For An Orlando Victim, Burial Means A Final Flight Home To Puerto Rico

Jun 16, 2016
Originally published on June 20, 2016 2:54 am

After the massacre at Orlando's Pulse nightclub, Ismael Medina and his wife Leticia Padro spent all of Sunday calling their nephew's cell phone. But 28-year-old Angel Candelario Padro didn't answer.

They eventually got a call from a friend of their nephew's in Orlando. Candelario had been at Pulse and been shot, she told them, though his whereabouts or condition were still unknown.

Medina, his wife, and their two sons packed their bags and took the next flight to Orlando.

"We knew he was either in the hospital or he was dead in the nightclub, and if he was in the hospital, he needed our help," Medina said.

When they arrived, they learned that Candelario was among the dead.

Almost immediately, Medina started working on getting his nephew's body back to the island.

It's a process that at least a handful of families have begun to undertake in the aftermath of Sunday's massacre that left 49 victims dead. Nearly all of them were Latino or Latin-American, and among those, the majority were of Puerto Rican descent.

Because Puerto Rico is United States territory, sending a body back to the island for burial is relatively straightforward. A special Florida state fund is providing help to cover funeral services locally, including the cost of embalming and preparing the bodies for shipment. Airlines have offered to waive the fee for transporting a body, which can cost around $1,000.

There were victims from other Latin-American countries too, including Mexico and the Dominican Republic, though it's unclear whether any of those victims's bodies will be buried outside the U.S.

In Candelario's case, his uncle wanted to get his body back to Puerto Rico relatively quickly, because Candelario's parents and grandparents were waiting, grief-stricken, for Candelario to arrive home.

But Medina also knew that Candelario had made many friends in the three years since he left Puerto Rico to settle in the U.S., living in Chicago until he moved to Orlando earlier this year. So Medina arranged for his nephew's body to be on view at Orlando's Gail & Wynn's Mortuary for two hours on Wednesday afternoon.

Candelario was dressed in a pastel pink suit. His hands clutched a single yellow rose. He had been a nurse in Puerto Rico and was working to get licensed in the U.S., so his family draped his stethoscope around neck.

The room overflowed with mourners. One of them was Samaris Carrion, who worked with Candelario at an opthamologist's office, and like him, was a nurse in Puerto Rico trying to get certified in the U.S.

"He loved nursing so much," she said, "because he loved helping people."

Candelario was scheduled to fly home Thursday, on a 10 a.m. flight out of Orlando International Airport.

Gail Thomas Dewitt, the funeral director, said in most cases, she hires a special transport company to deliver remains to the airport. But in Angel's case, she was having her staff take him in the mortuary's hearse.

"The world is at its knees," she said. "So you want to be as loving and thoughtful as possible to diminish any type of grief that the family is experiencing."

Once Candelario lands in Puerto Rico, the mortuary in his hometown will take over. Hector Pacheco, its funeral director said by phone that he would be waiting for Candelario at the airport.

"He arrives at 1:25 p.m.," he said.

After that, Candelario will have a second wake, at his grandparents' house. Then he'll be buried at the municipal cemetery in Guanica, in a section reserved for servicemembers.

Candelario served in Puerto Rico's National Guard, his uncle said, and will be buried with military honors.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Adding to the pain of Sunday's attack in Orlando, nearly half of the dead were of Puerto Rican descent. The emotional toll on that city's Latino community has been enormous - and also on the island, where families are preparing to receive their dead. Adrian Florido of NPR's Code Switch team has just returned from Orlando. Good morning.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And I gather you spent much of yesterday with the family and friends of one of the victims.

FLORIDO: Yeah, that's right, Renee. It was - it was very difficult. They came from Puerto Rico and are preparing to take the body of this young man home.

MONTAGNE: And home on the island is where?

FLORIDO: Well, it's a little town on the island's southern coast, called Guanica. I was speaking with Ismael Medina and his wife, Leticia Padro, who are from Guanica. They told me they spent all of Sunday calling their nephew's cell phone in Orlando. His name is Angel Candelario-Padro. Eventually, they got a call from a friend of Angel's, who said their nephew had been at the Pulse night club and had been shot. And that's when Medina and his wife and their two sons packed their bags and took the next flight to Orlando.

ISMAEL MEDINA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "We knew he was either in the hospital or he was dead in the nightclub," Medina says. "And if he was in the hospital, he needed our help." But after arriving on Monday, the family learned that 28-year-old Angel, a nurse and a clarinet player, was one of the dead. He left Puerto Rico just three years ago. And this morning, his uncle is taking him back home in a coffin.

MEDINA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Medina says it feels like losing a son. He wanted to get Angel back to Puerto Rico as quickly as possible because that's where Angel's parents and grandparents, overwhelmed by grief, are waiting for him. But Medina also knew his nephew had friends in Orlando and Chicago, where he lived until a few months ago, so he arranged for Angel's body to be on view in Orlando for two hours on Wednesday afternoon. Angel was dressed in a pastel pink suit. His hands clutched a single yellow rose. He'd been a nurse in Puerto Rico and was getting licensed in Florida. And so his family draped his stethoscope around his neck.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "He was there for everyone," one of his friends told the crowd.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

(APPLAUSE)

FLORIDO: And then she asked for a round of applause in his honor. Gail Thomas Dewitt, the mortuary's director, says, usually, she uses a special transport company to take remains to the airport, but she's having her staff take Angel.

GAIL THOMAS DEWITT: We will be sending him in a hearse, yes.

FLORIDO: Why?

DEWITT: Honor, dignity. The world is at its knees, so, you know, you want to be as loving and thoughtful as possible to diminish any type of grief that the family is experiencing.

FLORIDO: Supporting the families of the victims seems to be the focus of so many people in Orlando right now. Angel's funeral costs are being covered by a special Florida state fund, the flowers donated by florist, his casket discounted. The airline carrying him to Puerto Rico is doing it for free. When he does arrive, the funeral home in his hometown will take over. Its director, Hector Pacheco, says he and his staff have been preparing to pick Angel's body up at the airport.

HECTOR PACHECO: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "He lands at 1:25 in the afternoon, and we'll be there waiting for him," he told me. After that, Renee, Angel will have a second take at the home of his grandparents.

MONTAGNE: And what about the actual funeral for this young man?

FLORIDO: Well, Angel was a veteran. He served in Puerto Rico's National Guard. And so he's going to be buried in the Guanica municipal cemetery in the section reserved for service members. And that funeral is on Saturday.

MONTAGNE: Adrian, thank you very much.

FLORIDO: Thanks, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's Adrian Florido of NPR's Code Switch team. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.