Among the most emotional interviews we’ve seen in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting was with Christine Leinonen, who waited an excruciatingly long time to find out if her son was still alive.
Christine had been one of the first family members on the scene, waiting outside an Orlando hospital beginning at 4 a.m. on Sunday. She spoke with Matt Lauer on Monday, saying she had not heard anything but was still holding out hope that Christopher was among the unnamed survivors at the hospital.
Hours later, Christopher Leinonen, who also went by “Drew,” was included on the official list of victims. He died on the floor of the Pulse nightclub.
“If I had known that my son was in the club laying on the floor, I would have gone in myself with no equipment and brought him on my back and carried him the two blocks to the trauma center,” Leinonen said.
Here’s everything we know about Christopher Leinonen.
1. He Was a Gay Rights Activist
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Leinonen had been fighting for the LGBTQ community for years. In high school, he started a gay-straight alliance, and he was recently award an Anne Frank Humanitarian Award for his work.
His mother Christine says she was always happy about this aspect of her son.
“I’ve been so proud of him for that,” she said. “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.”
Leinonen’s father, Mark Bando, said that he wasn’t thrilled to learn his son was gay but eventually came to “accept it as the way he was pre wired-when born,” according to the Detroit Free Press.
2. He Was at Pulse With His Boyfriend
Leinonen was at Pulse nightclub with his boyfriend, Juan Guerrero. According to Time, Christopher and Juan lived together and had been dating for about two years. They planned to get married.
“They were honestly so in love. They were soul mates. You can tell by how they looked at each other,” said Juan’s sister Aryam Guerrero.
The Orlando Sentinel reports that Juan and Christopher were sitting together at a table when the shooting began. Guerrero was taken to the hospital with multiple gunshot wounds but was later pronounced dead.
3. Leinonen and Guerrero Will Be Buried Together
Now, the families of both of the victims plans to hold a joint funeral for the couple.
According to The Huffington Post, Christine Leinonen was the one to suggest this ceremony.
“If it’s not a funeral, they were going to have a wedding together,” Aryam Guerrero said.
Guerrero’s family was among the first to learn their son had died in the attack, while Leinonen’s was one of the last
4. He Was an Idealistic Person
In a letter to the Detroit Free Press, Leinonen’s father described his son as someone who believed in his fellow man and would never expect something as sick as this attack to occur.
“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,” Mark Bando wrote. “He used to laugh and joke and tell me I was paranoid, to carry a gun off duty, when I was a Detroit cop.”
Bando and his son did not live near one another during the past few years, with Bando in Detroit and Leinonen in Florida. But Bando says he wishes that he could have been living with his son and could have taught him how to use a gun to protect himself.
“After seeing the Paris massacre last year, I thought, ‘If only one of the intended victims in that large crowd had been armed, many lives could have been saved,’ Bando wrote. “I also thought, this couldn’t happen in America, because surely, somebody in a large crowd like that would be armed, in the U.S. Wrong, history has repeated itself right here in the USA and my son and 51 others were slaughtered like helpless cattle, precisely because nobody in that club had a weapon to shoot back with.”
5. His Mother’s Last Words to Him Were ‘I Love You’
Christine Leinonen last spoke to her son on Saturday evening, hours before the shooting. According to the Orlando Sentinel, he was at SeaWorld at the time, and Christine says her last words to her son were, “I love you, Chris.”
Christine went on to beg U.S. politicians pass stricter gun control laws to prevent tragedies like these from ever happening again.
“Please could we do something with the assault weapons so that we could stop this club from ever getting any new members,” she said. “I beg all of you please.”