(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- Brenda Lee Marquez-McCool was dancing with her son Isaiah Henderson at Pulse nightclub when shots rang out over the blaring music.
Instead of running away, McCool threw herself on her son, shielding him from the deadly bullets fired by shooter Omar Mateen. She saved his life, but lost her own.
At her funeral at the First United Methodist Church of Orlando Monday, Henderson, 21, broke down as he paid heartfelt tribute to his mother, almost unable to stand while he spoke.
“I never thought that her life would be ended right in front of my eyes,” he said, before collapsing in tears. “My mother accepted everyone with open arms. She loved everybody equally no matter what.”
His brothers rushed to the pulpit to hold him up and console him. “I haven’t stopped crying since,” Henderson said.
The funeral was also full of humor and colorful moments as Marquez-McCool’s family remembered her life. She was repeatedly referred to as a resilient woman who was a family leader and a fighter.
Henderson said he and his mother used to wrestle and "play fight," adding that his mother always won. “I obviously lost. She’s a linebacker!” he joked. His family roared with laughter.
Many of Marquez-McCool's 11 children spoke. Michael Santos, her brother, was the only one of her siblings to offer words of remembrance, though he struggled at times to get through them.
“I have nothing to say to you because my heart is on fire. I have no words,” said Santos. He spoke fondly of his Puerto Rican heritage and said that Marquez-McCool was quite the dancer, the life of the party. He looked toward heaven and asked Marquez-McCool to “tell Jesus to step up the salsa game”.
Robert Pressley, Jr., another one of Marquez-McCool's sons, joined his friends near the altar and sang a tribute to his mother, at times pulling the microphone away from his mouth and holding down his head as he struggled to finish the song through tears.
At the end of Marquez-McCool's funeral, the family walked outside to the church rotunda and released 150 white balloons in her honor. They held each other as they retreated into a private room reserved for immediate family.
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Marquez-McCool was 49 years old. She was residing in Orlando when she was killed.
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