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

A blanket that hung at Angel Candelario Padro's wake in Orlando on Wednesday afternoon.
A blanket that hung at Angel Candelario Padro's wake in Orlando on Wednesday afternoon.

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.

This undated photo shows Angel Candelario-Padro, one of the people killed in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
Angel Candelario-Padro / Facebook via AP
This undated photo shows Angel Candelario-Padro, one of the people killed in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

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.

Orlando's Gail and Wynn Mortuary.
Adrian Florido / NPR
Orlando's Gail and Wynn Mortuary.

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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