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For more than a day, Christine Leinonen sat anguished as she awaited word on whether her son survived Sunday's shooting massacre at an Orlando nightclub.
But just hours after telling Matt Lauer on TODAY Monday that she was holding out "a sliver of hope" that her son was alive, Leinonen received word that Christopher, 32, was among the victims of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
"My heart wanted him to be alive,'' Leinonen told Lester Holt on TODAY Tuesday. "He is always going to be alive in my heart, but I had already been rationalizing that he had to have passed away."
Christopher and his boyfriend, who was among the 49 killed in the attack at the popular gay nightclub Pulse, were in gunman Omar Mateen's direct line of fire, according to friends.
Christopher "died on the floor of the club," Leinonen said.
"If I had known that my son was in the club laying on the floor, I would have gone in myself with no equipment and brought him on my back and carried him the two blocks to the trauma center,'' Leinonen said.
Leinonen had been keeping vigil outside the emergency room at a local hospital beginning at 4 a.m. Sunday in case her son was among the victims brought there.
His two friends, who were in the bathroom when the shooting started and ran to safety, told her they saw Christopher's boyfriend being carried out after being shot, but they did not see Christopher.
Leinonen and the families of all the victims are now mourning a devastating loss.
"I can deal with anger,'' she said. "Anger is easy, that's easy. I just — the sadness, you can't deal with the sadness. Sadness is overwhelming."
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