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Vigil celebrates life of Orlando victim, Williamsburg resident Enrique Rios

Brooklyn remembers victim of Orlando terror attack

June 28, 2016 By Andy Katz Special to the Brooklyn Eagle
Enrique Rios’ mother, Gertrude Merced (left), with Carmen “Millie” Medina, a cousin of Martin Benitez Torres, who was slain along with Rios at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. Eagle photos by Andy Katz

“He started as a home health aide, then he became a coordinator. He always knew the value of the elderly.” When Gertrude Merced speaks about her son, Enrique Rios, the smile in her voice is a bright counterpoint to the dark insanity that filled the Orlando nightclub, Pulse, taking her son’s life along with 48 others.

Since that tragic night two weeks ago, gatherings, memorials, rallies and vigils of all sizes have been held throughout the U.S. and abroad. A few hours earlier, Mayor Bill de Blasio joined Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in dedicating the Stonewall Inn as the first U.S. National Monument dedicated to the LGBT movement in a ceremony that focused greater attention on Orlando, Florida, than Manhattan’s West Village.

Thus it’s no surprise that people would respond to Assemblymember Maritza Davila’s call to gather for a candlelight vigil at Williamsburg’s Borinquen Plaza, where the 25-year-old Rios had been a longtime resident, and who, along with Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, was one of two Brooklyn residents to lose his life in the country’s deadliest terror attack since Sept. 11.

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“I used to see him all the time,” resident Michael Perez nodded. “He was a good guy, a nice guy.”

Perhaps it was typical Brooklyn contrariness at play, but this gathering differed from many others, taking on a tone that was almost joyful — a celebration of the life of a young man, who, according to those who knew him, dedicated himself to helping others. Just before his death, Rios was working toward completing a degree in social work.

Speakers also emphasized the value of community. “Tragedies like these bring us together,” Mayor de Blasio’s representative Elvin Garcia said. “They make us stronger.”

“[Enrique Rios is] part of us,” Davila reminded the gathering. “We needed to show his family that we care. That it could have been any of us.”

“[Enrique] did not die in vain!” argued Joey Pressley, deputy chief of staff for City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “Gun control has to come, and it has to come now!”

Effective action on gun control quickly emerged as a theme with a near perfect consensus — a small silver lining around a profoundly mysterious tragedy. “Guns have no place in our community!” District 50 Leader Phil Rizzo insisted.

“We have to do more,” Davila admitted. “I don’t know what it’s going to take … but we have more women than ever in legislative positions.”

The wind picked up and clouds gathered as the evening progressed, even dropping an occasional rain sprinkle. Candles became impractical. But on hand were purple, helium-filled balloons distributed to all present. Purple was said to have been Rios’ favorite color.

“These will send us aloft,” longtime Borinquen Plaza resident Eddy Garcia noted, somewhat cryptically. On cue, they soared in chromatic majesty against the iron-ray sky.

Of course there were tears, prompted in part by an emotional meeting between Merced and Carmen “Millie” Medina, a cousin of Martin Benitez Torres, who also slain at the hand of Omar Mateen.

But it was a mother’s joy in the brief, well-lived life of her son that marked the evening. “Enrique lived for other people,” she said. “That’s who he was.”

For Rios, a final and bitter irony lies in the fact that he might have been the man to help his assailant find a way to resolve the demons that possessed him before tragedy struck: “That man, he needed help. Enrique could have helped him,” Merced concluded.


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