Orlando lost Christopher “Drew” Leinonen, a 32-year-old Detroit native, on Sunday at Pulse during the worst mass shooting to ever occur on American soil.
“I want people to know he was brilliant in so many ways,” said Jordan Almazan, 26, a UCF alumnus. “He did so much, and I don’t think he realized.”
Leinonen had many passions — film, current events, blogging, foreign policy, technology, electronic dance music, dance, culture, vegetarianism — and he did his best to share that with everyone, Almazan said. He would give Almazan films, such as Jurassic Park and Citizen Kane, saying they were iconic and necessary and that he needed to watch them.
“Every single nominee, ever single category, he would watch it,” he said. “He would go on Wikipedia and look up the best film nominees since the Oscars started, and he would watch them.”
Summarized as a “lover” by Shawn Chaudhry, 29, a close friend of Leinonen’s for 12 years, Leinonen never stopped.
“He was always a very charismatic, high-energy, loving person,” Chaudhry said. “The life of the party. Everybody wanted to talk to him.”
Described by Almazan and Chaudhry as a “tech guy,” Leinonen was always after the latest and greatest when it came to technology. Not common tech, either, Almazan said, but the one that Leinonen could customize the most, the one he could make his own.
“None of us could keep up with him,” Almazan said. “He did so much and impacted so many people.”
Leinonen lived in the present, Chaudhry said.
Almazan said that Leinonen made him feel important and empowered to be himself, never judging Almazan for who he was.
He said Orlando is missing out on someone who could make anything happen. Without Leinonen, his life would’ve been filled with routine instead of adventure.
“Through Drew, I have met some of the greatest people that I have ever come to know,” Almazan said. “He has had such a lasting impact on me and that’s what makes this whole situation even more powerful for me. Just knowing that I wouldn’t be where I am today — in a lot of a ways — and I wouldn’t have the people in my life that I have if it weren’t for Drew.”
Almazan met Leinonen in 2010 through a mutual friend; the two immediately clicked and became close friends, something Almazan described as “going out buddies, hanging out buddies, travel buddies.”
One of Almazan’s most memorable moments with Leinonen happened during a road trip the two took to New Orleans, Lousiana, for the Southern Decadence festival. One of Chaudhry’s most memorable moments was when the Leinonen and he went to Gasparilla.
“But the moments I really liked with him the most were when we were just gathered around people, eating and just talking …” Chaudhry said. “It was those moments I always cherished the most.”
Leinonen was the life of the party, Almazan said. At least two or three nights a week, the two would meet up, share drinks and talk about their lives, relationships and more.
Almazan described Leinonen as unpredictable, that expectations were never met with Drew, they were always exceeded.
“I think if everyone had a Drew with them,” he said, “They could just set aside all their expectations because with Drew, anything could happen.”
Leinonen started his own chapter of the Gay Straight Alliance while attending Seminole High School, an act which earned him the title of Anne Frank Humanitarian Award Honoree in 2002, according to the Tampa Bay Newswire.
A proud “gaysian,” Leinonen was a point of pride for gay Asians, Almazan said. He said Leinonen dreamed of travel and of teaching film at UCF.
“He had all of this diversity in him that made him approach subjects from an interesting standpoint,” Almazan said. “He could relate to anything almost.”
A licensed mental health counselor in two states, Leinonen loved to listen, Almazon and Chaudhry said.
“Drew just had this ability to really just be able to listen to people,” Chaudhry said. “He never wagged a finger at anybody, so to speak. He never judged anyone. That’s one of the biggest things I could say about him; he was one of the least judgmental people I’ve ever met.”
Leinonen’s friends said he was staunchly against Islamophobia. Chaudhry, who grew up in a Muslim household, said Leinonen was always respectfully curious about his take on incidents in the Middle East, never jumping to conclusions and reading as much as possible on each issue.
Chaudhry said Leinonen would have wanted everyone to come together after the Pulse shooting, that he would’ve wanted to be the rock for everyone.
“He brought so many people together,” Almazan said. “He had this vivaciousness for life, and he made people appreciate life in ways we wouldn’t have without him. He was incredibly intelligent, he was extremely insightful and I think he didn’t realize that.
“That’s actually one of the big things I want people to know about Drew: He didn’t always fully realize the impact he was having. ... I just wish he would realize that, you know?”
Alissa Smith is the News Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @thealissasmith or email her at AlissaS@centralfloridafuture.com.