Orlando – Tabbitha Segui stood at the edge of the massive crowd gathered on the lawn of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Orlando shortly before dusk on Monday. The 23-year-old Puerto Rican with brown hair and eyeglasses held up a large 11 x 17 photo of her friend Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado with his five-year-old son.
Earlier in the morning, Segui learned Rosado, whom she befriended a little more than a year ago after knocking back cinnamon-flavored whiskey at Pulse nightclub, was among the 49 victims killed by terrorist Omar Mateen at the popular gay bar on June 12.
"The first time we met, we took shots of Fireball, of course," Segui said. "We had a spark. We clicked instantly. We started talking since then."
Segui was among thousands of Orlando residents who turned up for a somber vigil to remember the people Mateen murdered and seriously injured in the deadliest mass shooting in America. Organized by Equality Florida, the state’s leading LGBTQ advocacy organization, the event featured Latino and gay activists offering speeches of hope and remembrance for the victims, a majority of whom were Mexican, Venezuelan and Puerto Rican.
Segui told Fox News Latino she is still worked up about her loss. “I went to work today, but I wasn't really there,” she said. “I was like a ghost in the hallway. It is just heartbreaking to hear what happened listening to the news."
Earlier in the day, representatives for more than 20 local and national Latino organizations held a press conference outside the headquarters for the Orlando chapter of the Hispanic Federation. The groups, which include the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce and National Council of La Raza, have formed a coalition called “Somos Orlando” to offer counseling and therapy services to members of the community who lost loved ones or who have been affected by the act of terrorism.
"Our community is mourning,” said Hispanic Federation Florida director Zoe Colon. “What happened yesterday was not just an attack on our LGBT community, but also our Hispanic community. We know that 90 percent of the victims are Hispanic. However, the media has not done a great job covering that detail."
Nancy Rosado, vice president of Mision Boricua and a retired New York police sergeant who survived the 9/11 attack in New York City, held back tears as she spoke. "To the members of the Latino and gay community, you are not alone," she said. "We are going to work for a better tomorrow. My Latino and Puerto Rican brothers and sisters, we are here comforting each other with the hope we never have to experience something like this again."
Orlando has become a second home for Latinos leaving Puerto Rico, Mexico and South America in the last 10 years. Driving through the city’s major streets, it is very common to see bodegas, restaurants and shops that cater to a Latino clientele. A huge influx of Puerto Ricans have settled in Orlando and surrounding cities after leaving the cash-strapped island in search of better paying jobs and quality of life. Immigrants fleeing persecution and drug cartel violence in South America have also found peace and tranquility in Orlando.
Earlier Monday morning, relatives who had not heard from loved ones who were inside Pulse the night of Mateen’s attack showed up at the Beardall Senior Center at 900 Delaney Avenue seeking answers. Among them was Jose Luis Paniagua, a soft-spoken Mexican who had been searching for his cousin Joel Paniagua since Sunday morning.
Paniagua was unaware that his cousin was on the list of deceased victims. “We went to the hospital and he wasn’t there,” Paniagua said. “Now I’m here. I’m hoping he is not on the list.”
Paniagua said he, his cousin, and several other family members came to Orlando in 2006. “We came here for a better life,” Paniagua. “We left because there is too much crime, violence and death daily.”