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How Anderson Cooper Helped Inspire a Pulse Memorial

Anderson Cooper

The out journalist's kindness is infused into the Holding Hands statue, dedicated to Christopher "Drew" Leinonen.

When one mother found herself lacking strength after losing a child in the Pulse shooting, she says the empathetic hand of Anderson Cooper helped her get through the tragedy. Christine Leinonen says she will think of that moment when a monument honoring her son gets unveiled at his high school.

"Anderson Cooper saw me as a mom who just learned her son was among the killed. His empathy for another human being was all that he knew. I didn't know I needed it," Leinonen recalls. "He knew I needed it."

Christopher "Drew" Leinonen and 48 other innocent victims were killed June 12, 2016, after a shooter opened fire in Pulse, an Orlando gay bar.

Seminole High School on February 9 will dedicate the statue Holding Hands in Leinonen's honor. The statue was funded in part by a gay-straight alliance that the former student founded when he attended the school, and in part by The Dru Project, a charity set up in his name after his murder.

Christine Leinonen feels her son died in part for being in a place where he could safely hold another man's hand; Christopher's boyfriend Juan Guerrero also died in the attack. But she also views the symbolism of holding hands as relevant across a spectrum of moments in life.

"When I think about holding hands I think about children leaving school after an alarm. Or wedding guests doing a line dance. Or a parent telling her toddler, hold mommy's hand. Or even God spiritually telling followers to hold his hand," Christine Leinonen says. "I never imagined I'd be holding the hand of a CNN anchor because my son was murdered in a nightclub because he was gay."

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