Family, friends of Sarasota Pulse victim flock to St. Pete Pride (w/video)

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ST. PETERSBURG — After hundreds of friends and family members honored Pulse nightclub shooting victim Eddie Sotomayor, 34, with a funeral service Saturday in his hometown of Sarasota, some piled into a charter bus headed for St. Petersburg.

They pulled into King of Peace Metropolitan Community Church on Fifth Avenue N, where they nibbled on appetizers and fruit, many wearing his signature top hat, and swapped Sotomayor stories.

On the St. Pete Pride parade route, they clasped electric candles and held cards with words straight from Sotomayor's mouth: "Do all the good you can to as many people as you can as often as you can."

Hassan Bencheqroun, 40, of San Diego said many of the friends marching for Sotomayor were people the University of South Florida graduate met through his job as a national brand manager for gay travel company Al and Chuck Travel.

"He was witty, he had time for everybody and was a little bit of a smart ass, but in a good way," Bencheqroun said.

Sotomayor's boss and owner of the travel company, Al Ferguson, told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this month Sotomayor "was probably one of the most well-known people on the entire planet in the gay travel market."

Sotomayor was inside Pulse on June 12 and sent a text to his partner outside, saying not to come back in, Ferguson said.

He said he was safe in a hiding space and sent another message nearly 30 minutes later. But that's when the texts stopped.

Sotomayor was among the first names released the day after the deadliest massacre in U.S. history.

"The thing about Eddie is he loved life so much," said Braden Chapman of Philadelphia. "If you knew him you, were friends with him. There was no other option."

Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.

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