Daily Archives: June 12, 2016

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Latinas Translate for Victims’ Families

The now iconic photo of Orlando Latinas and others who volunteered to serve as counselors and translators for Pulse club victims’ families, many of whom do not speak English. From left, Nancy Colón (in glasses), Sami Haiman-Marrero, Nancy Rosado, Zoe Colón (in red) and Zoraida Riós Andino (far right). /photo courtesy of Christina Marie Fernández

After the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, friends started asking friends, “What can I do?” A group of Latinas, some of them mental health counselors, got together to provide grief counseling and translation services to the families of victims awaiting news about their loved ones at the Hampton Inn Hotel near the Orlando Regional Medical Center.

Nobody asked them to do it. They just did. Such is the can-do spirit of many in Orlando’s Hispanic community. The group has formed a coalition of over 20 Hispanic community groups to coordinate assistance to families of the shooting victims under the name Somos Orlando. The coalition plans a press conference Monday, June 13, at 2 p.m. at the offices of the Hispanic Federation on West Colonial Drive to announce its efforts (more info below).

“Some of  these people do not speak English,” said Nancy Rosado of Misión Boricua, a Puerto Rican community group that is part of the coalition.

Kicking into Action

Rosado was upset, saying that media were paying more attention to the gay component of the Pulse shooting at the expense of the Latino angle. Many Pulse victims are likely to be Hispanic because the club had hosted a Latin night. Rosado, a retired New York City police officer and a trained social worker – who happens to be gay – said she felt the Hispanic victims were being downplayed.

Law enforcement has released the names of seven victims and, thus far, all are Hispanic. In a twist of fate, Rosado and others originally were scheduled to do voter registration at Pulse the night of the shooting, but decided to postpone it for another weekend.

A police officer during the 9-11 terrorist attacks in New York City, Rosado soon was joined by community activist Zoraida Ríos Andino, also of Misión Boricua and who is always on hand for a community protest. Rosado also was in touch with Zoe Colón, head of Orlando’s Hispanic Federation. On her Facebook page, Colón directed volunteers to the organization Two Spirit, which is looking for bilingual people. Text, do not call, 504-913-5746, if you want help.

Fill the Communication Gap

Meanwhile, Sami Haiman-Marrero, an Orlando marketer and volunteer, posted on Facebook, “To all community leaders in Orlando: I don’t want to get in the way of life-saving work, but if interpreters/translators are needed tell me where I need to go if I can help. As I understand it from friends, colleagues…many families affected are Latino and we need to assist with the communication gap.”  She joined the impromptu group at the Hampton Inn. (Full disclosure: I replied, “The hospital ORMC.”)

Nancy Colón, who teaches public administration and no relation to Zoe Colón, also showed up at the Hampton Inn hotel to help. She posted on Facebook: “My FB friends: calling all my bilingual friends who are counsellors [sic]! I’m on my way to give you an update.” She also is directing volunteers to Two Spirit.

Another community activist and organizer Christina Marie Fernández messaged me asking, “Do you know if they need volunteers anywhere? I can help translate or do whatever. I just want to help.” (I said I was on my way home.)

But Fernández found her way to the Hampton Inn as well, helping to coordinate efforts to launch the Somos Orlando coalition – and taking the photo posted with this article.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

What: Somos Orlando press conference

When: Monday, June 13,  at 1:30 p.m.; press conference starts at 2 p.m.

Where: Hispanic Federation, 523 W. Colonial Drive, Orlando

Why: To provide support and coordinate efforts to help local Hispanic families affected by the shooting at Pulse

Contacts: Christina Fernández (813-300-3747) and Sami Haiman-Marrero (917-589-4229)


Many Latinos Among Gay Club Victims

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Francisco Hernández of Orlando waits outside Orlando Police Department headquarters to hear word about his partner Paul Henry. He was holding Henry’s driver’s license for safe keeping. /Maria Padilla

The Orlando area woke up Sunday to the horrific news that a shootout had occurred at Pulse, a gay club just south of Downtown Orlando, where law enforcement said there were 50 dead and at least 53 injured. Because the club was holding a Latin night, many of the dead and injured are expected to be Latinos.

As of this writing, six victims have been identified, all of them Hispanic. And since half of the Hispanic population of Central Florida is Puerto Rican, the group is likely to figure, perhaps prominently, among the victims. The dead thus far are Edward Sotomayor Jr., Stanley Almodóvar III,  Luis Omar Ocasio-Capó, Juan Ramón Guerrero, Eric Iván Ortiz-Rivera and Peter O. González-Cruz.

