Christopher Andrew Leinonen: Friends, family started The Dru Project in his name

Leinonen brought people together

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32, died on June 12, 2016. His friends and family started a nonprofit in his name.

Christopher Andrew Leinonen’s friends and family have continued his work helping LGBT youth after he was killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting.

By all accounts Leinonen, 32, considered his life a project. He was always on the move, ready to help others and working to bring people together.

"He always had a million different interests and projects going on whether it was with 'Star Wars' or redecorating his apartment or getting into some new hobby or drawing. He always had a bunch of things going on," friend Brittany Sted said.

"He didn't just get into an interest, he fully got into an interest, and so his whole life was a project. So it makes sense that that's what he used as his name."

Sted was referring to "The Dru Project," the moniker Leinonen used it for his social media accounts. The group adopted it as a fitting tribute.

News 6 was in attendance recently as the people behind the The Dru Project discussed an upcoming fundraiser to be held on the eve of the shooting's one year anniversary.

Shawn Chaudhry and a handful of friends sat down for dinner at a restaurant in the Mills 50 district of Orlando. They've gathered for what has become a monthly meeting to discuss The Dru Project.

"Did everyone get a chance to look at the minutes from the last meeting?" Chaudhry asked, shuffling through a binder full of handwritten notes.

The group started the nonprofit last June as a way to honor their friend killed on June 12, 2016. Leinonen's partner Juan Guerrero, 22, was also killed in the shooting.

After opening formalities, the conversation couldn't help but turn to the memories of their friend. Most knew him as Drew.

"Drew, he was an outgoing person but he was also very humble," Chaudhry said. "He didn't steal the spotlight, he was a great listener and he made a presence without stealing the show."

Everyone in attendance agrees, he'd be surprised to see all his friends together, working on a project he felt so strongly about.

"I feel like this is Drew's legacy," Chaudhry said. "We wanted to continue his giving through this organization."

The Dru Project is an LGBTQ advocacy organization with a mission to promote high school gay/straight alliance clubs in Florida.

Leinonen started a gay/straight alliance at his high school in Pinellas County.

"Christopher and I were the original gay straight alliance," Christine Leinonen said while thumbing through photos of her son taken when he was at Seminole High School. "He had to figure out how to raise a straight mom," she added, smiling.

His mom saw Christopher's energy early on.

"He was always interested in being mobile. He couldn't wait to crawl and then he couldn't wait to walk, then ride a bike and drive a car. He loved being mobile. When he was in high school he had his truck and he would drive all over because he liked Dance, Dance, Revolution. Wherever they had a mall that had DDR he would go."

Christine Leinonen said her son was a confident leader who would brush away praise but was always looking out for others.

She pointed to an award on the shelf in front of her. It's the Anne Frank Humanitarian Award presented to Christopher in 2002 for his work with the GSA. Leinonen makes a point to say how much it meant to him but that he never would have applied for it himself.

"He never bragged about anything," she said. "Unless he was doing it in a humorous way, being sarcastic." He was nominated by his high school counselor.

Leinonen Graduated from UCF and worked as a licensed mental health counselor.

“This is how he lived his life,” his mother said. “His high school years he was making life better for others by giving them a safe space and his adult years he was making things better as a mental health counselor.”

About the Author:

Paul is a Florida native who graduated from the University of Central Florida. As a multimedia journalist, Paul enjoys profiling the people and places that make Central Florida unique.