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Latino Community Mourns Victims Of Mass Shooting In Orlando

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

One of the speakers at a candlelight vigil in downtown Orlando last night was a manager from the nightclub Pulse where 49 people were killed in attacks Sunday morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NEEMA BAHRAMI: I want you to know we are not leaving.

(APPLAUSE)

BAHRAMI: We are here to stay. Say it with me. We are here to stay. We are here to stay.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: We are here to stay. We are here to stay.

(APPLAUSE)

GREENE: One of the managers there from the nightclub Pulse telling the community that they are not leaving after that attack that happened here. We're broadcasting this morning from a bit south of downtown. We're across the street from a hospital where some of those injured in that attack remain in grave condition. Others are improving. And we expect to hear from some of those victims later this morning. Now I'm joined here by our colleague Debbie Elliott. Deb, good morning.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Morning, David.

GREENE: You know, you cover this part of the United States. I just wonder really briefly how you've reflected on these last couple of days here.

ELLIOTT: You know, it's been very sad. And I can't help but reflect. We're coming up on year since the shootings in Charleston. Friday will be one year since worshippers were killed...

GREENE: At that church in South Carolina, you covered that, too.

ELLIOTT: ...At the church in South Carolina. And like that, you know, authorities say people were targeted for a reason. There are some questions whether this community was targeted. And like this community, Charleston, you know, banded together to say, you know, we're behind you. And we saw that at the vigil last night here.

GREENE: We sure did. OK, Renee, we're here in Orlando with Deb Elliott. And we'll come back here to Orlando in a few minutes.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And - indeed. But now, David, I want to bring in another voice. It's Ali Soufan. He was an FBI agent for years, supervising a number of terrorism investigations, among them, the al-Qaida attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa and the bombing of the USS Cole. Good morning.

ALI SOUFAN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: And what strikes you most, at this point - this morning - so far in the investigation?

SOUFAN: Well, regardless to the motivation of the shooter, this has all the criteria of a mass shooting. And, you know, remember since Sandy Hook, we have more than 892 mass shooting that happened in the U.S.

MONTAGNE: So mass shootings at, say, Newtown, where children were killed, or mass shootings at a theater, I mean - different, are you saying than a terrorist attack?

SOUFAN: Well, yet, we don't know. I mean, there is the fact that he wanted to kill so many people. And he had access to a high-capacity firearm. The only thing that he did just before he went down in the hail of fire, he basically said, by the way, I pledge allegiance to ISIS.

But if you look at the profile of this person, he was violent. He was mentally unstable. He was a wife beater. He wasn't religious. He frequented, from what we know now, that bar a few times before. He has a complicated personality, full of contradictions. And even what we know of his 911 claim, the claim that he made just before he was killed - that claim itself was also full of confusion and discrepancies. And I think the investigators now will look at all the things to determine what exactly motivated that person and what exactly motivated that attack.

MONTAGNE: Well, he also - when it came to his affiliations or possible affiliations with radical groups, he put two groups together that are actually rivals.

SOUFAN: Absolutely. Actually, all the groups that he mentioned were rivals. You know, first of all...

MONTAGNE: Mentioned in a 911 call where he was identifying with these different groups.

SOUFAN: Right. You know, before, he claimed that he was a Hezbollah member. Hezbollah is a Shiite organization that is fighting ISIS and that's considered one of ISIS' biggest enemies. He claimed that he was connected to al-Qaida and his family were connected to al-Qaida. Again, it's a totally different organization that, as you know, do not see eye to eye at all with ISIS. And definitely, they don't see eye to eye with Shiite Hezbollah. All of these people are not connected with each other. Organizations are not connected with each other. He seems to be delusional, have a lot of issues going on. And I am sure that will be part of the, you know, elements of the investigation.

MONTAGNE: It sounds like they are potentially several layers of motivations that might've prompted the shooter to attack this club. But the presumptive presidential nominees seem to be focusing pretty much on him being radicalized politically. And on this program yesterday, Hillary Clinton outlined her plan for preventing what happened in Orlando.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

HILLARY CLINTON: I would set up a team exclusively dedicated to detecting and preventing lone-wolf attacks. And that means providing more resources, creating more integrated intelligence use among all levels of law enforcement, strengthening the communication that we have coming from abroad, as well as internally, and working with Silicon Valley to prevent online radicalization.

