ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A gunman wielding an assault-type rifle and a handgun opened fire inside a crowded gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, early Sunday, killing at least 49 people in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Here are stories of some of the victims.
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31, was quiet but knew how to treat guests at Walt Disney World, where he worked as a seasonal employee, a former co-worker said.
“He was one of the kindest people you could meet,” co-worker Kenneth Berrios told the Orlando Sentinel. “We had students from the London program and Jerry was always willing to give rides to them and show them around town.”
Wright “was a great guy to work with,” former co-worker Scott Dickison said. “He was quiet but really wonderful with all the guests. He always had a smile on his face.”
Dickison said Wright had worked most recently in merchandising on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, but also had worked in Tomorrowland and at Universal Studios in Orlando.
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19, called his mother as a gunman opened fire to ask for help, his aunt and uncle said.
She stayed on the line with him and could hear gunshots in the background, but tried to calm him down as he hid in the bathroom, Jimmy and Myrleine Inelus told KPNX-TV in Arizona, where Josaphat went to high school.
His mother then didn’t hear anything for as many as 20 seconds.
“It was dead silence on the phone … I think that’s when the gunman finally made his way into the bathroom,” Jimmy Inelus said.
Josaphat moved to Orlando after graduating from high school in 2014. A childhood friend, Messiah McMillian, told KNXV-TV in Phoenix that he was one of the first people whom Josaphat told he was gay.
“When I found out, I never judged him,” McMillian said. “I never looked at him any differently. He was always my friend.”
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40, was known as “Javi” by his friends and as “Harvey George-Kings” on Facebook — a literal English translation of his name.
But his Facebook profile name belied a deep pride in his Latino heritage, friends told the Orlando Sentinel.
“He was proud to be Latino, super proud,” friend Jose Diaz told the newspaper, adding: “He was always positive. He was very humble. He was a lovely friend.”
Diaz recalled being sold a wallet by Jorge-Reyes, who worked at a Gucci store at an Orlando mall.
Another friend, Edith Colon of Miami, said Jorge-Reyes was a top salesman and makeup artist.
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24, was always friendly and outgoing, “the most positive guy I’ve ever known,” friend Josh Palange said.
They became friends during middle school, and in high school, took honors classes and band together – Sanfeliz on trumpet. Though they didn’t see each other much after graduating in 2010, “we stayed friends on Facebook,” Palange told the Tampa Bay Times.
Sanfeliz’s family moved there from Cuba in the 1960s, family friend Mike Wallace said. Sanfeliz took business classes at a community college and was hired as a bank teller and worked his way up to become a personal banker, Wallace said.
“He (was) a wonderful person and this is such a tragedy,” said Wallace. “He was cut down in his prime.”
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36, followed the crowd from a housewarming party to Pulse, according to former roommate Abismael Colon Gomez.
“I am really in shock that he was in the club, because he was not usually a club-scene person,” Colon Gomez told the Orlando Sentinel. “The only reason he went was because there was a housewarming party for our friend. And Eric was like his mentor.”
Ortiz-Rivera worked in merchandise management for Toys R Us and Ross, had earned a degree in communications from a university in Puerto Rico and came to Florida to advance his career.
“Eric was always willing to help everybody. He sacrificed himself a lot for his family,” Colon Gomez said. “He loved his brother, and he was always being generous.”
Another friend posted on Ortiz-Rivera’s Facebook page after learning of his death: “God just gained one funny and caring angel today.”
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49, loved to dance, so much so that she’d go to nightclubs with her 21-year-old son. They were both at Pulse. She was killed, son Isaiah Henderson survived, her oldest daughter, Khalisha Pressley, told NBC News.
“She was always really cool, but really a mom at the end of the day … the sweetest lovingest person in the world,” Pressley said of her mother, a two-time cancer survivor who had 11 children.
“She was a fighter,” lifelong friend Noreen Vaquer told the Orlando Sentinel. “She doesn’t take nothing from nobody.”
Vaquer, who met McCool when they were kindergartners in Brooklyn, New York, said her friend gave good advice, backed up by life experience.
“She’s smart,” Vaquer said. “She’ll put you right.”
Frank Hernandez, 27, loved fashion and lived to purchase the finest pieces of clothing at Calvin Klein or Armani.
“He had the best of everything, the most expensive,” said Jessica Leal, 19, one of his five siblings. “He liked the good stuff. And he worked hard for it.”
A manager at a Calvin Klein store in Orlando, Hernandez grew up in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, near the U.S.-Mexico border, and had lived in Central Florida for three years.
