Grief Continues as Names of Orlando Victims Emerge
As Orlando continues to recover from the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, more names of people who were killed at the Pulse nightclub are emerging in the retelling of a sad but constant tale of gun violence in America. Meanwhile, the father of the gunman Omar Mateen expressed his own grief over what happened early Sunday morning.
The victims, who simply went out to Pulse, a popular gay nightclub, to party during Latin night at the club but wound up felled by bullet from an AR-15 wielded by Mateen. Among them, Eddie Justice, 30, who sent a text to his mother, Mina, that there was a shooter and that he and others were trapped in the bathroom with him, according to the Associated Press. “He’s coming,” Justice texted. “I’m gonna die.” Justice was later confirmed as one of the 50 dead at the club, including Mateen who was killed by police.
The names of seven of the victims were released by Sunday evening. They are: Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34; Stanley Almodovar III, 23; Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20; Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22; Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36; Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22; and Luis S. Vielma, 22, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Other names will continue to emerge as victims families are given notice, and will be posted on cityoforlando.net/victims.
Thirty-nine of the dead were killed at the club, and the others died at hospitals, the mayor said. By Monday morning, families of 24 of the victims had been notified, Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer said.
At least 53 people were hospitalized, most in critical condition, and a surgeon at Orlando Regional Medical Center said the death toll was likely to climb.
Jon Alamo had been dancing for hours when he wandered into the club’s main room just in time to see the gunman. “You ever seen how Marine guys hold big weapons, shooting from left to right? That’s how he was shooting at people,” he said.
“My first thought was, ‘Oh, my God, I’m going to die,'” Alamo said. “I was praying to God that I would live to see another day.”
Mateen exchanged gunfire with 14 police officers at the club and took hostages at one point. In addition to the assault rifle, he had a handgun. Police Chief John Mina said officers held back for some time because Mateen indicated he had a bomb vest.
Mateen’s father, expressed shock over the act his son committed and spoke out publicly to condemn it.
The attack was “against my principles, against what I taught him,” said Seddique Mir Mateen to reporters. “I am as sad as the rest of the country.”
He said if had known what his son was planning, he would have arrested him himself: “I don’t allow nobody to do any kind of crime or terrorist act inside the United States.”
Across the nation, people gathered at vigils to remember and honor those killed and wounded in the attack.
In Miami Beach, mourners lit candles, embraced and waived rainbow flags Sunday evening.
Members of LGBT groups and their supporters met in the Boystown neighborhood of Chicago. Among them was Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who said the city has stepped up security in gay communities. Also there in solidarity were mothers who have lost their children to gun violence.
Hundreds of people in Austin, Texas, attended an evening vigil at the Capitol that included Muslim leaders and a Christian pastor, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
Several hundred people filled the parking lot of a popular LGBT-district bistro in downtown Atlanta, singing, lighting candles and speaking out against the violence that struck Orlando. Matt Garrett helped organize the event, handing out candles and lining up a series of speakers who would address the swelling crowd that spilled into the busy street.
Meanwhile, American Muslim leaders have openly condemned the mass shooting.
Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called the killings a hate crime and said the group has no tolerance for extremism of any kind.
“We are sickened and heartbroken by this appalling attack,” Awad said in a statement. “Our hearts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of the victims. There can never be any justification for such cowardly and criminal acts, period.”
Photo: Terry DeCarlo, executive director of the LGBT Center of Central Florida, left, Kelvin Cobaris, pastor of The Impact Church, center, and Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan console each other