fan of Beyoncé. Leroy’s friend remembered him as “really very spirited and always happy.” Leroy was at Pulse that night with Xavier Rosado, another victim of the Pulse tragedy. They had been in a new relationship.
Luis Daniel Conde, 39, was from San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico and was at Pulse that night with his husband, Juan Rivera, who also died that night. He shared a business with his husband, where he did makeup.
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37, was from Puerto Rico and endured bullying from others in his religious small town. He was at Pulse with his boyfriend, Jean Carlos Perez, who also lost his life that night. He had been with his boyfriend for eight years. Bravely, he moved to Vero Beach alone and with no working English skills. His longtime friend said, “he was my hero.”
Luis Vielma, 22, was part of a team that ran the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction at Universal Studios. His passing captured the attention of likeminded fans online, as well as that of J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series. Luis was studying physical therapy at Seminole State College of Florida.
Martin Benitez Torres, 33, was a student at Sistema Universitario Ana G. Mendez in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he was from. Martin had posted a video of himself cooking with his family days before his life was taken from him. He was in Orlando visiting family. He was at Pulse that night with his boyfriend, who survived the attack.
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26, was from Queens, New York, studied literature at Valencia College in Orlando, and had gone to the club with Amanda Alvear, another victim of the tragedy. Mercedez’s niece told The Orlando Sentinel that she loved music and was a “fun nice person” who cared about her friends.
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30, lived in Apopka, and was the father of three. He worked at FajitaMex Mexican Catering in Orlando with his brother. He was also the owner of four restaurants.
Omar Capo, 20, was a dancer who worked at the Target in Kissimmee as a cashier and Starbucks team member. A colleague memorialized him on Facebook, saying, “he lit up any area he worked in…” He was remembered by his friend as a “happy soul” who liked to dance and listen to music.
Oscar A. Aracena Montero, 26, lived in the Dominican Republic as a kid. At the time of his death he was living in Kissimmee with his boyfriend Simon Fernandez, who also died that night. They owned three chihuahuas and had just come back from a trip to Niagara Falls. He was also a university student. He is remembered by his cousin as “a very sweet guy” who was “the type of guy who goes along with anybody.”
Paul Terrell Henry, 41, was from Chicago and loved to dance. He also loved to make people laugh and spend time with his two children. At the time of his passing, he worked as a sales representative at Orange Lakes Resorts. One coworker remembered one detail about him and many more, saying, “his laughter was contagious.” A piano and organ player and singer, he was a vibrant spirit who left behind two children and a loving boyfriend.
Peter Ommy Gonzalez Cruz, 22, was from South Africa and was working in Orlando as a UPS employee. He had previously been a high school student in New Jersey.
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33, was from San German, Puerto Rico, where he attended the university. He lived in Kissimmee at the time of his passing. He worked as a biologics assistant at OneBlood, a blood bank that was inundated with people looking to donate following the shooting. A friend online memorialized him with, “you touched many lives with your energy, always had a smile on your face, a joke to make, and stories to tell.”
Shane Tomlinson, 33, was the face of the band Frequency, a big fan of Janet Jackson, and a self-described vocal arranger, singer, actor, model, and songwriter. He was an East Carolina University graduate.
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31, was a college student when he was taken from us. He was at Pulse that night with his partner, Aracena Montero, who also was killed. They had recently bought a home in Kissimmee together. His coworker remembered him as driven, saying fondly, “he had to be the best, that was his thing.”
Stanley Almodovar III, 23, was from Springfield, Massachusetts, but was living in Clermont, Florida at the time of his passing. Stanley was at Pulse with his friend Marissa, who was shot that night but survived. He worked as a pharmacy technician and had a humorous side. His aunt remembered him as someone with a bright future who was “an amazing person with a good soul.”
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25, was from North Carolina and lived in Michigan, where he owned his own marketing business. A college graduate, his brother described him to The Orlando Sentinel as someone who was “very ambitious” and worked hard on his goals.
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35, was from Ponce, Puerto Rico. He worked at Splash Bar as a male entertainer and go-go dancer under the name “Eman Valentino.” Xavier was at Pulse that night with Leroy Valentin Fernandez, another victim of the Pulse tragedy, and the two had begun dating recently. Xavier leaves behind a young son.
Yilmary “Mary” Rodriguez Solivan, 24, was a wife and the mother of two children. She was at Pulse that night for the first time, there to celebrate a visit from her brother-in-law, who survived the night. She was also with Jonathan Camuy Vega, who died in the attack trying to protect her.