‘I Can't Bring Her Back': Mom of Torrington Native Killed in Orlando Shares Story

Deborah Johnson-Riley wants the word to know how wonderful her daughter was.

Kimberly “KJ” Morris took one bite from a doughnut her mother left for her before leaving for work at Pulse nightclub in Orlando on Saturday night. 

On Sunday morning, Deborah Johnson-Riley saw her daughter’s doughnut was still there and KJ wasn’t home from work. 

Then Johnson-Riley’s mother called her. Something had happened at the club. 

“I wondered. She didn’t call me,” she said of receiving no word from KJ. “But she was grown, so.” 

KJ, a 1996 graduate of Torrington High School, was 37 years old. 

Instead of heading to church like she planned, Johnson-Riley went to the hospital and waited for hours, but there was no word on her daughter’s condition. 

Then she went to the hotel where families were gathered and waited for hours more. 

At one point, a man who knew KJ said she had to have gotten out. She was a security guard at Pulse and worked outside, so she had to have gotten out. 

But Johnson-Riley asked him to call a manager and it was through Snapchat that she learned KJ had been inside the club, not outside of it. 

The call no parent wants to ever receive came to Johnson-Riley’s mother’s house, where the family was gathered. Then three officials came to the door and delivered the bad news. 

“They told me she was gone,” Johnson-Riley said. It was 7:30 p.m. on Sunday and no one would tell her anything about what happened to her daughter, just that she had identification and they had identified her. 

The investigation was ongoing. 

As families waited, the world learned that a gunman killed 49 people inside Pulse and injured many more. 

Morris had just started working at the club a week or two before.

She’d only moved to Orlando at the end of March to be with her mother, a Torrington native, and her grandmother.

In the short time mother and daughter were together in Florida, they enjoyed their talks, the pool and going to the movies together.

KJ also worked two jobs. One was as a manager at Verizon. The other was as a security guard at Pulse, a club the owner started in memory of her brother as a safe haven for Orlando's gay community — a community KJ was a part of. She came out in college, her mother said.

But Johnson-Riley did not want her daughter working at a club in downtown Orlando — at any club in Orlando.

“It’s unfortunate and I begged her not to work there. … I said. ‘Please don’t work downtown at any clubs … it’s too dangerous. There’s a lot of shootings and she said, ‘Oh, I’ve done it before, I’ve done it up north, I’ve done it in Springfield. So, I said ‘This is different here, and she wouldn’t listen ‘cause she is stubborn … in a good way.” 

Now Johnson-Riley is in shock. 

“I feel devastated that she moved here and that someone had to do this to her, and she was such a good person, but they say the good die young, but she is going to be missed,” Johnson-Riley said. 

She is holding on to the doughnut that her daughter took a bite from. 

“I can’t throw that doughnut away,” she said. 

Her memories will forever be of KJ’s smiling face, her generosity, the good times they had together and the discussions. 

“I’m going to be grateful for the time I did have for her, because that’s all I can do,” Johnson-Riley said. “She’s gone. I can’t bring her back.” 

But the grieving mother will keep her daughter’s memory memory going and let people know what a wonderful person her daughter was.

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