It has been two years since Frank Escalante, a Weslaco native, lost his life at the shooting at the Pulse nightclub, an LGBTQ club in Orlando that left 49 people dead and 59 wounded. This week Esmeralda Escalante, his mother, traveled to Orlando for the second anniversary of one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.
“I feel sad because it’s been two years since we’ve lost him,” Esmeralda said in Spanish. “It’s really difficult. Right now we were there [at Pulse], looking at the cameras that are there now and I start to think, ‘Why weren’t the cameras there before?’ and about the door in the back that wouldn’t open that night. Lots of things going through my mind, but we can’t change anything now.”
She went to pay tribute with her children Jessica Leal, Julissa Leal, Ruby Leal, and Jesus Alberto Leal. Frank’s other brother, Jose Hernandez, was not able to make the journey.
Being there at the scene of where this tragedy happened, surrounded with people who have also lost their family members and loved ones that night, brought her some peace.
“Not just me, so many mothers, so many friends are feeling this same pain,” Esmeralda said.
This is the second year that Esmeralda and her family have traveled to Orlando for a gathering for those that were lost that night on June 12, 2016.
“Last year we came too to bring a flower for my son,” Esmeralda said. “It is really beautiful to see so many people that support us.”
Frank Escalante was born in Weslaco on July 27, 1988, and would have turned 30 next month if he were still alive. His mother remembers him as a cheerful child who was always playful and interested in gymnastics from an early age.
“When he was growing up, he would always ask me to put him in gymnastics, and I never did,” Esmeralda said. “When he grew up, he got involved in cheerleading on his own and became a part of Valley All Stars in Weslaco. Later on, he ended up becoming a [cheerleading] coach.”
The Escalante family moved to Louisiana but Frank deeply missed his cousins and friends in the Valley. When he was 15 years old, he convinced his mom to let him return to Weslaco, where he could stay with his grandmother, and attend Weslaco East High School. He graduated from that school in 2006.
“That’s why after he passed away, I took him to Weslaco,” Esmeralda said emotionally. “He was comfortable in Louisiana because me and his sisters were here, but he was really close with all his cousins and friends [in Weslaco]. So even though it hurt, I took him back to Weslaco.”
After high school he found work at the Calvin Klein Outlet in Mercedes, where he eventually became manager. That’s where his opportunity to move to Orlando came from in 2013.
“I asked him why he didn’t come to Louisiana, but he said no, he wanted to get to know Orlando,” Esmeralda said. “Of course, he wanted to work as well. They offered him the opportunity to be the manager of the store there in Orlando.”
Despite the distance, Frank remained close with his mom and siblings over the years. Three weeks before, he went to visit his family in Louisiana to attend the graduation of his sister. That was the last time Esmeralda saw him.
Earlier this morning a ceremony was held in Orlando to remember those that passed away. Esmeralda described the gathering as beautiful and was grateful that the victims of that night haven’t been forgotten.
“It makes me glad that lots of people are remembering them,” Esmeralda said. “So many people are traveling here from far away [for this ceremony].”
It hasn’t gotten easier for Esmeralda, but thinking of the fun times that she spent with her son brings her joy.
“He was a really good person, with all the people, very respectful,” Esmeralda said. “More than anything, I always remember him being cheerful. He would never show if he was sad or not. He was always laughing, telling jokes that would make us laugh.”