Orlando shooting: Slain couple who planned to marry to receive joint funeral

The families of the two men have said they will follow the couple's wishes

Andrew Buncombe
Wednesday 15 June 2016 14:33 BST
Christopher “Drew” Leinonen and Juan Guerrero were said to be deeply in love
Christopher “Drew” Leinonen and Juan Guerrero were said to be deeply in love

They were deeply in love, hoping to get married, and yet they were killed in the horror that played out at Pulse nightclub.

Now, the families of Christopher “Drew” Leinonen and Juan Ramon Guerrero are reportedly planning a joint funeral for the couple.

“He was a genuinely good person,” Mr Leinonen’s mother, Christine, told CNN on Tuesday night. “He was Orlando’s child. He loved everyone he had a relationship with, but he loved Juan in a special way.”

In the immediate aftermath of the attack on the central Orlando club, Ms Leinonen became a symbol of the pain being confronted by many families and friends when she appeared before the media, even as she was unsure if her son was alive or dead.

“I’ve been waiting by the emergency room waiting, seeing if anyone gets called in,” she said, before returning to the hospital where she was eventually informed that her son, and his partner, was among the victims.

“I received a call that no mother should never receive, ever,” she wrote that night on Facebook.

“I am at a complete loss. They have positively identified my son, Christopher. As one of the victims who have lost their lives. The death toll is expected to rise as they continue to identify victims and notify families.”

Mr Leinonen, 32, who was originally from Michigan, had come to Orlando to study and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology at the University of Central Florida. While in high school, he had established a gay-straight alliance and he worked as a mental health counsellor.

His family spoke of how he had recently won the Anne Frank Humanitarian Award for his work in the gay community.

“I’ve been so proud of him for that,” said Ms Leinonen. “Please, let’s all just get along. We’re on this earth for such a short time. Let’s try to get rid of the hatred and the violence, please."

The two men were among 49 people shot and killed by Omar Mateen, before the 29-year-old gunman was killed by police. Mateen, who had been previously investigated by the FBI for possible links to Islamic extremism and cleared, was apparently radicalised online and pledged allegiance to Isis in a call to police.

A couple joins residents of San Francisco to remember the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando
A couple joins residents of San Francisco to remember the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando (EPA)

On Tuesday, officials said that at least 40 other people suffered gunshot injuries and that 27 remained in hospital, with six in intensive care. Among the most grievously wounded was a person who was shot in the head.

Plans for a joint funeral of Mr Leinonen and Mr Guerrero, 22, were first reported by Time, which said the families had decided to do so in order honour the men’s wishes.

“I think my son wanted to do that. That’s why,” said Mr Guerrero’s father, whose first name is also Juan. “I don’t care what the people think. I don’t care.”

Mr Guerrero’s sister, Aryam, said the couple were “so in love,” and were supported by loving families on both sides. “They were going to have a wedding together.”

An Instagram photo posted by Mr Guerrero last December showed the two young men posing with their respective families. He wrote: “Christmas was perfect.”

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