Hernandez also loved Beyonce and going out to dance, and he frequented Pulse, Leal said. According to media reports, Hernandez’s boyfriend was able to escape, but lost track of Hernandez in the chaos.
His sister has planned a fitting tribute: She’ll wear Calvin Klein at his funeral.
“I’m pretty sure he’d love it if he saw it,” she said.
Franky Jimmy De Jesus Velazquez, 50, worked as a visual merchandiser, designing displays for an Orlando clothing store, according to his Facebook page. He posted inspirational and funny messages on his page, including a T-shirt that read: “Never underestimate an old man who is also a visual merchandiser.”
On a list of victims with an average age of 29 years old, Velazquez was the oldest. But age never became a barrier for Velazquez, former co-worker Bret Werner said.
“He was a very outgoing, friendly person,” said Werner, who worked with him at a clothing store in Miami. “Everyone wanted to be around him.”
Among family and friends in his native Puerto Rico, Velazquez was known for Jibaro folk dancing, said his sister, Shiela De Jesus. “He was a very loved person.”
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37, barely spoke English when he moved from Puerto Rico to Florida in 2004, but he wasn’t deterred by the language barrier.
He quickly learned English, got a job and eventually met his partner, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35, who also died.
“(Wilson-Leon) walked into the room and all eyes were on him because of his positive energy, just what he radiated … I’m heartbroken,” said his cousin, Laly Santiago-Leon, adding that the couple frequented Pulse and loved Latin Night.
Longtime friend Daniel Gmys-Casiano described Wilson-Leon as a protector and confidante. The two grew up in the same small town, and when Gmys-Casiano moved to the U.S., Wilson-Leon gave him a job in a shoe store.
“He was my hero,” Gmys-Casiano told the Orlando Sentinel.
Even though Wilson-Leon had been bullied for his sexuality, Gmys-Casiano said, “he never retaliated with hate. … He would stand to protect his friends.”
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35, had a humor and warmth that made him a great salesman – and helped him find love, a co-worker said.
“He laughed with the people and would make jokes,” said Claudia Agudelo, who worked with Perez at a perfume store. “He was always happy.”
Mendez Perez met his longtime partner, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, about a decade ago when he sold him the fragrance Declaration by Cartier, Agudelo told the Orlando Sentinel. Wilson-Leon also died in the nightclub shooting.
Mendez Perez moved to the U.S. from Puerto Rico when he was a teenager, and made friends quickly, father Angel Mendez said.
“He was a real dynamic kid,” he said.
Sister-in-law Katia Mendez said Mendez Perez also was a fun-loving and doting uncle who would buy her three children candy and ice cream.
“He was like a little kid when he was with them,” she said.
Capt. Antonio Davon Brown, 29, served in the Army Reserve and deployed to Kuwait for nearly a year.
Brown graduated in 2008 from Florida A&M, where he majored in criminal justice and participated in the ROTC program.
Lt. Col. Kelvin Scott, a ROTC instructor, remembered Brown’s positive attitude and sense of humor.
“He kept a smile on his face,” Scott told the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper. “He was willing to work very hard to earn his commission.”
Devonta White, a friend of Brown’s, said Brown was known in their dorm for waking up early for drills and becoming close friends with his fellow trainees, but also making friends outside of ROTC.
“He had a car so when he went to Wal-Mart, I would ride with him,” White said. “We just became good friends over time. He helped me more than he knows.”
An Army service record shows Brown deployed to Kuwait from April 2010 to March 2011.
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29, worked as a financial aid officer for Keiser University’s Jacksonville, Florida, campus.
As a volunteer, he co-chaired a clothing drive for the homeless for the Jacksonville Jaycees, a nonprofit organization.
“Darryl was very passionate about working in the community and wasn’t afraid to take the lead,” Jacksonville Jaycees President Shawn DeVries told the Indianapolis Star. “If someone needed anything, he’d usually just ask for the details: where, when and what are the deadlines.”
Burt left behind family in central Indiana, and recently earned a degree in human resources management.
Keiser University’s chancellor, Arthur Keiser, called Burt “a highly respected member of the KU team” on the school’s website, and the school was providing grief counselors to help Burt’s colleagues.
Simon Adrian Carrillo-Fernandez, 31, loved to travel and “worked to be able to enjoy his life,” co-worker Ivonne Irizarry said.
A manager at McDonald’s, Carillo-Fernandez had traveled to the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Mexico and went on cruises, Irizarry said.
He and his partner, Oscar Aracena-Montero, who also was killed at the nightclub, had just returned from Niagara Falls, Irizarry told the Orlando Sentinel.
