Mike Franck died a hero. He died saving people he had just met at a Tampa nightclub. He dove in front of a hail of bullets early Saturday morning, sparing at least two people their lives in exchange for his own.
That’s who Mike Franck is, said his friends in Tallahassee. A man who never met a stranger. The 34-year-old with a boisterous laugh who left an impression on everyone he met.
“Mike was one of those people that when you met him you could tell he was real,” said Franck’s friend Sakif Rahman. “Mike really did capture the best in humanity. He made everyone feel welcomed and loved.”
Rahman, like many of Franck’s friends, is still trying to process his death, but they find some solace in his last efforts to save a stranger’s life.
Franck was shot in the chest at about 4:30 a.m. Saturday outside of Tampa SoHo entertainment district club the Palace Hookah Lounge during a drive-by shooting.
Gary Omar Rivera Montanez, 22, returned to the club after earlier being tossed out by bouncers, according to the Tampa Police Department. He began firing out of the window of his car as he drove by the crowded parking lot. Montanez has been charged with first-degree murder and four counts of attempted murder.
Four others, Heaven Mayo, 24, Justin King, 24, Donald Jocelin, 25, and Tobiasz Cudnik, 32, were injured in the shooting.
But their lives were spared when Franck dove in the path of bullets, King and Jocelin recounted to a Tampa news station. There was no indication Franck was involved in the earlier incident.
“Mike chose to jump in front of a bullet and save someone,” said Rahman, 27, who met Franck when he moved to Tallahassee for graduate school about two years ago.
“The fact that he saved a stranger’s life without thinking twice; it wouldn’t have mattered if he had met you five minutes ago, he would have done the same thing.
“There is no other way Mike could have gone out at such a young age without helping somebody else. He died a hero and I say a saint.”
Franck graduated from the Florida State-Florida A&M College of Engineering. He worked hard, sometimes 60 to 80-hour work weeks, as a successful engineer in Thomasville.
He had just returned from an interview in New York where his girlfriend Carrie Tillet-Saks lives. He was planning on moving to be with her.
“He was so head over heels in love with her and they were about to make this huge life change,” said friend Jaimie Burkewitz. “He’s kind of like the American Dream. He’s made a life for himself and takes care of his mother and sister. He didn’t take anything for granted or take anyone for granted.”
Burkewitz, like many others, said Franck was one of the friendliest people she’d ever met. As friends gathered this week for support and to reminisce, emotions were up and down.
“It’s a funny mixture of emotions. You’re crying and laughing all in the same moment because thinking about all the good times and memories makes you smile while at the same time you feel so sad by such a tremendous loss,” Burkewitz said. “It’s starting to feel real.”
He and a group of friends traveled to spend the weekend in Central Florida and to see the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team play Saturday night.
Kristen Kerr rode down from Tallahassee with him.
She said a few people called it a night Friday but Franck went out and met up with a group of new friends at the Palace. He was texting with them and his girlfriend in Brooklyn throughout the night.
But when he hadn’t come home by Saturday morning, Kerr and others got worried.
They called Tampa-area hospitals to see if he was there. They called to see, however unlikely it was, if he had been arrested.
It was later in the day when Kerr and others on the trip heard what happened to their friend.
“He happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. But it happened to be the right place because he saved someone,” said the 25-year-old, who met Franck about three years ago through his girlfriend.
The death of her funny, engaged, generous and uninhibited friend will linger for a lot of people, Kerr wrote in an email.
She recalled one of her last memories of Franck the night he was killed. He was laughing over the top of a shot glass. He’d bought one for everyone he was with. It was quintessential Mike, she wrote.
“Life can be so short… Out of all the lessons we can learn from Mike, I think we can all remember to always, always take that shot.”
The way Franck’s life ended was a testament to his friendliness toward everyone and to bring that mindset to the forefront in a split second.
“The loss of Mike Franck will be very personal and very real for so many because he made friends everywhere he went. His smile, his laughter and his energy for life made him the instant life of any party,” she wrote. “He didn’t soak up life, keeping all the joy and light to himself, he radiated life and happiness to everyone and anyone he met. People who knew him for only hours before, minutes before, were touched by him, made better by him.”