ORLANDO, Fla. — During the biggest mass shooting on U.S. soil, Jeffrey Rodriguez reached out to his brother through a text message: “I’m bleeding so much and I don’t think I’m going to make it. Call mom and dad and tell them I love them.”
He was in a group of about 15, he wrote, hiding in a bathroom while a friend, a physician’s assistant, tended to his wounds.
It was the last time his family heard from him, and on Sunday evening his stepmother, Mary Ann Rodriguez, was among the dozens of family members of the missing at a holding area at the Hampton Inn and Suites in downtown Orlando waiting for news.
“His name hasn’t been called,” Rodriguez said. “We don’t know if it’s because he’s had surgery or because they can’t ID him. We’re just praying for the best.”
After the devastating attack at a gay nightclub in Orlando, the process of identifying victims and getting news to their families has been agonizingly slow. Authorities said 50 people were killed and an additional 53 injured, but as of Sunday evening they were able to publicly confirm the deaths of only eight, leaving many friends and relatives anxious and emotional.
Area hospitals were not releasing details on the patients being treating at their facilities, but doctors said many of the injured had gunshot wounds to their chests, legs and arms.
All those identified so far by Orlando officials were people in their 20s and 30s: Stanley Almodovar III, 23; Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22; Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22; Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20; Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36; Luis S. Vielma, 22; Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34; and Kimberly Morris, 37.
Almodovar, of Clermont, worked as a pharmacy technician. His friend Ivelisse Santiago described Almodovar as “kind but sassy,” someone who was confident in his sexual identity and able to help others find their place in the gay community. He was a fierce advocate for his friends, she said, recalling how he defended her one night when they were out dancing and she fell, drawing jeers.
“He was so proud of who he was,” she said.
Sotomayor, who went by Eddie and lived in Sarasota, was a national brand manager at AlandChuck.travel, a gay travel agency. Al Ferguson, owner of the company, posted a video on Facebook of Sotomayor and a friend making silly faces at the Pulse nightclub that they sent to him 23 minutes before the attack.
“I am empty,” Ferguson wrote shortly after Sotomayor’s death was confirmed.
The scene outside the hotel and at nearby Orlando Regional Medical Center, where many of the victims were taken, was one of unimaginable pain.
One woman sat on a chair next to a stack of pizza boxes, sobbing and screaming. A clergy member knelt next to her as two other people fanned her with paper plates. Another woman had to be helped outside; she couldn’t make it and medics set up a chair for her near the exit. She vomited into a trash can. An older woman cried for someone in Spanish: “Mi hijo, mi hijo, mi hijo, por favor!”
People in Disney polos handed out bottles of water, as did others who appeared to be members of the clergy.
Jose Honorato was waiting with seven siblings for information about younger brother Miguel.
“He was at the club with three friends. They made it out safely when the shooting started, but they don’t know if he made it out,” Honorato said.He said he jointly manages a Mexican restaurant that his parents own with Miguel, and that Miguel, 30, has a wife and three children.
Sara Lopez was looking for her best friend. “He’s like my brother,” she said, her voice breaking under the strain of not knowing what happened to him.
Members of Orlando’s gay community were particularly shaken, with some saying that more than a dozen of their friends were still unaccounted for.
“I would have thought it was the safest place I could go to,” said Enakai Mpire, who has performed at Pulse but was not there Saturday night.
On Sunday evening, more than 200 people packed the one-room Joy Metropolitan Christian Church, praying for unity and vowing to remain strong.It was standing room only in the church known for welcoming the gay community, with a pulpit draped with rainbow banners.
The church’s founder, the Rev. Elder Troy Perry, joined via teleconference, telling the congregation that he had wept all day. “We will continue the struggle,” he said, his voice breaking.
Prayers for the victims, their families and even the attacker were spoken and applauded.One clergy member read a prayer from the prophet Muhammed, calling for peace.
One victim of the shooting joined the vigil and walked to his seat supported by friends. He said he hid in a bathroom for three hours and at one point had to play dead.
“Every time I heard a shot,” he recalled, “I prayed it wasn’t taking a friend of mine.”
The Post’s Amanda Elder in Orlando and Isaac Stanley-Becker in Washington contributed to this report. Cha reported from Washington.