Vigils for victims of Orlando nightclub shooting held worldwide

Krystal Johnson, Kamilia Palu and Melissa Hills

Vigils have been held across the world to honour the 49 victims who were mercilessly shot down by a crazed gunman at a popular gay nightclub in Florida in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The aftermath of the shooting at Orlando nightclub Pulse has left the world reeling as friends and family members scramble for information about their loved ones.

People gather at a vigil in solidarity for the victims of the Orlando nightclub mass shooting at Taylor Square. Photo: AAP

Hundreds of people have gathered in Sydney and flocked to Taylor Square to remember the victims of a nightclub massacre along the Mardi Gras strip on Monday at 6pm.

Rainbow flags were handed out to the crowd of people who wiped tears from their eyes and hugged one another at an impromptu vigil in Taylor Square.

The square’s flag was lowered to half-mast as candles spelling out “Orlando” are seen perched upon a sea of flowers.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge tonight was also lit up in rainbow colours to show solidarity in a move that follows similar to those by other iconic buildings around the world.

The names of eight victims were released by City of Orlando council, leading to mass tributes and an outpouring of emotional messages on the victims' social media pages.

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34, Stanley Almodovar III, 23, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20, Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36, Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 and Luis S. Vielma, also 22, were all killed when gunman Omar Mateen opened fire around 2am on Sunday morning.

29-year-old Mateen was shot on the scene after police stormed the building.

Pictured: Omar Mateen.

Victims remembered

So far, the city of Orlando has given the names and ages of the 23 victims who have been officially identified.

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34; Stanley Almodovar III, 23; Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20; Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22; Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36; Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22; Luis S. Vielma, 22 and Kimberly Morris, 37, were confirmed dead on Sunday.

On Monday morning, authorities added another seven names to the list; Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30; Darryl Roman Burt II, 29, Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32; Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21; Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25; Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35; and Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50.

By Monday afternoon the city of Orlando announced another eight of the 49 victims killed at Pulse nightclub: Amanda Alvear, 25, Martin Benitez Torres, 33, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37, Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35, Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25, Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31, and Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26.

Stanley Almodovar III was one of seven victims named on Sunday after the shootings in Orlando. Photo: Facebook

Stanley Almodovar worked as a pharmacist in the Lake Mary region of Florida.

Since the victims were named, Mr Almodovar’s Facebook has been flooded with messages from grieving friends and family members.

“I hope this isn't real and people are just putting your name out there,” one friend in disbelief, Charles Zweydoff, said.

“Completely in shock... I can't believe you are one of the victims. You are a beautiful human been (sic) didn't deserve to leave us so soon. R.I.P. Will never be forgotten...” Karla Rentas wrote.

When Mr Almodovar's mother received word that her son had been shot, she prayed that the injury wasn't life threatening.

"I was hoping maybe [he was shot in] the hand or the leg," Rosalie Ramos told the Orlando Sentinel.

Mr Almodovar suffered three gunshot wounds - one to his chest, one to his stomach and one to the side of his body.

Luis Velma was described by friends as

Luis Vielma reportedly worked for Disaster Studios and operated rides at a local Orlando theme park.

According to his Facebook page, he worked at the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

J.K Rowling paid tribute to Mr Vielma by posting a photo of the young man working on the Harry Potter ride at the theme park.

Friend and colleague Will Randle also left a touching tribute to Mr Vielma, describing him as “one of the kindest people I have ever come to know”.

“Everyone's day would brighten up whenever you came in. I don't care if it was an early opening, or a late event. Working with you was extraordinary,” Mr Randle wrote.

“You had your entire life in front of you. I am so incredibly angry and outraged that was stolen from you on a night that should have been care-free and full of fun.

“Luis, you were not on this Earth for long. But you have changed my life forever and I will always strive to be even HALF the person you were.”

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz was one of the first victims identified after the attacks. Photo: Facebook

Peter Gonzalez-Cruz worked for postal service company UPS and was described by friends as a “happy soul, so hilarious and made anyone’s frown turn upside down”.

His mother wrote a touching farewell to her son online.

“I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the love that you have shown me regarding my son,” she wrote.

“I will keep you informed. As a mother, I feel a deep and immense pain as everyone else who's going through this.”

Edward 'Eddie' Sotomayor recorded a snapchat video with a friend in the minutes before the shooting. Photo: Facebook

Edward 'Eddie' Sotomayor Jr proudly worked for gay travel agent Al and Chuck Travel and was filmed at Pulse just minutes before the attack, posing with a friend.

When Eddie went missing after the shootings, his family and friend held their breath.

"Praying that Eddie is ok," friends wrote.

Al Ferguson, CEO of Al and Chuck Travel, realised his worst fears came true when the victim list was released.

"The victims list is published now and being broadcast. I am empty," he wrote.

Juan Ramon Guerrero came out to his family at the beginning of the year. Photo: Facebook

Juan Ramon Guerrero had only come out to his parents at the beginning of the year, his cousin Robert Guerrero told CBS News.

His family were accepting, he said and “as long as he was happy, they were okay with it”.

Guerrero was a student at the University of Central Florida and worked as a telemarketer, frequenting Pulse often.

