A Birth, a Death and a Wedding Postponed: What Fox News' Bryan Llenas Learned in the Pandemic
"I don’t have to just sit back on my couch and watch the world implode," Bryan Llenas says
In the alternate-reality version of 2020 — the version none of us got — Fox News' Bryan Llenas is planning his upcoming wedding and celebrating his sister's baby daughter. Not, as he has instead spent much of the year, covering crises that left his own family grieving.
It's been ... a lot. For Llenas, for everyone. But that makes him doubly grateful for the work he's doing as a reporter. It's what he calls his "saving grace in all this."
"I don’t have to just sit back on my couch and watch the world implode," he tells PEOPLE.
The 32-year-old Fox News national correspondent, who first joined the network a decade ago to work on foxnewslatino.com, has been busy keeping pace with a breakneck news cycle of overlapping stories.
In the spring, he was following the sweep of the novel coronavirus pandemic in New York City, and then he was covering the "generational, transformational moment" of national demonstrations after the killing of George Floyd in late May. He was also on the Jeffrey Epstein beat and, in July, published an interview with one of Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell's accusers. (Epstein died in custody; Maxwell denies wrongdoing.)
"I am constantly reminded in this job that, at the end of the day, people just want to be heard," Llenas says. "I think a lot of people feel alone in their tragedy."
He knows loss: COVID-19 killed his great-aunt ("she went into a hospital and never came out") and sickened his grandmother, who lives in the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York City.
"Both of my cousins were unable to truly say goodbye," Llenas says. He had his family on his mind during an April segment on Fox News when his voice thickened with emotion as he talked about trying to get help for his grandma.
"I started thinking about the grandmothers out there and all the elderly people who desperate needly an ambulance," he says, adding, "Once you start having family members get sick, it really starts to hit home. It’s hard not to panic. It’s hard not to feel hopeless — and helpless."
Early in the pandemic, Llenas' fiancé, Kyle Reinneck, left for Illinois for two weeks to decrease the risk Llenas — then in the middle of on-the-ground coverage — might somehow get him sick, too.
When Llenas' younger sister, Raquel, gave birth in July, the pandemic kept him from being with her in person — a "heartbreaking moment" leavened by the existence of FaceTime, beaming him and their mom into her hospital room.
The challenges of reporting on a deadly pandemic have, in some ways, brought their own rewards. Llenas covered the particular toll the virus has taken on Black and Hispanic communities, epitomized by the story of a woman who saw four of her family members die from COVID-19 in a matter of days. Because of her job as a housekeeper, the woman was unable to work from home — instead still riding the subway daily, surrounded by disease.
These are the moments Llenas looks back on, some six months into the pandemic.
"What separates cable TV from everybody else is we can bring you history as it's happening," he says. Other highlights include going to the southern border to share stories from the migrant crisis and families separated under the Trump administration, and being in Puerto Rico during a wave of protests against the governor there. (There have been learning moments as well: Llenas had to retract a 2017 story about a man who falsely claimed to be a decorated veteran.)
Llenas also knows the importance of representation — what he brings to stories that others don't. Llenas is Dominican and he's gay and he works at a major news network most famous for its conservative commentators (who operate separately).
"People that look like me are underrepresented in news," Llenas says. "I am fully aware of how important it is for people who look like the rest of society to be on the news every single day."
He goes on: "I have a responsibility to open the doors to other people in my community. I have a responsibility to be true to who I am."
Part of that truth is his sexuality, and while that journey includes a familiar process of post-college discovery in N.Y.C., mostly this particular personal story is one of love — and surprising connections.
Llenas first met Reinneck, a 33-year-old senior global brand manager for VOSS, through a mutual friend. This was in October 2017, and social media connections soon turned into hours-long conversations while Reinneck was on vacation in Hawaii and Llenas was back in New York.
Everything was clicking and so — why not? As Reinneck headed home, they decided to meet at Love Field, the airport in Dallas, less than two weeks after first being connected.
Last October, on their two-year anniversary trip, Llenas proposed as they hiked up to Machu Picchu in the mountains of Peru.
"I love you so much," he told Reinneck, "and I just want this adventure to continue."
("I was incredibly nervous," Llenas tells PEOPLE. "I told myself if I didn’t make it on the hike, I didn’t want to be embarrassed and not make it on the hike … it was my motivation.")
If there'd been no pandemic, the two would likely be in pre-wedding mode for a spring 2021 ceremony in Miami, though Llenas, a "hopeless romantic," jokingly admits: "I was more on the rush to get down with the wedding than Kyle was. He was just kind of like, 'Mmmm ...' "
The whole thing is on hold, like so much else. But they have time.
"We have so much that’s alike, but oh my god we have so much that’s so different," Llenas says. "I think in many ways there’s a sense where Kyle — he’s so humble, he’s so kind and he is just so positive and such a loving human being, that it immediately was evident to me that this was somebody who I connected with."
Reinneck is the more meticulous of the pair (and he's still trying to convince Llenas to embrace running), with a smile like a bright light, Llenas says. "He’s pushing me in different ways and I am somebody who is a little bit more live-by-the-seat-of-your-pants."
It's been an unprecedented year, after an unexpected decade for the Florida native, who grew up on the "appointment television" of 20/20 and still gets a thrill from hurricane coverage tracing back to boyhood dreams of being a meteorologist.
He joined Fox News full-time in 2010, and in 2013, he was assigned to cover Pope Francis' election in his first national TV segment.
"If you would have told me that I’d still be working for the same company 10 years in, that somebody like Kyle would fall in love with me and that we’d be building a life together ... ," Llenas says. "I’m highly blessed."