When Aracely Carmona arrived in the central Florida town of Kissimmee more than a decade ago, she learned there was no funeral home that catered to Latinos.
The community was growing significantly in Kissimmee, as well as neighboring Orlando, and the central part of the state in general. There was a deep need for an establishment that was culturally in tune with Hispanics that could help the community, which included many people who were not fluent in English, sort out matters and plan burials at one of the most vulnerable moments in their lives.
That gave rise to the Funeraria San Juan Funeral Home, which now finds itself one of the places where families and friends of the victims of the massacre at the gay nightclub on Sunday are turning to mourn and pay tribute to their loved ones.
Over the last couple of days, the home has been packed, with 100 or more friends and relatives of those who were slaughtered at Pulse.
“We’ve had eight victims brought here so far,” Carmona, the director and manager of the funeral home, told Fox News Latino. “We’re helping send one of the bodies back to Puerto Rico.”
Carmona is of Puerto Rican descent like 23 of the 49 victims of the killer, Omar Mateen, who was shot dead by police. More than 90 percent of the dead are Latinos.
“We’re here for the community, here to help them and give them whatever they need,” Carmona said. “We have counselors we refer people to. We have priests, pastors who help them.”
The funeral home is not charging – several organizations, such as Disney, have given substantial donations to cover costs, including funeral-related ones – faced by families of the victims.
Jet Blue has offered to transport relatives of the deceased and those who are hospitalized to the Orlando area free of charge. It also is transporting the bodies that will be buried outside the Orlando area, according to published reports.
City officials released a statement saying that they “are helping to coordinate assistance efforts for family members of the deceased; those suffering physical and emotional injuries; club staff and patrons and others directly impacted by this tragedy.”
Carmona’s colleague, Bob Healy, told the Orlando Sentinel that the funeral home has been a pivotal place for families and friends of the victims.
“I had to open up my chapel so people had a place to sit and wait while the other family members were working on the actual funeral arrangements,” Healy said. “We seem to be ground zero.”