In Orlando, families' hope turns to despair
ORLANDO (FOX 13) - Family members of the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting gathered together Monday morning, many learning that their loved one was among the dead.
Roughly 250 people waited at the Beardall Senior Center on Delaney Avenue and clung to a glimmer of fading hope that their family member made it out of Pulse alive after a gunman opened fire, killing 49 people.
"When the man started shooting, [my brother's boyfriend] got hit so they started running. My brother was behind him and after that they never heard from him," said Julissa Leal whose brother, Frank Hernandez, was among the victims.
As Hernandez's family arrived his sister asked the community to "just pray for us and my brother, that he's OK."
But hours later, their hope turned to tears when they learned Hernandez, 27, had died.
"I don't want to believe it, but he's gone. There's nothing we can do now," Julissa said.
Hernandez's boyfriend survived.
Esmeralda Leal, Hernandez's mother, was trying to stay strong and find a way to cope.
"He was so happy all the time and in some way I'm kind of happy. Maybe he was kind of happy for a couple hours dancing and having a good time," she said.
The families and friends of all the victims are now trying to find ways to move forward and the community is trying to help.
Dozens of volunteers spent part of their day at the senior center, helping those whose loved ones were killed or hurt.
"We want to tell them that, at the moment, we are here for them," said Angel Marcial, a leader at the Church of God Florida. "The community has understood that right now...we need everybody. We need everybody's support."
That was the same message Gov. Rick Scott passed along to families, as he consoled many of them for several hours.
"We'll get back to work, but we're also going to take care of everyone that's been impacted. We're going to pray for them. We're going to do everything we can to get their lives back to as normal is as possible but as we all know, their lives will not be normal ever again," said Scott, who appeared to fight back tears. "Everybody thinks about their own family, right? I've got daughters, 31 and 33, you just can't imagine this happening to them."
Hernandez's mother said she is now starting to think about funeral arrangements but first has to find a way to get her son's body back to Texas.