Outgoing, Confident And Openly Gay: Remembering La Vergne Grad Killed In Orlando Attack

Jun 13, 2016

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo — a memorable four-part name that stood out when he walked across the high school graduation stage just over a year ago.

And to his friends, simply Omar.

“He was outgoing. He was very confident. And he knew his personality brought everyone joy, and I guess that brought him happiness, to make everyone else smile,” said classmate Destiny Cruzado.

She was among more than a hundred who gathered at sunset Monday in La Vergne for a tearful vigil of words, song, and prayer in memory of Ocasio-Capo. The La Vergne High graduate was one of the youngest victims in the mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub.

A Joyful Life Cut Short

Destiny and Omar were in a group of friends who went to prom last year.

“He was actually the light of everything,” she said.

Destiny Cruzado holds a candle for Omar Ocasio-Capo.
Credit Tony Gonzalez / WPLN

“The day of prom, I told him, if he wasn’t at prom, than it would have just been … I guess, (to make it) simple: He made everything. He made prom prom, pretty much.”

Friends said Omar loved theater and choreographing dance routines.

And he was openly gay — with a confidence about it that empowered those around him to also feel good about themselves, said classmate and family friend Ambar Lugo.

“He was the kind of person: ‘Either you take me how I am or you don’t take me at all,’ ” Lugo said. “He was happy with himself. That was something that rubbed off on you. It made you a better person.”

Lugo, 18, said Omar’s family — father Luis, stepmother, and three stepsisters — welcomed her into their home after the death of her own father. Then she graduated with him in May 2015.

“If you’re sad, he’ll be there, he’ll just brighten your day immediately,” she said.

A makeshift memorial formed around this sign in the La Vergne High School parking lot.
Credit Tony Gonzalez / WPLN

Omar had moved to La Vergne to finish high school. Then he relocated to Orlando, where he was a barista dreaming of a career as a performer. (Read the statement of his co-worker in Kissimmee, Fla.)

He quickly made friends there as well — including Julius Ortiz, who spoke Monday to NPR’s Ari Shapiro. Like with Lugo in La Vergne, this new friend found shelter through the Ocasio-Capo family.

“My dad, I was staying with him and he kicked me out,” Ortiz told NPR. “Staying with (Omar) and his brother and his roommates, he actually took me in for a little … that’s pretty much all I can remember, are those times.”

Third Name On The List

Ortiz said he was dancing at Pulse nightclub with Omar on his last night alive, but had left about an hour before the attack.

The last thing he heard from him was a text about gunshots.

“I stayed up all night trying to get hold of my friends,” Ortiz said.

The next morning, he saw the list of victim names.

“I was very familiar with one: Omar. … And I pretty much thought, us Hispanics have a bunch of names … hopefully it was someone else,” Ortiz said.

Confusion also mixed with dread in La Vergne.

Omar’s family had heard of the attack and tried multiple calls, according to family friend Samuel Gonzalez.

Omar poses for a photo with his father, Luis.
Credit Courtesy of Ambar Lugo

“He didn’t answer the phone. … (The family) posted a post on Facebook that he was missing," Gonzalez said. "And the next thing we knew, he was the third name on the list."

Friends rushed to the family’s suburban home — a place of disbelief.

“I could see the heart and the hurt and the fear in their face when I spoke to them,” said neighbor Deborah Balthrop.

As a newcomer to the neighborhood, Balthrop said Omar’s father, Luis, was the first person on the block to introduce himself.

“I can’t imagine the pain,” she said. “Most of us have children in this neighborhood.”

Others nearby had also begun to help the family, including a neighbor who came by to water their plants, she said. Online, a GoFundMe account has been started online to cover funeral costs.

Local officials turned out in force for the vigil at the high school, where Mayor Dennis Waldron opened with a statement of remorse for the entire nation.

“Our hearts weigh heavy with sorrow,” he said.

“As long as we’re alive, we may never understand why,” police Chief Mike Walker told attendees, who stood in a ring around him. “We can make a pledge to each other, that we’re going to take a stand to love one another, to care for one another, and to support one another.

“What we do for each other, it just keeps on keepin’ on.”

Among those handing out candles was Balthrop, the neighbor. She said the prior day’s events had left her unable to watch the news. But she felt compelled to attend.

“We’re having so many terrible things happen, and I don’t understand what’s going on in society,” she said. “But it needs to stop.”

The Ocasio-Capo family, who had quickly flown to Orlando, watched the vigil via a video call held by Lugo.

As she passed the phone around, the family heard wishes of support at a time when they were still making preparations to bury their son.

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo was 20 years old.

Dozens gathered at La Vergne High for a vigil for Omar Ocasio-Capo.
Credit Tony Gonzalez / WPLN