CARENCRO — When Esmerelda Escalante woke on Sunday morning to news of a mass shooting at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub, she tried for hours to reach her son Frank Hernandez, whose partner had last seen the 27-year-old in the club amid a spray of bullets.
By Monday morning, after an almost 800-mile overnight drive from Carencro to Orlando, Escalante and her 18-year-old daughter waited among dozens of others seeking information about their loved ones before police, shortly before noon, confirmed the worst.
Hernandez had been killed, one of 50 people who died in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, with the gunman among the dead, and another 53 people wounded inside the gay nightclub that was hosting Latin night.
“Frankie,” as his family members call him, moved to Orlando about three years ago to manage a Calvin Klein store and had just returned to Carencro three weeks ago for his sister’s high school graduation.
“It was the last time we saw him,” said his mother, who spoke by phone from an Orlando hotel room on Monday.
When the gunman opened fire inside Pulse nightclub about 2 a.m. Sunday, a bullet struck Frank’s partner, Brett Rigas, and the two were separated in the chaos that ensued, Escalante said.
First came word on Sunday from Rigas — that he suffered a bullet wound and would survive but that he had not located Hernandez.
“We called Frank, and he didn’t answer the phone,” Escalante said.
With the sheer number of family members and media outlets seeking information from police, few details were released beyond confirmation that her son was shot and killed, Escalante said.
“I guess it’s too much,” she said.
Escalante said she’s working to have her son’s body transported to his hometown of Weslaco, Texas, by the end of the week for a funeral with family, who still reside in the Rio Grande Valley town in the southernmost tip of Texas.
A campaign on crowdfunding website GoFundMe had, by Monday night, reported more than $4,000 pledged toward his funeral expenses.
Escalante recalled her son, the second child of three sons and three daughters, as a “really good person” with a vibrant social life and caring demeanor.
“He was a good son even when he was living far away,” she said. “He was happy all the time.”
Hernandez moved with his family in 2000 from Weslaco to Lafayette Parish, where he attended L.J. Alleman Middle School before returning to his hometown, about 10 miles north of the Mexican border, for high school, his mother said.
Escalante’s oldest child, Jose Hernandez, smoked a cigarette outside the family’s Carencro home on Monday afternoon, noting that his brother was about two months shy of his 28th birthday.
Although the two weren’t close, Jose Hernandez said, his brother Frank died doing something he loved: clubbing.
Jose Hernandez’s longtime partner, Joanna Urbano, chimed in with a smile.
“He was full of life. Everywhere he went, he lit it up,” she said.
“He did like the nightlife,” Jose Hernandez added. “But nothing had ever gone wrong. Nothing.”
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or call at (337) 534-0825.