When gunfire broke out in the Orlando nightclub Pulse Sunday, panicked clubgoers frantically tried to escape what would quickly be classified as the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
But some of the 49 people who lost their lives in the massacre died protecting others, as they shielded loved ones from the fusillade of bullets that Omar Mateen sprayed into the crowded venue.
Brooklyn native Brenda Lee Marquez McCool was out for a night of dancing and fun with her son Isaiah Henderson when the 29-year-old gunman opened fire.
The 49-year-old mother of 11 saw the terror unfold and put herself in harm’s way to save her son.
“Brenda saw him point the gun. She said, ‘Get down’ to Isaiah and she got in front of him,” her sister-in-law Ada Pressley said, according to The New York Daily News.
McCool was among the 49 killed. Her son survived.
“She was shot dead. That’s how much she loved her kids. If it weren’t for her, he’d have been shot,” Pressley said.
McCool often went out with her 21-year-old son, who is gay, proudly posting videos of the pair as they danced with friends.
“While we teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life's all about. Embrace, Encourage, Acknowledge, and Love them unconditionally,” she wrote in a Facebook post two days before her death.
Henderson took to Facebook after his mother's death, writing: "Just laying here thinking that I was just with my mom 24 hours ago, this is so surreal. I love you mom."
Isaiah Henderson and his mother, Brenda Lee Marquez McCool (Facebook)
McCool was born in Flatbush, Brooklyn, but later moved to California and more recently Orlando to be with her youngest children, the family said.
"Every year she comes to New York to celebrate the Puerto Rican Day Parade,” her sister-in-law said, according to The News. “But this year she went to Pulse to celebrate. If she’d come to New York, she’d be alive.”
"She now leaves 11 children alone on this earth who's in need of dire help from anyone," Marshall wrote. "One decision changed the lives of many. All I ask is for prayers and whatever you can to help me and brothers sisters to be able to pick up the pieces where she left off. You will forever be in our hearts. Always. I truly love you so much MOM!"
Devastated loved ones left messages of support for the family on the fundraising page.
"Your mom was awesome," one donor wrote. "May your memories of her bring you and your loved ones comfort."
But McCool would want those who loved to her celebrate her life rather than mourn the loss, her son Robert Pressley said in a touching video.
Thanking all those who have reached out since his mother's death, Pressley said: "My mom was a good person. She loved to hang out, she was always uplifting, always there, everybody loved my mom. She wouldn't want you guys to be sad. She would want you guys to be happy, you know, celebrating her."
The two-time cancer survivor left her children with explicit instructions on what to do when she died, he said.
"She always told me that when she passed away she didn't want us to be sad, she wanted us to party and celebrate her life, because my mom — she never had any regrets. My mom is in a better place. And I know that she passed away but ... she passed away doing what she loved — supporting her kids and having fun with her kids."
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, known as Jonathan Camuy to friends and colleagues, was also found covering the body of a friend, William Sabad Borges wrote in a touching tribute on Facebook.
(From left) Jonathan Camuy smiles with William Sabad Borges and Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan at Pulse before Omat Mateen opened fire. (Facebook)
“My friend Jonathan A. Camuy you died like a hero,” Borges wrote. “People Jonathan's body was found protecting my sister-in-law. I love you from here to the sky, where [you] are resting.”
Camuy, who would have turned 25 later this month, moved from his native Puerto Rico to Florida, where he worked on the television show La Voz Kids, an Orlando-based talent competition for young singers that is similar to The Voice.
“The family of Telemundo and La Voz Kids deeply regret the loss of Jonathan Camuy, who was part of our production,” the show wrote on its Facebook page, posting a picture that showed Camuy winking and giving the ‘peace’ sign as he sat in one of the show judge’s chairs.
Loved ones also took to Camuy’s Facebook page, as mourners expressed their grief on a photo he posted in June 2015 that included a gay pride flag overlay with the caption “#LoveWins.”
Camuy was found shielding the body of 24-year-old mother-of-two Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, who also lost her life in the shooting.
“Mary I love you with all the forces of my being,” wrote Borges, who said losing his sister-in-law was a “pain deeper than I’ve felt in my 28 years.”
She leaves behind a daughter and son, he wrote.
Borges was shot twice but suffered non-life-threatening injuries in the shooting and was initially left unaware of the fate of his sister-in-law and friend.
“I know that there are many people who died but there are still people alive in hospitals and I cling to that they are there,” he pleaded on social media posting a photo he took with Camuy and Solivan at the club before shots rang out.