The incident has been declared the worse shooting in American history – and certainly in Orlando, where just 24 hours earlier The Voice contestant Christina Grimmie was shot and killed by an assailant unknown to her at a theater east of Downtown Orlando. It was an Orlando weekend of unusual deadly violence.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer wipes the sweat from his brow as he confers with law enforcement officials. / Maria Padilla

Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Florida, a move that immediately opens up financial resources among law enforcement to be used in the investigation, which includes FBI, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Orange County Sheriffs Office and the Orlando Police. The FBI identified the assailant as Omar Mateen, 29, of Port St. Lucie, about two hours from Orlando. He was killed in a gun battle with police inside the club, and is believed to have had terrorist ties.

Everybody Was Dancing

The shooting started about 2:05 a.m. Sunday just as the club, where over 300 people had gathered, was about to close. Many bar patrons at first thought it was part of the  music or entertainment.

Francisco Hernández, 24, of Orlando was waiting outside the Orlando Police Department headquarters to hear word about his partner Paul Henry, 40, and told this account:

“I was dancing. We were all dancing in a little group. It was Latino night so they were playing reggaeton and hip-hop,” said Hernández crying as he told what occurred inside the club. “All of  a sudden I heard four to five shots. Everybody just sort of toppled down and stayed on the floor. Then we heard more shots and everybody started running and ducking for cover. People opened up the exit doors leading to a hallway with thin paneling and everybody tried to knock it down. I fell and almost got trampled until I was able to stand up and run outside. I was looking for my boyfriend but I couldn’t go back.”

Hernández, who was born in Puerto Rico, was holding on to his partner’s drivers license to make sure it didn’t get lost. “We were together for about a month but knew each other as friends for about  a year,” he said.

Meanwhile, Luis, 40, a Dominican who studied in Puerto Rico, was grazed by a passing  bullet near his stomach and was covered with a blanket that Orlando Police gave him, he said, because he had given his shirt to another person to stanch a bleeding arm.

Trying to Pay His Tab

Luis, who lives in Kissimmee but didn’t want to give his full name, said he was paying his tab at the bar when shots rang out. Somehow he landed on the other side of the bar with two to three people on top of him, he recalled. “I was waiting to be shot or taken out. What else can I do?” Luis said.

He had just been to the movies with friends to see The Conjuring 2, a horror movie, when they decided to stop at Pulse off Orange Avenue because they were passing by, coming face to face with an all too real horror. He said his friend is fine but didn’t know the status other acquaintances at Pulse nightclub, which he hadn’t visited in three years.

Locked in the Bathroom

Two African-America women were walking toward Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC) to look for one of the women’s nephew who was at the club. The aunt, who said she was a member of the Justice-Logan family of Orlando, didn’t know if her nephew was “alive or dead.” The nephew called his mom after 2 a.m. to say he was holed up in the bathroom of the nightclub. According to the aunt, the mother could hear gunshots as her son was talking then the cell phone went silent.  “I’ve been up since 3 a.m.,” the aunt said, trying to obtain information.

Blocks around Pulse nightclub were cordoned off as medical examiner vans and law enforcement took over the area. The nightclub is situated just blocks from ORMC, which is a Level 1 trauma center. Hospital officials said six trauma surgeons were called in during the night to tend to the injured.

The media set up camp at a Chipotle restaurant off Orange Avenue that couldn’t open for business because it  is just a few blocks from the crime scene. There, law enforcement and elected officials briefed the press about every two to three hours.

The first press briefings comprised mostly law enforcement officials but by early afternoon city,  state and federal elected officials were holding press conferences of their own before a press pool that had expanded to include national and international media.

Hostage Situation

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Vans from the Orange County Medical Examiner stationed a few blocks from the crime scene. /Maria Padilla

Law enforcement spoke of a three-hour window – from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. – during which officers couldn’t enter the club because it was a hostage situation. At 5 a.m. police stormed the club and a gun battle ensued, killing the assailant Mateen. In addition to a handgun and a semiautomatic rifle with extra rounds,  a “suspicious device” also was found with Mateen, according to the FBI, which declined to elaborate.

Minutes before the attack, Mateen called 911 to pledge his allegiance to Islamic State, according to law enforcement. It’s not clear how long Mateen may have been inside Pulse before he started shooting.

Congressman Alan Grayson (D-Orlando) said during an interview with public radio WMFE-90.7 FM that Mateen’s father said his son was incensed over seeing a gay couple kiss.