Remembering the Orlando 49: Christopher Andrew Leinonen

Remembering the Orlando 49: Christopher Andrew Leinonen

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: Christopher Andrew Leinonen.

Paula Lupton says she would describe her friend Christopher "Drew" Leinonen as a renaissance man.

The 32-year-old knew a little bit of everything. As a Seminole High School student, he started a Gay-Straight Alliance student chapter, which earned him the Anne Frank Humanitarian Award. The University of Central Florida graduate worked as a licensed mental health counselor by day and in his free time explored cinema, photography, history, politics, vegetarianism and the intricacies of playing Dance Dance Revolution. Lupton says Leinonen loved to go to the Enzian Theater with friends to watch classic movies like Citizen Kane and Vertigo, and then over a nice dinner, ask everybody what they had thought.

"He was amazing and witty," Lupton says. "He had the ability when he was talking to make you feel like the only person in the world. He would do anything for the people he cared about. He loved life, and he was always laughing."

He had a soul mate in Juan Guerrero, 22, says his friend Saffy Johnson. Johnson remembers Leinonen was very loving toward Guerrero, but also very protective of the younger man, always checking to make sure he was OK.

They died along with 47 others at Pulse on June 12. On July 27, his mother, Christine Leinonen, captured a nation as she spoke at the Democratic National Convention. In between advocating for common-sense gun policies, she told thousands of delegates that her son was a "big Hillary supporter," whose belief that "love trumps hate" was etched in his DNA: His paternal grandparents met and fell in love at a Japanese internment camp during World War II.

"Christopher was my only child," she says. "As I used to tell him, you can't do better than perfect."

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