Orlando shooting victims include two with ties to W. Mass.
She was fearless on stage, lanky and electric, throwing her arms in the air to the ecstatic shouts of the audience or playfully gyrating with fans in the front row.
As “Daddy K,’’ the drag act she regularly performed at Diva’s nightclub in Northampton, Kimberly J. Morris would channel Ginuwine, Usher, and Gotye. And her arresting performances made her something of a local celebrity in the city’s close-knit gay and lesbian community.
On Monday, Morris’s many friends were in mourning after learning the 37-year-old former Northampton resident had been shot and killed in the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, where Morris had been working the door.
“KJ was a pillar in her group of friends and there is a core group of friends really grieving now,” said Lauren Thrutchley-Daniels, whose wife, Deb, was Morris’s roommate in Northampton for many years. “She touched more lives than she knows.”
Morris, who was known as KJ, moved to Orlando several months ago to take care of her mother and grandmother, Thrutchley-Daniels said. She was one of two victims of the rampage with ties to Western Massachusetts.
The other, Stanley Manolo Almodovar III, a 23-year-old pharmacy technician from Clermont, Fla., lived in Springfield until he was about 10 years old, said his aunt, Noemy Ramos-Gomez. Almodovar attended Lincoln Elementary School, and loved to play baseball, she said.
“Stanley was a very free-spirited child,” Ramos-Gomez said. “He was very, very empowered, very free to say what he meant.”
She recalled in particular how close Almodovar was to his mother, Rosalia Ramos, who moved her family to Florida about 15 years ago so they could have “a better future” together.
“He poured his heart out for everyone,” Ramos-Gomez said. “He was loved by everyone. He was always the clown of the class, of family functions.”
Morris, who was born in Torrington, Conn., and attended Post University in Waterbury, Conn., lived in the Northampton area for more than a decade before moving to Hawaii about two years ago to open a Verizon store, and then relocating to Orlando, friends said.
Known as a “big goofball” and “social butterfly” at Northampton pride parties and backyard barbecues, “KJ was a staple there,” Thrutchley-Daniels said. “Her loss is resonating from Orlando up to Boston and out to Western Massachusetts.”
Morris was assistant director of student activities at Amherst College in 2002, according to Pamela Stawasz, a co-worker there, and then she worked from 2004 to 2007 as an evening manager at Smith College’s campus center.
“KJ was an enthusiastic student affairs professional, a committed educator, and cared deeply about the students here at Smith,” said Tamra Bates, director of the college’s Office of Student Engagement.
But friends said what they remember most is how much Morris loved performing.
YouTube videos of her shows posted by a friend on Monday show Morris in red sneakers, skinny tie, and eyeglasses, smiling and laughing as she dances next to screaming fans, who reach out to her, or clap and sing along.
“She had an absolutely great style,” said Stawasz, who attended her shows. “People said she liked to borrow some dance moves from Justin Timberlake. She was really suave, and she loved doing it.”
Liz Mazzei, who once performed with Morris, said Morris was a mentor to other performers in the LGBT community.
“She paved the path for so many people, including myself, to be up there on stage and have the confidence and be able to do what we do,’’ Mazzei said. “And she was still so humble; she always supported me, and it was the best gift.”
Nelson Roman, 28, a Holyoke city councilor who met Morris in 2005 when he was a backup dancer at The Polo Club in Hartford, said he considered Morris a “trailblazer” for other drag performers in Western Massachusetts.
“A lot of the drag kings we have in this community and world now credit her . . . as their inspiration for getting into the art,” he said.
Yet he said Morris, despite her bravado on stage, was nothing like “Daddy K” in person.
“‘Daddy K’ was a cocky, arrogant, awesome performer,” Roman said. “But KJ was so sweet and humble and thankful.”
On Monday evening, Roman was one of about 10 people who gathered for an emotional vigil for Morris and other Orlando victims at House of Colors, an LGBT youth center in Holyoke. He said the last time he saw Morris was right before she moved to Hawaii.
“She said: ‘When I make it famous in Hawaii, we’ll have to do a number together,’ ” he said. “That’s the last memory we’re ever going to have together.”
Diva’s nightclub plans to hold a tribute night for Morris with drag performances on July 2. The proceeds will benefit Morris’s family, according to the event’s Facebook page.
“We will always remember her smile and her amazing way she lit up the stage in her performances,” the page said. “Keep dancing, KJ.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story provided an incorrect age for how old Stanley Manolo Almodovar III was when he moved away from Springfield.