CINCINNATI — The devastating toll of Orlando’s Sunday morning massacre is perhaps even more staggering when accounting for those who were left alive. For every single one of the 49 clubgoers who died at Pulse, dozens of loved ones were left to cope with a shattering loss.
The victims' connections of love, friendship, family — and now grief — stretch all the way to Cincinnati.
Orlando native Joey Meadows was not at Pulse early Sunday, but on another day, he could have been. The night of the shooting, four of his friends were enjoying their weekend with other partygoers at the club.
Two of them left just 20 minutes before the shooting began, according to Meadows.
The other two, Drew Leinonen and his boyfriend, Juan Guerrero, were trapped inside when Omar Mateen opened fire.
In the confusion that followed, news of the club patrons’ fates trickled out slowly. Meadows spent Sunday morning and afternoon waiting to hear what had happened to his friends.
“You couldn’t hear anything because they couldn’t remove the bodies,” said Meadows, who recently moved to Cincinnati from Orlando. “I was waiting and waiting and waiting.”
The call came late that night: both were dead. Leinonen died at the scene, and Guerrero died in the hospital, each suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. They were among the last victims identified, according to the Orlando Sentinel .
LIST: These are the 49 victims
Meadows said he will soon return to Orlando for the couple’s funerals, but paid tribute to their lives Monday night by attending a vigil for victims of the shooting at Below Zero, a gay club in Over-the-Rhine.
"To see the whole community come like this to be as one to show support to all my friends and family back in Orlando is just amazing,” Meadows said.
Hundreds of people, including Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, turned up to pay their respects to Leinonen, Guerrero and the other victims, and to help one another deal with a shocking act of violence targeted at the gay community.
"The city is absolutely amazing,” said Below Zero owner Nigel Cotterill. "We had people calling us at the last minute. Even the opera wanted to come and bring a grand piano.”
Across town, members of Cincinnati's Muslim community helped organize another vigil and spread the word that they did not support Mateen's actions. As a crowd gathered in Fountain Square, Ismaeel Chartier of the Islamic Association of Cincinnati told them that Islam teaches lessons of love and that violence is not part of a true Muslim's belief system.
"We all are brothers and sisters," said Chartier. "We all should treat each other as brothers and sisters.”
John Watts, whose partner moved from Cincinnati to Orlando two months ago, did not lose any friends in the shooting, but worried throughout Sunday that he might have.
“It’s just very difficult because it could have been here,” he said.
He also attended the Below Zero vigil and took comfort in the closeness of the Cincinnati community.
“If you look around and see this massive crowd, you’ll see how close we are,” Watts said. “I look around, and I see this is what love is. This is what acceptance is."