Joshua Toledo loved to dance.
In every school function, wedding and home production Toledo would be the first one on the dance floor and the last to get off. From salsa to the wobble, he could be found dancing with a huge smile on his face.
“He just always had such a positive outlook on life,” his cousin Maria Lou, 27, said. “He was the light of the family.”
On June 12, Toledo died in a car accident heading from Gainesville to Panama City to celebrate his best friend’s bachelor party. He was 21 years old.
Ryan Michot, his best friend, called him six times, texted and snapchatted to see if he was on his way — he never received an answer.
His mother Lilian Toledo, 61, remembers seeing the police cars parked outside her home that Saturday evening. She immediately knew it was related to Joshua. Her mother’s intuition told her something was deeply wrong, but she never expected it to be so heartbreaking.
“He was a beautiful gift in my life,” Lilian said. “I know for sure that he’s right now with the blessed Mary.”
At family functions, Toledo would always save at least one dance with his mom.
Toledo loved the song “Give Me Everything” by Pitbull. Two weeks after his funeral, his cousin Carlota Nasti, 34, heard it playing on the radio. The song wasn’t new to her, but as she paid attention to the lyrics’ meaning, she broke down in tears thinking of Toledo.
Listening to the lyrics, “Give me everything tonight, for all we know we might not get tomorrow,” she took it as a sign that Toledo was all right.
“I think that was Joshua saying, ‘It’s okay, go have a little bit of fun tonight you don’t know what will happen tomorrow,’” Nasti said.
During her wedding, she remembers Toledo grabbing her hand and dancing with her to Backstreet Boy’s “I Want It That Way.”
Now, the two songs will forever remind her of Toledo.
Toledo’s father, Giorvary Toledo, 59, remembers his son’s kindness and bright smile — Joshua will forever be his angel.
“I always thought my Joshua was going to bury me,” Giorvary Toledo said. “That’s supposed to be life — not me bury my kid, my soul.”
Lou, a 2017 graduate of UF, was ecstatic to see Toledo choosing her alma mater. Five years older than Toledo, the cousins were inseparable partners in crime. Hosting traditional Christmas shows at the family house, Lou remembers singing, dancing and dressing Toledo as a Christmas tree.
“I am Joshua’s cousin, but in life he was my little brother and my best friend,” Lou said. “He always made it feel like home, I can’t imagine what life will be like without him.”
Toledo’s friends, Daniel and Miranda Omenaca, created a GoFundMe for Toledo’s memorial which raised more than $11,000. His friends from elementary school to college organized a Zoom call to share stories of Joshua and his friendship.
“Everyone’s willingness to lend a helping hand just showed that Josh brought out the best in people,” Daniel Omenaca, a 21-year-old business administration junior, said. “He was truly amazing.”
His friends said he never had a bad thing to say about anyone. He was generous and loving and his dancing brought life to every party he attended.
Toledo promised his mom he was going to buy her a house with a pool, like the one they used to live in when he was younger. When mother and son attended family Mass, Lilian would always sing along to the song, “Here I am Lord.”
Now, Lilian can picture her son going up to the Lord and saying, “Here I am.”
Lilian would always call or text her son in the morning, and no longer being able to receive a response from Joshua is what she misses the most.
“Remember to call or text the person that you love and say, ‘I love you, I miss you or even God bless you,’” Lilian said.
Her last text to him read: I love you.
Contact Isabella Douglas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Ad_Scribendum.
Isabella Douglas is a second-year journalism major and the criminal justice reporter for The Alligator's Metro desk. She previously worked as a news assistant for The Alligator's University team and as a contributing writer for the New Tampa & Wesley Chapel Neighborhood News. When she isn't reporting, she can be found reorganizing her bookshelf and adding books to her ever-growing TBR.