A couple who was deeply in love when they were killed during a gunman’s shooting rampage inside an Orlando nightclub will have a joint funeral service, their families said Monday.
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22, and his 32-year-old boyfriend, Christopher “Drew” Leinonen, were among the 49 people who lost their lives Sunday in the worst mass shooting in American history. Services still need to be planned by the reeling families, but they want the two to be side-by-side when loved ones bid farewell, said Guerrero’s father, who has the same name as his son.
“I think my son wanted to do that. That’s why,” the elder Juan Ramon Guerrero, 61, said through tears. “I don’t care what the people think. I don’t care.”
The younger Guerrero and his boyfriend lived together and had been dating for nearly two years, family members said. Guerrero’s family was “really loving and accepting” when he came out as gay to them about three years ago, Aryam Guerrero, the victim’s 24-year-old sister, told TIME.
“They were honestly so in love. They were soul mates. You can tell by how they looked at each other,” she said. “It’s a little comforting that they died together.”
“If it’s not a funeral, they were going to have a wedding together,” she added.
The younger Guerrero had just finished his first year studying at the University of Central Florida after spending two years at a community college. He wanted to be a financial advisor and worked as a customer service rep for a credit union, his sister said.
“He was so much love and light,” Aryam Guerrero said.
Leinonen had gone missing after the early Sunday shooting. While a friend saw Guerrero’s body being carried out of the club in a stretcher, no one had seen or heard of Leinonen, Guerrero’s father said. His death was confirmed Monday afternoon on the city of Orlando’s official website dedicated to naming the deceased.
Leinonen’s mother, Christine Leinonen, did not immediately return a request for comment, but it was her idea to bid farewell to the couple at the same time, Guerrero’s family said.
Aryam Guerrero said her parents were one of the first to learn they had lost a loved one in the shooting.
The family rushed to the hospital, which was just a couple blocks away from Pulse Orlando, the gay nightclub where the attack occurred. At the time, they were hopeful, she said. Then she happened to glance at a sheet of paper with about nine names of victims, including Juan Ramon Guerrero.
“I said, ‘That’s my brother! That’s my brother! Tell me what’s going on,’” Aryam Guerrero recalled.
They were turned away at first but were later pulled into a room with hospital officials and a representative from the FBI who broke the news. “The moment I heard my mom yell out, we all knew,” Aryam Guerrero said. “I just kept saying, ‘This isn’t real.’ I just didn’t want it to be real.”
Juan Ramon Guerrero was set to turn 23 in a few days. His family still plans on celebrating his birthday, his father said. “My wife will cook all the food he likes,” he said. “He was a beautiful kid, a hard worker, friendly, sweet person.”
“I lost part of my life,” he added.