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Friends and family mourn those killed in Orlando

Guerrero, left, was killed; friends and family had not yet heard about his boyfriend Christopher Leinonen, right.
Guerrero, left, was killed; friends and family had not yet heard about his boyfriend Christopher Leinonen, right.
Published Jun. 13, 2016

ORLANDO — Eddie Sotomayor was among the first names released Sunday of at least 50 killed in a mass shooting at Pulse nightclub, the deadliest massacre in U.S. history.

A charismatic national brand manager for gay travel company Al and Chuck Travel, Sotomayor lived in Sarasota and was a University of South Florida graduate.

Sotomayor was a trailblazer, according to his boss and the company's owner, Al Ferguson.

"He was probably one of the most well-known people on the entire planet in the gay travel market," Ferguson said Sunday night.

About 20 minutes before shots rang out, Ferguson received a video message from Sotomayor. It seemed like a normal night out in Orlando, he said. His friend was there for Pulse's Latin night.

Ferguson learned from Sotomayor's partner how the rest of the night played out. While his partner was outside, he got a text from Sotomayor saying not to come back inside.

He said he found a hiding space, that he was safe, Ferguson recalled. Another 25 to 30 minutes went by before the next message said he was still hiding, still safe.

Then nothing.

Ferguson drove to Orlando from Sarasota on Sunday morning. He and dozens of others were assigned tables in a conference room at the Orlando Regional Medical Center.

Then hospital officials started going through names: who was in stable condition, who was in critical condition.

"It was at that moment we realized the worst," Ferguson said, "because they didn't reveal any of those we lost."

People left in tears.

Sotomayor's former boyfriend, Nicholas Panagos, was visibly shaken Sunday night. The general manager of Hamburger Mary's in Tampa, he cried as he recalled his friend of nine years.

"It didn't matter if you had a great day or a horrible day … you take one look at him and just smile, all you wanted to do was smile," said Panagos, 35, of St. Petersburg. "It's unbelievable to lose someone you love to something so stupid. So stupid."

• • •

The night before the shooting, Rosalia Ramos had tomato-and-cheese dip ready for her son, Stanley Almodovar, to eat after his night out.

But he never came home.

"My son passed away," she said. "I didn't eat, I didn't sleep. I went to the hospital to see my son."

Ramos said she moved herself and her children from Puerto Rice to Florida. She said she does not know how to go forward.

"I don't know what I'm going to do tomorrow," she said, adding that her son's car was still in Orlando. "I don't know nothing."

• • •

On Facebook, friends of Juan Guerrero were mourning. But they also wondered if his boyfriend survived. Friends and family say they hadn't heard from Christopher Leinonen, known to most as Drew, for hours.

On Sunday morning, Leinonen's mother, Christine, told reporters that friends had seen Guerrero removed from the club with multiple bullet wounds. But no one knew where her son was.

Guerrero, 22, came out to his cousin Robert Guerrero, 19, two years ago. His cousin said Sunday that family had been accepting. Recently he started attending college at the University of Central Florida and was still figuring out what to study.

"He was always this amazing person (and) he was like a big brother to me," Robert said. "He was never the type to go out to parties, would rather stay home and care for his niece and nephew."

• • •

Luis Vielma loved his job at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, one of the most popular attractions at Universal Studios Orlando. On paper, Vielma helped people get on and off rides. In practice, he transported them to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

"Every time I asked him, he said he had the best job," high school buddy Eddi Anderson recalled. "He loved Harry Potter."

Vielma graduated from Seminole High School, where he was known for his pleasant attitude and warm demeanor. "He was one of those people," Anderson said. "No matter what, he wasn't a jerk."

Vielma wasn't big into the club scene in Orlando, Anderson said, but he went out Saturday with a few friends. He posted a funny Snapchat video from Rocco's Tacos earlier in the evening.

"He was such a genuine person," Anderson said through tears. "Everyone loved him."

• • •

By late Sunday, Orlando officials named eight of the 50 who died:

• Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34.

• Stanley Almodovar III, 23.

• Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22.

• Juan Ramon Guerrero. 22.

• Kimberly Morris, 37.

• Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20.

• Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36.

• Luis S. Vielma, 22.

Times Staff Writer Hannah Alani contributed to this story.