Islamic State-affiliated jihadist Omar Mateen killed 49 people at the LGBT night club Pulse on Sunday morning. Among the victims was 49-year-old Brenda Marquez McCool, who had come to Pulse to dance with her son and ended up taking the bullet he believes was meant for him.
McCool, a mother of eleven children between the ages of nine and 24, is remembered by her family as a vibrant personality with a love of dancing. She was notably accepting of her son, 21-year-old Isaiah Henderson, and both were regulars at Pulse, even though Marquez McCool was battling leukemia, after surviving breast and bone cancer.
“I want my mother to be remembered as a great person, a person who loved you no matter what color, no matter what ethnicity, no matter what sexual orientation. I want her to be remembered as a loving and caring person,” Mike Marquez, Marquez McCool’s son, told ABC affiliate WNEP. “She’s just a superhero.
“She won one battle with cancer but ended up with another cancer and she was still in the process [of fighting it],” niece Nelia Rodriguez confirmed to People Magazine. “She thought many times she would survive it. Her positive way is what kept her alive… Anytime someone invited her somewhere she would just go and she would enjoy herself. She tried to keep herself from getting upset about what she was going through with her cancer.”
Rodriguez notes Marquez McCool was also looking forward to restarting her marriage with her husband, who she had divorced two years ago. The couple had agreed to give their relationship a second chance.
Henderson, who survived the attack, has not spoken to the press, but his relatives have told Marquez McCool’s story as he told it to them. The mother and son were ordering drinks when Mateen began shooting into the dance floor. “Brenda saw him point the gun. She said, ‘Get down,’ to Isaiah and she got in front of him,” Ada Pressley, Marquez McCool’s sister-in-law said. She took a fatal shot to the back while her son obeyed and ran out of the club.
“He had to watch his mother die. He saw everybody getting killed,” Khalisha Pressley, Marquez McCool’s oldest daughter, said of her brother. “He feels it was his fault.” The first Pressley heard of her brother was a panicked phone call in which he was screaming.
Marquez McCool’s last Facebook post was a video from inside Pulse, of a couple dancing to the song “Brujeria” by El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico:
Ada Pressley told the New York Daily News that, while Marquez McCool frequented Pulse, it was unusual for her to be in Orlando at this time of year. “Every year she comes to New York to celebrate the Puerto Rican Day Parade,” she said. “But this year she went to Pulse to celebrate. If she’d come to New York, she’d be alive.” The Puerto Rican Day Parade occurred on Sunday.
“She was always really cool, but really a mom at the end of the day,” Khalisha Pressley concluded. “The sweetest lovingest person in the world.”
Farrell Marshall, Marquez McCool’s fifth oldest son, has started a GoFundMe page to help with funeral costs.