After days of turmoil in a city that’s supposed to be a happy paradise for tourists, residents paused with the president and vice president to mourn victims of the horrific massacre at a gay nightclub.
Friends and relatives of Kimberly “KJ” Morris, a bouncer at Pulse Orlando, gathered under a cemetery awning to say goodbye to the woman, one of 49 people killed after Omar Mateen began shooting into the pulsating, dancing crowd early Sunday.
Jessica Frazier, 29, of Orlando was among the mourners at Morris’ funeral, held as other shooting victims were being cremated.
“She was always very positive, no matter what was going on,” Frazier said.
Elsewhere, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden knelt to place white flowers at a memorial to victims. They also met privately with survivors and victims’ families, the club owner and staff, with Obama telling them he was inspired by their courage and felt their pain.
“Our hearts are broken, too,” the president said.
Awaiting the presidential motorcade as temperatures soared into the 90s, Breasia Johnson reflected somberly on friend Cory Connell, 21, who died in the attack.
“I can’t believe he’s gone,” she said.
The massacre was the bloodiest event amid days of horror in Orlando, which is more accustomed to throngs of out-of-town visitors than tragedy. A 2-year-old Nebraska boy was attacked by an alligator and killed at Walt Disney World on Tuesday, and 22-year-old Christina Grimmie, a one-time contestant on NBC’s “The Voice,” was shot dead days earlier while signing autographs after a show by a man who then killed himself.
In nearby Apopka, dozens of people gathered Thursday evening at a candlelight vigil for victim Eddie Justice, who texted his mother as he was trapped in the Pulse bathroom.
Alison Moore, 53, saw Justice’s birth, and news of his death hit her hard.
“It’s like a part of my heart was missing. He and his sister were my heart, and when he died it took my heart away,” she said.
Cindy Wilson, 48, said Justice’s story, told through his final text messages to his mother, resonated.
“To see the text messages he left for his mother — as a mother, I don’t think I could’ve handled that. It’s just total devastation,” she said.
The rampage began at 2 a.m. and ended three hours later with Mateen, an American-born Muslim described as a club regular by other patrons, being killed by a police SWAT team.
Mateen’s motive isn’t clear, but a letter from the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, said Mateen wrote that “real muslims will never accept the filthy ways of the west” on Facebook. He also pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, his ex-wife said he was mentally ill and his father suggested that gays had angered him.
The FBI said it is still gathering evidence at Pulse and analyzing cellphone location data to piece together Mateen’s activities leading up to the massacre.
The owner of a gun shop in Jensen Beach, a few miles from the gunman’s hometown in Fort Pierce, told reporters Mateen came in roughly five weeks before the nightclub shootings asking to buy body armor and about 1,000 rounds of ammunition.
The young man left empty-handed when an employee told him the store didn’t have either, and the worker called the FBI to report a suspicious person, said Robert Abell, co-owner of Lotus Gunworks. But nobody knew his name until after Mateen was identified in the Orlando nightclub attack.
“Unfortunately nobody connected the dots and he slipped under the cracks,” said Abell.
Mateen’s wife has gone into seclusion, and federal prosecutors have refused to say whether charges might be brought against her or anyone else.
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This article was written by Jay Reeves and Jason Dearen from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.