By Wallice de la Vega
GUANICA, Puerto Rico (CNS) – Songs blared June 18 while a white horse-drawn hearse and a weeping crowd departed Barriada Esperanza sector of Guanica with the body of Angel Candelario Padro.
“He left, little brother, danged destiny, he left without me seeing him again,” said one song as mourners gathered to bid farewell to the first Puerto Rican victim to be interred in his homeland after the mass shooting June 12 at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
Candelario, a 28-year-old ophthalmology technician who expected to begin doctoral studies in September, was buried with full military honors because he also held the rank of captain in the U.S. Army Reserve.
“It is sad what we are having to live through,” Jaime Cordero, a lifelong friend of Candelario’s, told Catholic News Service at the Guanica Municipal Cemetery. “The LGBT community and this whole town stand in solidarity with his immediate family, although we are all his family.”
A teary Cordero, wrapped in the rainbow flag symbolizing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, let loose a white dove during the funeral, symbolizing “Angel’s soul elevating to God.”
“When I woke up Sunday to the news of the shooting, I jumped to my Facebook page,” Cordero recalled. “When I saw the note, ‘Male nurse missing,’ with Angel’s photo, my heart stopped and I started digging for more information.”
The shooting left 50 dead (including the gunman) and more than 50 wounded. News reports said that of those who were killed, more than half were of Puerto Rican origin. Some 300,000 people of Puerto Rican heritage live in the metropolitan area of Orlando.
All those queried at the funeral about Candelario’s character had more or less the same description of him. “Angel, really, that is what he was,” said Cordero. “He would never get into trouble, good student, respectful, joyful, a great friend and confidant. That’s the way we will always remember him.”
Candelario’s aunt, Leticia Padro, told about the painful process of grieving his death, with cemetery ceremony but one chapter.
“As soon as we saw the news, I started calling him (Candelario), with no answer,” Padro said. “So I took off for Orlando, faithful that I would find him … but I was not prepared to have to identify his body.”
Padro added Candelario grew up in her household and trusted her with his private affairs.
“He was another son to us,” she said through tears. “When I received notification from the police, all these flashbacks (of him as a child) came back. … I said I would bring him back, but not this way.”
Friends and family from Chicago, Orlando and New York as well as municipal and territorial government officials were present at Candelario’s funeral service.
After several wakes held in the Orlando area for the 23 Puerto Rican victims of the massacre, the Puerto Rico State Department June 14 started coordinating the transfer of their bodies to the island. Funeral services were to continue throughout the week of June 20.