Brenda Lee Marquez McCool gave her life for her son when she died in the mass shooting at gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida, in the early hours of Sunday, June 12.
McCool, 49, who was a mother of 11 children and two-time cancer survivor, was out salsa dancing with her 21-year-old gay son, Isaiah Henderson, when the tragedy occurred.
Her sister-in-law Ada Pressley told the New York Daily News that McCool saw gunman Omar Mateen turn his assault rifle at the pair. “Brenda saw him point the gun. She said, ‘Get down,’ to Isaiah and she got in front of him,” Pressley told the newspaper. “She was shot dead. That’s how much she loved her kids. If it weren’t for her, he’d of been shot.”
After his mother shielded him from the bullets, Henderson got separated from her in the chaos. He was later pulled to safety by police officers.
“She was a brave women,” Pressley said. “All day and night we hoped she would be in the hospital.” On late Monday, June 13, the family learned that she hadn’t survived and had been shot at least twice.
McCool’s oldest daughter, Khalisha Pressley, told NBC News she was a “good mother [and] good provider … She was always really cool, but really a mom at the end of the day,” she said of McCool, who truly lived up to her last name.
Henderson called Khalisha after the shooting and was screaming. “He had to watch his mother die. He saw everybody getting killed,” Khalisha said. “He feels it was his fault.”
McCool posted a video of herself dancing with her son at Pulse just hours before Mateen opened fire on the crowd.
“Just laying here thinking that I was just with my mom 24 hours ago, this is so surreal,” Henderson wrote in a since-deleted Facebook post. “I love you mom.”
Another one of her sons, Farrell Marshall, started a GoFundMe page to cover her funeral expenses and to support the younger children she left behind. “One Decision changed the lives of many,” he wrote. “You will forever be in our hearts. Always. I truly love you so much MOM!"
My So-Called Life actor Wilson Cruz was one of many who paid tribute to McCool, who was his mother’s stepsister, on Facebook. “She was a fighter. A cancer survivor. A stellar mother. A proud and fierce advocate for the LGBT family. She spoke passionately about how much she loved her children. She was hilarious and loving and tore up the dance floor when salsa or anything was playing. I can’t believe she’s gone,” he wrote on June 12.
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