Support local journalism. Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club.

click to enlarge joelyrayon1.jpg

Remembering the Orlando 49: Joel Rayón Paniagua 

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: Joel Rayón Paniagua

Joel Rayón Paniagua was the hard-working breadwinner for his family back in Veracruz, Mexico.

The 31-year-old left his country to work in gardening and construction because they were poor, and he lived undocumented in Florida for some time before going back home. His brother told Hoy Los Angeles that Rayón Paniagua came to Florida again in late 2015 because he couldn't find a well-paying job in his hometown. By June 2016, Rayón Paniagua had paid off the last of the debt he owed to the guide who helped him get to the U.S. and was starting to save for a better life. He would never get to see it – during the early morning hours of June 12, Rayón Paniagua was with friends at the gay nightclub Pulse when he was killed during a mass shooting along with 48 other people.

On Facebook, his friend Norman Joel wrote that Rayón Paniagua's love for his family helped him make it across the border twice.

"Joel, I carry you forever in my thoughts," he wrote. "I know that you were one of the greats and I'll never forget your humility."

In a video of Rayón Paniagua's burial in Mexico by AvcNoticias, his mother, Rufina Paniagua, promised her son she would continue to live her life because he taught her to be strong and never feel defeated.

"God took him away from me because that's how he wanted it to be," she said. "I know God wanted an angel up there in heaven, a saint, because to me he was an exemplary son. I want you all to know that not only did I lose a great son but also a great friend."

Rayón Paniagua's friends described him as a friendly and fun person who loved to dance. At his funeral, bands played mariachi and norteño music for a final goodbye, including a song with the lyrics, "I don't want a coffin worth millions. All I want is for them to sing songs. May the death of a poor man be a great celebration."


We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Orlando Weekly. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Orlando Weekly, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club for as little as $5 a month.


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Read the Digital Print Issue

October 13, 2021

View more issues


© 2021 Orlando Weekly

Website powered by Foundation