Frantic phone call leads to 12-hour road trip to find missing brother

Julissa Leal drove all Sunday night — 12 hours from Louisiana to Orlando — to find her older brother, Frank Hernandez.

He had been at Pulse where, in the early hours of Sunday, a lone gunman transformed the party into the nation’s deadliest shooting massacre. Before sunrise, 50 were dead, even more injured.

Leal received a phone call from her brother’s boyfriend on Sunday. He had been shot, but would survive. But in the chaos of bullets and screams, he had lost track of Hernandez.

“He told us that when the man started shooting, he got hit and started running,” said Leal, 18. “But when he looked back, he didn’t see him.”

Leal said she has been scouring websites and making phone calls but didn’t get any information so she and her mother made the overnight drive.

“I talked to my son three days ago. He was just talking about work,” said Hernandez’s mother, Esmerelda Leal. “We don’t know nothing.”

Hernandez, 27, works at a Calvin Klein store in Orlando and has lived in Orlando for three years.

Leal last saw her brother in May at her high school graduation.

“I haven’t given up hope,” she said tearfully. “I am hoping to see him again.”

Leal, of Lafayette, joins a long line of families, escorted by police, that have gathered for updates at the Beardall Senior Center, a bricked building in the Delaney Park area of the city, not far from Pulse.

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Among those there to offer comfort was Pastor Billy Brath of Trinity Downtown Lutheran Church in Orlando.

“We want to be here for our families. Down the road, after memorials and funerals and remembrances happen we want to remind then that we will push forward,” he said. “...we will care for each other and love each other and when evil happens, we will overcome it with love.”

Editor’s note: Just after 1:30 p.m. Monday, the Orlando police department identified Frank Hernandez as one of the 49 deceased victims from Sunday morning’s shooting.

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