Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Public safety

Family, friends mourn Christopher Sanfeliz, 24, Tampa victim of Orlando's Pulse shooting

CARROLLWOOD — An entourage of law enforcement officers visited the home of Carlos Sanfeliz on Monday morning to deliver grim news.

But Sanfeliz already had an idea of what they came to say. His phone "was blowing up" Sunday morning with people inquiring about his son, 24-year-old Christopher Sanfeliz, and he had spent the rest of the day driving and waiting at an Orlando hospital for word on the young man's fate.

Christopher, a Gaither High graduate, had told family members earlier in the weekend he was going with a group of friends to the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, which would become the scene of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history early Sunday.

Carlos Sanfeliz returned home from the hospital Sunday night knowing Christopher was not among the 53 people injured in the attack. That left only one possible message when he was visited at 7 a.m. Monday by representatives of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and state attorney's office.

Christopher, a 24-year-old Tampa bank employee remembered by a former classmate as "the most positive guy I've ever known," was one of 49 people killed in the massacre.

"He (was) a wonderful person and this is such a tragedy," said Mike Wallace, a close family friend. "He was cut down in his prime."

Wallace traveled with Carlos Sanfeliz to Orlando, where the family waited hours for any news about whether Sanfeliz had been admitted.

As the names of the injured were read, "people were crying hysterically," Wallace said. "It's really something awful to go through."

"The family is very, very close," Wallace said, adding that Christopher's parents were not ready to speak publicly.

Christopher's older brother, Junior, announced his brother's death on Facebook.

“My heart is completely broken," Junior wrote. "Everyone knows the bond that I had with my brother, we would finish each other's sentences, knew each other's thoughts, and could sense when the other was upset. He was so strong, and was my rock through everything we ever went through. He was the light of my family and I know that he will continue to bless us and his light will be radiating down from a better place."

The Sanfeliz family moved to Tampa from Cuba in the 1960s, Wallace said. After graduating from Gaither High School, Christopher took several business classes at Hills­borough Community College. In 2013, he was hired as a bank teller with JP Morgan Chase at 2001 N Dale Mabry Highway. In time, he worked his way up to become a personal banker.

He grew up in the same modest pink house on Wessex Street in northern Carrollwood where he still lived, said his neighbor, Amy George.

George called Sanfeliz a great kid — "friendly, very outgoing" — who, along with his older brother, Junior, helped tutor her son.

Josh Palange, 24, a teacher at Gaither High School, remembers Sanfeliz as "the most positive guy I've ever known."

The two became friends as students at Ben Hill Middle School.

"We used to call each other 'the herd,' " Palange said. "It was just a group of us who would herd around in PE and not do what we were supposed to do. It was a weird group of kids."

At Gaither, they both joined the band, Palange as a percussionist and Sanfeliz playing the trumpet in the marching band and the wind ensemble. They were in honors classes together. Palange said his friend looked up to his older brother.

"He was always supportive," Palange said, like the time Palange had a crush on a girl he had known since middle school. "He was kind of the middleman, very interested in what would happen between us."

The two went their separate ways after their 2010 graduation, seeing each other mostly at band reunions. "Our lives kind of pulled us apart, but we stayed friends on Facebook."

Looking back, Palange mostly remembers his friend's demeanor.

"You very rarely ever saw him with a frown on his face."

Contact Anna M. Phillips at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354. Follow @annamphillips.

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