On Saturday, the pews inside Orlando’s Cathedral Church of St. Luke were packed for Christopher Andrew Leinonen’s funeral. Many who watched or read news coverage of the shootings will remember his mother, Christine, who made anguished pleas to authorities through the news media for information about her son. She didn’t learn his fate until last Monday afternoon.
Members of the Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas-based group classified as an extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, acquired a permit that allowed four people to protest near the church during the funeral, according to the Orlando Sentinel. .
But on Magnolia Avenue across from the church, hundreds of supporters lined the street holding “We Support You” and other signs, far outnumbering any potential protest.
The 32-year-old Leinonen was with his friend Brandon Wolf and Leinonen’s boyfriend, shooting victim Juan Ramon Guerrero, at Pulse early last Sunday when gunman Omar Mateen opened fire. Mateen died later after being shot by police. The 27-year-old Wolf says he managed to make it out alive by playing dead.
Leinonen, known to most by the nickname Drew, changed his life, Wolf said, and eased his pain when he was hurting.
“He looked me in the eyes that night and did what Drew always did, he said ‘I love you,’ Wolf said. “That is Drew’s lasting message to us, ‘I love you.'”
He called Leinonen “my once in a lifetime person. He eased my pain when I was hurting, he laughed my worst jokes.”
Despite reports that a joint funeral was planned for Leinonen and Guerrero, there was no indication that took place Saturday.
Relatives of the victims say what’s made this week especially tough for them is to see constant images of Mateen’s face on television.
“I’m still in a state of shock so the anger and hatred for Chris’ killer has not fully kicked in,” said Mark Bando, Leinonen’s father, who is a retired Detroit police officer. “Those of us who have to go on living our lives without Christopher can surely feel sorry for ourselves but the real tragedy is Christopher’s future has been taken from him.”
Associated Press writers Terrance Harris, Jason Dearen and Alex Sanz contributed to this story.