Carillo-Fernandez never forgot a birthday, she said, and would bring in cakes for his McDonald’s co-workers.
Colleagues said Carrillo-Fernandez’s attention to detail was a trademark of his leadership style.
“He had to be the best, that was his thing. I cook the best, I clean the best, I work the best,” she said of him.
Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26, lived with his partner, Simon Adrian Carillo-Fernandez, and three Chihuahuas in a home they bought last year, a friend, Andrea Herrera, told the Orlando Sentinel.
Yamilka Pimentel, a cousin, said Araceno-Montero moved with his father from the Dominican Republic to Central Florida as a child.
“Oscar was a very sweet guy. Very sweet to everybody,” Pimentel told the newspaper. “Every time he met somebody they would like him a lot. He was the type of guy who goes along with anybody.”
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 traveled 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, 26, went to Pulse nightclub almost every weekend, often with her best friend, Amanda Alvear.
“She was very outgoing,” her sister-in-law, Nancy Flores, said. “She had lots of friends.”
Mercedez Flores worked at Target, studied at a local community college and wanted to become a party planner so she could coordinate events with her two older brothers, who are both DJs.
Flores’ family spent hours waiting at Orlando Regional Medical Center, then a staging area at a nearby hotel. Someone read the names of victims still hospitalized or being released, and her name wasn’t on the list. Her father got a call early the next day from the sheriff’s office that his daughter had died, Nancy Flores said.
Amanda Alvear, 25, and Mercedez Flores posted on Snapchat from the nightclub before the shooting.
Alvear’s friend Sandy Marte said one of Alvear’s Snapchats showed a packed club full of revelers. Another, a selfie video of Alvear with a series of gunshots in the background.
Marte and Alvear bonded over breakups and health problems.
“She was loving, she was caring, she always had an open ear, she always wanted to help people,” Marte said. “She had an amazing heart.”
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, and 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 theater, 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 humor 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.
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice tapped out a series of chilling text messages to his mother from a bathroom at the Orlando nightclub. The 45-minute exchange began with a message of love.
“Mommy I love you,” the first message to Mina Justice said at 2:06 a.m. The messages stopped shortly after he confirmed to her that the shooter was nearby.
Eddie Justice, 30, was normally a homebody who liked to eat and work out, his mother said. 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,” she would say. “He lives rich.”
Miguel Honorato, 30, was a father of three who managed four restaurants in central Florida along with a side catering business. He was always the one to drop everything to help out his family, which included seven siblings.
His brother, Jose Honorato, wrote a simple, heartfelt message on his brother’s Facebook page: “Come home bro, I’m waiting for you.”
“He was my mentor and my supporter. He helped very much in my parents’ house and work,” Honorato said. Even though Miguel was younger, he gave sage advice about the family business, his brother said.
Jose Honorato changed his Facebook photo Monday to one of the two brothers smiling over a charcoal grill, one of many happy memories cooking together.
Shane Tomlinson, 33, had a passion for singing, and had been the lead vocalist with “The Frequency Band” at a nightclub before going to Pulse, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
“He was destined for a grand stage and he was doing exactly what he wanted to do,” said Dr. Lathan Turner, associate director of student transitions at East Carolina University, where Tomlinson graduated in 2003 with a degree in communication.
Tomlinson was a vibrant and charismatic lead vocalist, friends said.
“I’ve never met anyone like him,” said Carey Sobel, an Orlando resident who hired Tomlinson’s band to play for his upcoming wedding. “He was really special.”
Tarrick Cox, an adviser for East Carolina’s gospel choir who worked with Tomlinson, remembers his contagious personality and the laughter that surrounded him.
“He was gifted and creative. He was a go-getter,” Cox said in a statement from the university.
Jonathan Camuy, 25, moved to Central Florida from his native Puerto Rico to work for the Spanish-language television network Telemundo.
He was on the production team for “La Voz Kids,” a talent show for young singers in its fourth season. He had previously worked for the network in Puerto Rico.
“Jonathan was an extremely hard-working individual, full of life, enthusiastic and with a great personality,” the network said in a statement. “He will be missed dearly.”
Camuy was also active in the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, which called him “one of our own” in a statement about his death.
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.
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25, moved to Orlando a few years ago, his cousin, Irma Silva-Lauer, told the Orlando Sentinel.
He was an only child and “the light and the life of all the family gatherings,” Silva-Lauer said.
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 traveled 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.”
Tevin Eugene Crosby‘s inspirational posts on Facebook – “2016 will be the best year ever” – represented his drive for success.
