One of the 49 people killed in the Orlando nightclub massacre was from Williamsburg. Enrique L. Rios Jr., who was visiting Florida for a friend’s birthday, was a 25-year-old social work student.
Rios attended Greater Free Gift Baptist Church in Bed-Stuy regularly with his parents, Robert and Raquel Gertrude Merced, said Bishop William Whitaker.
“He had a love for God that was phenomenal,” acing night bible classes and regularly participating in the youth ministry, Whitaker said.
Whitaker was phoned by Rios’ sobbing mother Sunday night with the unwelcome news her son’s body was one of those found at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.
Family members were en route to Orlando Monday to claim his body.
Whitaker said he was asking God for guidance in preparing a funeral sermon.
“I’m really asking God what to say,” Whitaker said. “Honestly, there are no words” to explain Rios’ death nor the massive, incomprehensible mass murder. “Our entire congregation is really devastated,” Whitaker said.
Rios’ mother started a “Go Fund Me” page for funeral expenses that raised nearly $18,000 as of early Monday evening. Her son, Merced wrote, “was just having a great time on his vacation, until this deranged man came in and shot the place up, killing 49 people,” and leaving another 53 people wounded.
St. Francis College, where Rios was enrolled and pursuing a social work degree, issued a statement saying he had transferred in last year but “sadly, his dreams were cut short by this senseless act of violence.”
On his Facebook page, Rios had written that he was a coordinator at True Care Home Health Care in Brooklyn, but a friend, Marisa Abril, said he managed a nursing home at the time of his death.
Before college, Rios worked as a barista at an OTG at La Guardia Airport.
“He was an awesome guy: Awesome, awesome, awesome,” said Latosha Gaddie, 25, who worked as a cashier while Rios whipped up coffees and smoothies for harried flyers. “He was funny and fun to be around. . . He was a caring person, a good friend to talk to if you ever felt down,” or stressed by headaches, health problems or a gnarly commute.
“He’d tell you, ‘you’ll feel better,’ and make a joke,” Gaddie recalled.
Gaddie, who lives in Mott Haven, recalled Rios as helpful, upbeat and loving to dance.
Abril, 31, who now lives in Houston, confirmed he not only liked bachata but soca. “He loved to dance and he liked to joke he could make Trinidadian food better than a West Indian,” said Abril, who recalled Rios phoning her June 8 to tell her he was going to Orlando to celebrate a friend’s birthday.
“I just wish I could get that text back,” she said, referring to the “are you okay?” message she sent when she heard about the Pulse shooting.
Concern for others was Rios’ trademark, Abril said. “All I had to do was pick up the phone and he would listen, give me money - whatever I needed,” she said. After living on the first floor of her family’s multi-family home in Bushwick, Rios moved in with relatives in Williamsburg, where he helped take care of an ill grandmother, Abril said.
Another grandmother, Cynthia Perez, posted her fury on Facebook, saying, in all caps, “It’s crazy that amidst a horrific ordeal like what happened in Florida, everyone is running to buy more guns. Hello NRA get your heads out you’re asses!! Do the right thing and stop the easy sales of these weapons. How many of our family members do we have to lose?”
Whitaker said he was thinking Monday about Matthew 5:14 — “Blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” One thing he knew: The ebullient, Rios, who brought so much joy to others, was headed to heaven. “God has the last say over our lives and I do believe God will receive him into himself,” Whitaker said.