World

Orlando shooting: 'Devastated' Latino community forms coalition to help families

More than 20 local and national Latino organizations have come together in the wake of this weekend’s mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, where a vast majority of the 49 victims killed were Hispanic.

About 24 groups formed a coalition called “Somos Orlando” to offer counseling and therapy services to members of the community who have been impacted by the tragedy.

Somos Orlando will hold a first news conference at 2 p.m. in downtown Orlando. The Hispanic Federation, the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce and National Council of La Raza are among the organizations represented in the coalition.

Sami Haiman-Marrero, a coordinator of the new group, said the Latino community in Orlando, which accounts for 40 percent of the population in the Orlando area, is “completely devastated.”

“I have no words to describe how heartbroken I am, personally and as a part of the community,” she told Fox News Latino.

She said “Somos Orlando” aims to join efforts to help the community in whatever way they can.

“We have to unite and support these families,” she told FNL. “We want to provide them with a place where they can access information, both in English and Spanish. Create a network of support and communication.”

Haiman-Marrero, who is CEO of a business development and marketing company called Urbander, said it is important to attract bilingual volunteers because many of the victim’s families speak primarily Spanish.

Monse Vargas, the president of the non-profit La Casa de Puerto Rico, told Fox News Latino that the Latino community, just like the gay and lesbian community, has coalesced after the tragedy.

 “It’s a disaster that is affecting a lot of families here,” Vargas told FNL. “But now everyone wants to help. Everyone wants to come together.”

Vargas added that the efforts to assist those involved in the massacre are breaking down some long held stereotypes and biases that some people held toward the gay community.

“This is going to be a moment for all of us,” she said. “You are seeing that a person no matter who they are needs to be respected and cared for.”

The Latino population in Orlando has ballooned in roughly the last decade, due to people leaving the more expensive and crowded South Florida, as well as the exodus of others leaving Puerto Rico as it faces a financial crisis.

In recent years, a growing community of Venezuelans, fleeing the political and economic struggles in their homeland, also has cropped up in Orlando.

One of the draws to Orlando for many Puerto Ricans and Latino immigrants has been the comforting reminders of home.

Radio shows targeting them, as well as other Latinos to a smaller degree, have proliferated over the decades. Most are done in Spanish.

The three-hour attack Sunday morning was perpetrated by a lone gunman, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, as the Pulse nightclub was wrapping up “Latin Night.”

Haiman-Marrero said a palpable somberness could be felt Monday morning across the city of Orlando. But they are also feeling a sense of determination to get into action.

“We all are determined to help these families, provide the resources and try to help them find answers. Try to give them some kind of comfort, [have them] feel the warmth of the whole community.”

Elizabeth Llorente and Andrew O'Reilly contributed to this report.

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