Christopher Leinonen with his mother, Christine (top), and Juan (bottom). Christopher is still unaccounted for. Photo: Facebook

He was believed to be at the venue with his boyfriend, Christopher Leinonen, who is still unaccounted for.

Leinonen’s mother, Christine, was outside the nightclub on Sunday and told reporters tearfully that she hasn’t been able to locate her son.

Eric Ortiz had moved to Florida from Puerto Rico for a better life. Photo: Facebook

Eric Ortiz-Rivera, was originally from Dorado, Puerto Rico, and lived in Miami, according to his Facebook page.

He obtained a bachelor’s degree in communications from Bayamon Central University in Puerto Rico before he came to Florida to have a better chance at life.

“My great friend, teacher, adviser and partner of party, I'll always remember you and I have you in my prayers, to your family my condolences,” one of Ortiz’s best friends Elvyn Rivera wrote.

“God just gained one funny and caring angel today,” Jesse James Majerus wrote about his fallen friend.

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20, was the youngest of the victims so far. Photo: Facebook

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, known as ‘Omar’ to his friends, loved to dance as highlighted in a tribute by his aunt, Carla Ocasio.

A photo shared by Ms Ocasio had the words “Dance freely in the heavens” written across it.

One former colleague who worked with Mr Capo at Target said he could brighten up her day in an instant.

Another friend couldn’t believe he was gone.

“This senseless act took this loving caring funny man away,” Abrianna Lawrence wrote.

“Two weeks ago we spoke. You told me you were doing well. I wanted to come visit. I can’t even deal with this right now.”

Kimberly 'KJ' Morris was a bouncer at the club. Photo: Facebook

Kimberly Morris was the first female victim to be named, and was reportedly a bouncer at Pulse.

Friends of ‘KJ’ pleaded for any information regarding their friend on Sunday, and were devastated to find she has passed away in the attacks.

"I'm so sorry you had to leave us this way. I pray for your family and friends for I know you are at peace,” friend Krista Nelson wrote on her Facebook page.

Agonising wait

With 49 dead and at least 53 more injured, many families including Jeffrey Rodriguez’s parents are in the midst of an agonising wait.

Mr Rodriguez was shot in the incident and took shelter in a bathroom inside the nightclub while a friend tried to help him, The Washington Post reported.

He managed to get a text message out to his brother.

“I’m bleeding so much and I don’t think I’m going to make it. Call mom and dad and tell them I love them,” he wrote.

His family never heard from him again, and are now waiting for any updates on his wellbeing.

Mina Justice is also anxiously waiting to find out if her son is alive.

She received a series of text messages from her terrified son just after 2am and lost contact with him at 2:50am.

"Call police," he wrote to his mother. "I'm going to die."

As he hid in the bathroom with several others, Eddie told his mother the gunman had found them.

"He's coming. I'm gonna die. He's in the bathroom with us," he wrote.

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice was confirmed deceased on Monday morning.

Details come to light

One officer was shot in the head while attempting to save hostages and was only saved by his Kevlar helmet.

Orlando Police Chief John Mina said the decision to end the three-hour hostage standoff was made due to fears more lives would be lost.

"This did turn into a hostage situation," he said. "We were being contacted by people in the bathroom, wounded."

"At approximately 0500 hours this morning, the decision was made to rescue hostages that were in there."

Omar Mateen is seen taking selfies and wearing New York Police Department shirts.

Heavily armed SWAT officers stormed the building.

"We exchanged gunfire with suspect and he was killed at the scene," Mina continued. "He was armed with an assault rifle and handgun."

It was unclear whether all the victims were killed by the gunman or if some died in the ensuing shootout with police.

President Obama addressed the nation and described the shooting as "a sobering reminder that attacks on any American - regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation - is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country."

"We know enough to say this was an act of terror and an act of hate," he said.

Picture: A Tonyz Nation / Facebook

'Everyone get out of Pulse and keep running'

Survivors told of the bloodbath left by the hail of bullets.

Ricardo Almodovar says he was in the club when the "shooter opened fire @ around 2am".

"People on the dance floor and bar got down on the floor," he wrote on Facebook. "And some of us who were near the bar and back exit managed to go out through the outdoor area and just ran."

Some witnesses reported Mateen was wearing an explosive or "suicide vest". Police confirmed on Twitter that there was a "controlled explosion" at the scene and said they had found a "suspicious device" on him.

Officers are currently "checking the area for devices" but have been unable to find any further items.

Emergency services outside the Orlando club, Pulse, amid reports of a mass shooting. Picture: A Tonyz Nation/Facebook

Clubgoer Christopher Hansen said he was in the VIP lounge when the gunfire broke out.

"I was thinking, are you kidding me?" Mr Hansen said. "I just dropped down. I just said please, please, please, I want to make it out."

"I saw people shot. I saw blood. You hope and pray you don't get shot."

Pulse Orlando earlier posted on its own Facebook page: "Everyone get out of Pulse and keep running."

Parents and friends have arrived at the hospital in droves to seek word of their loved ones.

The shooting has taken place during the national LGBT celebration of Pride Month - in memory of the Stonewall riots in 1969.

The attack became the worst mass shooting in modern US history in front of the Virginia Tech massacre, which claimed 32 lives, and the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, which killed 27 people.