Five years later, family remembers RGV native killed in Pulse nightclub shooting

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A Weslaco family’s life changed one year ago this month, when 27-year-old Frank “Frankie” Hernandez-Escalante tragically lost his life after a man opened fire at a gay night club called Pulse in Orlando, Florida.

Editor’s note: Some quotes in this story were translated from Spanish to English.

HARLINGEN, Texas (KVEO)—A Weslaco family’s life changed five years ago when Frank “Frankie” Hernandez-Escalante tragically lost his life after a man opened fire at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

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In the early hours of June 12, 2016, 49 people were shot and killed and 50 others were injured. The shooting occurred during the club’s Latin Night, and many of those killed were Latino and LGBTQ+.

The incident was the deadliest mass shooting in the United States.

Frankie was a Weslaco native and living in Orlando. His mother, Esmeralda Escalante, describes him as a good person with a big heart.

“It feeds me, the fact that my son was so loved,” said Escalante in Spanish. “In his funeral, I was happy to see all the cheerleaders, so many people that spoke so beautifully about my son.”

Through the year of tears, the pain of the sudden loss, and love from strangers remembering her son, Escalante wants parents to love their children no matter what and for people to put aside their negative feelings toward someone’s sexuality.

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“I am not going to say I was the best, but I would have loved to be more open with him.” said Escalante, “I always accepted him, but I could have done more.”

Escalante advises other parents to focus on the good in their children and to not pay attention to what other people think.

“You never know when a person is not going to be with you,” said Escalante. “I wish my son was here so I could tell him things I never got to say, like ask him to bring his significant other.”

Frankie graduated with honors from Weslaco East High School in 2006, according to his official obituary. He was a manager at a Calvin Klein store in Orlando.

Julissa Leal, Frankie’s sister, said she wants to focus on the positive, even though it was a tragic event.

“I think the victims would want us to be happy, so I always try to think about the positive,” said Leal. “This has changed a lot of people’s views on the LGBTQ+ community.”

Leal said her brother taught her many things, and left behind great memories.

“He taught me how to walk in my high heels,” said Leal. “Growing up, it was a lot of ‘nope’ go put some makeup on.”

Leal adds she is more aware of her surroundings after the death of her brother.

“It has changed the way I feel in public places, I get nervous going to places where there is a lot of people around,” said Leal. “It can happen anywhere, whether there is a lot of people or not.”

Leal and Escalante, lived in Louisiana when Frankie died. Leal said they had to wait a day before hearing of her big brother’s death.

The gunman, Omar Mateen, died in a shootout with police the same day. Authorities said he had pledged allegiance to ISIS.

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“Nothing can bring my son back, I don’t have any resentment,” said Escalante.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a proclamation declaring June 12 “Pulse Remembrance Day,” in memory of those killed.

“I wish everything would be more controlled,” said Leal. “There is a lot to it. I wish it could change more, but I think if a bad person wants to put their hands on something they are going to, it’s more of us being aware.”

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