Chavis Crosby, told the Orlando Sentinel that his brother was ambitious and hard-working. “Whatever goal he had in mind, he worked hard. Whether alone or on a team, he worked on that goal.”
Tevin Crosby, 25, was director of operations for a Michigan marketing firm. He recently visited his family in Statesville, North Carolina, to watch several nieces and nephews graduate. Then he traveled to Orlando after passing along some brotherly advice about business and setting goals. He loved to travel for work and fun, Chavis Crosby said.
“He was definitely a good person and a good brother to me,” he said.
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.”
Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, 25, started dancing at the age of 10 and was comfortable with any number of styles, from salsa to ballroom, his cousin Ana Figueroa said.
Figueroa told the Orlando Sentinel that he had texted her Saturday inviting her out for a night of dancing at Pulse nightclub. She responded that she was too tired.
He was out with two roommates, both of whom were injured in the shooting, she said. The newspaper did not identify the roommates.
Born in Puerto Rico, Laureano Disla moved to Orlando about three years ago to become a dancer and choreographer, Figueroa told the newspaper.
“I want people to remember Anthony as someone who was very happy and very kind,” Figueroa said. “This is just devastating for our family and his friends.”
Kimberly “KJ” 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 demeanor.
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.
Christine Leinonen drove to Orlando at 4 a.m. Sunday from Polk County, southwest of the city, after learning of the shooting from a friend of her 32-year-old son, Christopher Leinonen.
Her son had gone to the club with his friend Brandon Wolf when the shooting started, she said. Wolf texted that a shooting occurred and that her son was missing.
She arrived in Orlando and began checking emergency rooms to find her son. She never did, and his death was confirmed on Monday.
“These are nonsensical killings of our children,” she said, sobbing. “They’re killing our babies!”
She said Wolf survived by hiding in a bathroom and running out as the bullets flew.
Gertrude Merced says that even though her heart is broken at the death of her 25-year-old son Enrique Rios, she has already forgiven the gunman.
Rios, who lived in Brooklyn, was in Orlando to celebrate a friend’s birthday.
“I’m not angry at the gunman. I’m angry about the situation. I’m going to forever miss my son … but I still have the hope that I’m going to see him again one day,” Merced told reporters as she packed her bags outside her New York apartment and headed to Florida.
Rios’ Facebook page says he worked with a home health care agency and his mother said he had a heart for helping the elderly. He transferred to St. Francis College in Brooklyn last year where he was studying social work.
Family and friends said he was determined, always helping others and had a heart of gold.
Angel Candelario-Padro, 28, moved to Orlando from Chicago in January to be closer to family. The nurse and National Guard member soon found a new job and a new love.
“He was a humble boy, a good student. He liked to work and wasn’t too much into partying,” his aunt Leticia Padro told Univision.
Candelario-Padro’s boyfriend, who was shot several times, told her that after hearing several shots he turned to Candelario-Padro and asked if he was OK.
“He told him he was OK, but in that instant he fell to the floor,” Padro said.
Candelario-Padro loved music and had played the clarinet in a band in his hometown of Guanica, Puerto Rico, according to uncle Efrain Padro.
“We’re waiting for his body to be brought home,” he said, “We will welcome him with music.”
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32, moved to Florida from Mexico in the early 2000s in search of a better life.
He went back to his home state of Veracruz for several years but returned to Tampa less than a year ago, relatives and friends said.
“We came because here in the United States there are many opportunities here and because we were fleeing because in our country there was a lot of crime, violence and death … and we expect it should be more peaceful here,” his cousin Jose Paniagua told Newsday.
The construction worker was looking forward to meeting friends at Pulse for another night of dancing — something he loved to do, friend Lorena Barragan told the Orlando Sentinel.
“He was the best,” said Barragan, who met Rayon Paniagua at church. “He was loyal. He was always trying to do stuff to make you feel better.”
Merchant reported from Dallas and Webber and Johnson from Chicago. Associated Press reporters Thomas Peipert in Denver, Olga Rodriguez in San Francisco, Alina Hartounian in Phoenix, Jason Dearen in Orlando, Florida, Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Errin Haines Whack in Philadelphia, Caleb Jones in Honolulu and Don Babwin in Chicago contributed to this report.
The other victims:
- Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32
- Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21
- Martin Benitez Torres, 33
- Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35
- Cory James Connell, 21
- Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37
- Luis Daniel Conde, 39
- Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25
- Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24
- Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27
- Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33
- Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24
- Paul Terrell Henry, 41
- Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25