Some came for the Latin music, others just wanted to blow off steam.
The 49 victims in the massacre at an Orlando nightclub early Sunday were varied in background, nationality and profession. But the majority were young, in their 20s or early 30s, and came of age in an era very different from that of their parents, when being openly gay was risky if not impossible.
For those who flocked to Pulse, a popular destination for Orlando’s LGBT community, for last weekend’s “Latin Night,” Orlando in 2016 was a sharp contrast to that: a place where one’s sexuality could be celebrated.
Anthony Luis Laureano Disla, a 25-year-old native of Puerto Rico who loved to perform, was a dancer and a drag queen. He also worked as a hip-hop dancer at a tropical-themed club in Orlando, showing off his talents to classics like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Lucas Daniel Acosto D’oleo, who identified himself on Facebook as Laureano’s cousin, learned of Laureano’s death on Facebook early Monday. “What I have is a pain beyond repair,” he wrote. “I love you cousin.”
Disla and dozens others were killed when Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old security guard inspired by the Islamic State, opened fire on the crowd around 2 a.m. Sunday. According to the shooter’s father, Mateen became incensed several months ago when he saw two men being affectionate in public.
Other of Mateen’s victims were Christopher “Drew” Leinonen, 32, and Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22, who were among several couples killed in the attack. Speaking by phone Monday, Guerrero’s father, Juan Guerrero Sr., said his son and Leinonen had “a beautiful relationship.”
Guerrero, a financial adviser, and Leinonen, a mental-health counselor and active member of the gay rights community, liked to travel and made time for visiting family together.
Like many of the other victims, Guerrero had roots in Latin America. The youngest of four, his parents arrived in the United States from the Dominican Republic shortly before he was born. They settled in Queens, and later moved to Florida.
In a reflection of the rapidly changing norms across Latin America regarding homosexuality, Guerrero’s father, despite growing up in a more-conservative society, said he had embraced his son and was always accepting of his homosexuality.
When Guerrero and Leinonen decided to move in together more than a year ago, Guerrero Sr. said, “‘No problem. I supported my son.” The family is considering holding a joint funeral with the Leinonen family. “I believe in that,” he said.
Leinonen’s mother, Christine Leinonen, told ABC on Sunday that her son had been active in the gay rights community for years, and had established a gay-straight alliance at his high school.
Another couple, Oscar Aracena-Montero, 26, and Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31, both worked as managers at Orlando-area McDonald’s restaurants. In 2014, they bought a home together in Kissimmee, Fla, a sign of their plans for a shared life together.
Photos on the two men’s Instagram accounts showed the couple in a series of selfies, alone and with friends, posing together under a rainbow, near the Statue of Liberty and at what appeared to be Niagara Falls.
According to relatives, Aracena moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic around age 18. Cousin Kendra Michelle Astacio Montero, who grew up with Aracena in Santo Domingo, said Aracena was “a super quiet guy, hard-working, intelligent — he didn’t have problems with anyone.” Speaking in an online chat, Astacio said Aracena’s family in his home country was devastated. “We all loved him.”
According to Venezuelan media, Carrillo hailed from Cabudare, a small city in western Venezuela, and emigrated to the United States several years ago.
In a statement, McDonald’s CEO and President Steve Easterbrook said the company was “deeply saddened” by the loss of two of its workers.
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, another victim, had attended “Latin Night” at Pulse with his boyfriend, who survived the shooting, according to a family friend, Peter Hernandez Valentin. Padro, 28, came from a small town in southern Puerto Rico with dreams of working as a nurse in Orlando.
Kimberly, or “KJ”, Morris, 37, worked as a bouncer at Pulse. According to former classmate Narvell Benning, Morris was openly gay at their Connecticut college and seemed confident with her sexual identity.
“She always laughed, she always had a smile,” he said. “What I would say is that she had a happy soul.”
Isaac Stanley-Becker, Lateshia Beachum, Ariana Eunjung Cha, Danielle Paquette, Katie Zezima and Julie Tate contributed to this report.