Every week between now and the one-year anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shootings, Orlando Weekly will profile a person killed on June 12, 2016. This week: Edward "Eddie" Manuel Sotomayor Jr.
Eddie Sotomayor was the glue that kept his family together, says his sister Kimberly Jackson Sotomayor.
The 34-year-old from Sarasota was five years older than her and served as a natural protector, teacher, confidant and stylist, she says. He loved sweet things: Sour Patch Kids, his grandmother's teriyaki chicken and Chick-fil-A lemonade. As children, they once convinced their mother to let them get on the coffee table and dance to Paula Abdul's "Straight Up," while wearing sunglasses and singing into toy microphones.
"He was so bright and full of life; super sarcastic and witty but sweet on the inside," she says. "He loved to dance and has been a Janet Jackson fan since day one. He cared greatly about his family and would do almost anything for them."
Sotomayor grew up into a charming, self-confident man with brilliant green eyes who, for the past two years, worked as the national brand manager for AlAndChuck.travel, an LGBT travel agency. There he became known as "Top Hat Eddie," after he took to wearing a black top hat on guided travel tours so patrons could easily find him in a crowd. He was working on organizing the first gay cruise to Cuba.
"In every person's life, you encounter special people that forever change you," writes Al Ferguson, owner of the travel agency. "Edward Sotomayor was one of those people. ... For Eddie, travel was the ultimate freedom. But freedom required bravery. He was not afraid. And therefore he taught all of us, we won't be afraid!"
Sotomayor was one of the 49 victims who died at Orlando's gay nightclub Pulse in a mass shooting on June 12. He was at the club that night with his partner, Luis Rojas, who managed to escape.
"It's like a horrible roller coaster nightmare ride that I can't get off," Sotomayor's sister says. "He was the type of person that lived his life on his own terms and how he wanted. My brother would have wanted them to remember the good times with him, dance and just be happy doing what you love, whether people agree with it or not."
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