Forty-nine people — all of them out for a night of fun with friends — died when the gunman opened fire June 12 at the Pulse nightclub in downtown Orlando. One of them, Cory Connell, was an Ocoee resident.
Cory Connell loved life and enjoyed spending time with the people he loved.
That’s exactly what he was doing Saturday night when he took in an Orlando Predators game with his mother and father, Tara and James Connell, and his girlfriend, Paula Blanco.
After the game was over, he headed to the Pulse nightclub with Blanco, who is from Colombia and wanted to teach Cory how to Latin dance. They joined friends from Blanco’s football team. A cousin was going to take Cory’s sister, Amanda, to join them, but he ended up not being able to go, so Amanda decided to forgo the outing and spend time with Cory the next day.
They told each other that they loved each other, and Cory left. That was the last time she saw him alive.
And as the nation still reels from the attack, the Connells are scrambling for answers about what happened to Cory.
“We don’t know what’s true,” Amanda said. “We have like 17 different stories on what happened that night.”
In the 24 hours following the shooting, they didn’t know where Cory was or if he had made it to the hospital. The spent the day at the hospital, hearing conflicting stories. It was after 2 a.m. Monday when they returned home to get a few hours of sleep before continuing their search. But before they could leave the house the next morning, a pair of detectives came to the door.
On Tuesday, family and friends huddled quietly in the living room of their Ocoee home, hoping the autopsy will provide more answers.
Born on Aug. 18, 1994, at Orlando Regional Medical Center — the very hospital his family waited for answers 21 years later — Cory grew up in the Orlando area with a zeal for life.
He is survived by his parents, Tara and James; as well as his three siblings, Ashley, Amanda and Ryan.
He spent much time in the College Park area, and he graduated from Edgewater High School in 2013, where he played football. He worked at the Publix and CVS in the community, and he often visited College Park Baptist for a game of pick-up basketball.
Three years ago, he moved with this parents to Ocoee.
He was studying at Valencia College, with goals of becoming an EMT and a sports broadcaster. Although he was a college student and was strapped for funds, he always found a way to help others with what he did have.
Ryan recalls eating lunch at Chick-fil-A with Cory and seeing a homeless man on the side of the road. Cory went back inside the restaurant and bought a whole meal for the man.
“If he had $1 in his pocket, and that’s all he had, he’d give it to you,” Amanda said.
His siblings noted his love for playing football and basketball and said he was a miniature-golf champion. He met Blanco through playing on a flag football team with her and the rest of their siblings.
Overall, he had a personality that drew people to him, his siblings said.
“Cory was that guy that you’d want to bring home to your family,” Ryan said.
The College Park community has rallied around the family, starting a GoFundMe account that has well exceeded the goal of $10,000. To help, go to gofundme.com/295tskk.
“We thank the people of College Park for all their support — Publix, everybody that’s just poured out so many donations and time and well-wishes,” Ryan said.