MONTAGNE: All right, Hillary Clinton. Could that have helped here?

SOUFAN: Well, look, you know, the only reason we're talking about terrorism here is because he made a phone call just before he was killed by the police and he pledged allegiance an ISIS and al-Qaida. That's it. There is no evidence whatsoever that ISIS was involved in coordinating, in planning or in executing that plot. There is no evidence whatsoever, so far, that he has been in contact in any way, shape or form with ISIS or ISIS sympathizers.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

SOUFAN: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: That's former FBI special agent Ali Soufan. He is the CEO and president of The Soufan Group.

GREENE: All right, Renee. And we're back here in Orlando this morning. I'm joined - and next to me - by NPR's Debbie Elliott. And Deb, let's talk about some of the victims in this attack. What do we know about them?

ELLIOTT: Well, I'm just going to read a few names. And this will tell us a good bit about them. Mercedez Marisol Flores, Peter Gonzalez-Cruz, Juan Ramon Guerrero, Frank Hernandez, Eric Ivan Ortiz Rivera - now, that's just five of the 49 victims in this. And - overwhelming majority of those names are Hispanic surnames. This has been a huge blow to the Latino community, a very growing and vibrant part of central Florida. And I spent some time yesterday speaking with people about how this has affected them. And the overwhelming response was - this is personal.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARLOS GUILLERMO SMITH: Everyone that's going through this - they look like me

ELLIOTT: That's Carlos Guillermo Smith, an openly gay candidate for the state legislature. He works with Equality Florida and says people like him were targeted.

GUILLERMO SMITH: The intent is clear - to inflict the most amount of violence and terror at a gay club on Latino night in a giant space where there's hundreds of people.

ELLIOTT: A place where Hispanic gay men felt safe, he says, even those who were not yet ready to share their sexuality with loved ones. Smith says a few victims were outed to their families in death.

GUILLERMO SMITH: And some of them have been responding by saying my son's not gay. My son's not gay. I don't understand what's going on.

ELLIOTT: Smith joined Hispanic leaders yesterday at an event intended to let victims' families know they have a support system here in Orlando. Nancy Sharifi works with the Orange County government. She's part of a coalition of advocates reaching out.

NANCY SHARIFI: They're desperate right now. They need people that speak their language, people that understand their cultural needs that are there to hug them very, very hard and tell them we're here for you.

ELLIOTT: Volunteers are offering grief counseling, interpreters and other cultural resources. Nilmarie Zapata with Public Allies Central Florida says in the hours after the attack, there were gaps in understanding.

NILMARIE ZAPATA: I kept noticing within social media that there was a discrepancy between the English information that was being disseminated versus the Spanish.

ELLIOTT: More than 30 groups have joined to help with everything from raising money for funerals to figuring out how to transport the deceased for burial back to where they grew up, places like Puerto Rico. Andy Gutierrez is with the Association of Puerto Ricans Living in Florida and lost two friends in the nightclub attack.

ANDY GUTIERREZ: Most of those people - there was very nice kids, no problem at all, you know. People talk about the gay, but, you know, they're human beings. And they're the best friends you can have.

GREENE: All right. That was NPR's Deb Elliott reporting there. And Deb, I mean, it's - this is a growing Hispanic community in this city. I mean, with - different from a city like New York or other cities that sort of have a tradition.

ELLIOTT: Right. This is - there's probably close to a third of the population in this part of Florida is Hispanic. If you look back in the 1980s, it would have been single digits. So it's grown over the last few decades.

GREENE: Just a few seconds left. I mean, so many of the people hit by this tragedy. It reminds me a little bit of covering the aftermath of the attacks in Paris. I mean, they're really young.

ELLIOTT: Yes. They are in their 20s and their 30s. And there's a real sense of there's a loss of the future here - that a lot of these families have put their hopes and dreams in these young people and now they're gone.

GREENE: OK. We've been speaking to NPR's Debbie Elliott who is here with me in Orlando as we broadcast all morning still covering the aftermath of Sunday morning's shooting at Pulse, a nightclub here just south of downtown Orlando where 49 people were killed. The gunman, Omar Mateen, also killed. And we're across the street from a hospital where many of the injured are still recovering, some in grave condition. We're hoping to get updates from doctors and perhaps some of the victims themselves later this morning across the street at that hospital. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.