In the aftermath of the horrific shooting in gay nightclub Pulse Orlando, the names and stories of the 49 innocent victims are being remembered. On Monday, the families of Juan Ramon Guerrero and Christopher “Drew” Leinonen told the press that instead of planning a wedding, they'll arrange a joint funeral for the Orlando couple. Guerrero's 24-year-old sister Aryam told TIME she's confident they would have been getting married soon if they were still alive. 22-year-old Guerrero and 32-year-old Leinonen had been dating for two years and were living together.
Though Leinonen's mother didn't respond for a request to comment, Guerrero's family told TIME that the joint funeral was her idea. According to Guerrero's sister, the couple was very much in love. She confided that, in a way, it's "comforting" that they moved on together.
They were honestly so in love. They were soul mates. You can tell by how they looked at each other ... If it’s not a funeral, they were going to have a wedding together.
Guerrero's 61-year-old father, Juan, supported the idea wholeheartedly. He resolutely told TIME that it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. In the face of the prejudice and gross intolerance that motivated the Orlando shooter to target a gay nightclub, that statement is of the utmost importance.
I think my son wanted to do that. That’s why. I don’t care what the people think. I don’t care.
He told The Washington Post that he and his son had a "beautiful relationship." After attending community college for two years, Guerrero spent a year at the University of Central Florida, where he was studying to become a financial advisor. At the time, he worked at a credit union as a customer service representative.
On Monday, Leinonen's father, Mark Bando, a retired Detroit patrol officer, released a letter about his son to the Detroit News. According to him, Leinonen grew up in Detroit before moving with his mother to Florida. After High School, he moved to the Orlando area to attend the University of Central Florida, where he earned his undergraduate and masters degree, going on to become a practicing psychologist. He detailed his sons' fondness of vintage films and described him as "handsome, personable," and "brilliant."
Like his mother, Christopher was very idealistic about the human race, and he did not want to see the evil in the world or even to believe it existed. He used to laugh and joke and tell me I was paranoid, to carry a gun off duty, when I was a Detroit cop.
On Monday, Leinonen's mother told ABC News her son had been active in the gay community since high school, when he founded a gay-straight alliance. She ended the conversation with a heartfelt appeal to simply get along with one another.
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!
Those are words we can all remember to live by as honor the lives senselessly lost.