‘It could happen again’: El Paso honors victims of mass shooting, decries anti-immigrant vitriol

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Residents observe second anniversary of 'act of hate' with prayers, remembrance, procession and new memorial

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – El Pasoans remembered the anniversary of a massacre by grieving and honoring the victims, and by warning that ongoing anti-immigrant vitriol could bring about another tragedy.

“I want to keep the 23 members of our community that lost their lives (and) also their families and friends in our thoughts and also our first responders and everyone who was there on August 3 in our prayers and thoughts,” El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

He expressed hope that the racially motivated Aug. 3, 2019, mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart won’t repeat itself. “There is no room for hate,” he said.

The attack claimed the lives of 23 people and left another 23 injured. Patrick Crusius, of Allen, Texas, is jailed on state and federal charges stemming from the shooting he allegedly carried out with an automatic rifle after posting an online manifesto decrying the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” No trial dates have been set.

City Rep. Henry Rivera read a proclamation noting the tragedy claimed the lives of residents of both sides of the border, praising the community for its solidarity and response and designating Aug. 3 as “El Paso Strong” day.

Simultaneously at a park less than two blocks away from the Walmart, men and women dressed in black carried 23 crosses with the names of each victim. They placed each cross in stands behind an offering of flowers and candles.

“We pray for our city, that we will use this as an opportunity to bridge the gap, to come together in unity and that we would stand together to fight the violence, the hatred, the systemic racism that exists not only in our city but in our nation,” said the Rev. Michael Grady. The gunman shot Grady’s daughter Michelle three times inside the Walmart, but she survived.

The names on the crosses said “Rodriguez,” “Hernandez,” and “Anchondo,” but there was also “Johnson,” “Hoffman,” “Englisbee,” and “Reckard.” This betrays how the gunman had preconceived, erroneous notions of a community known for welcoming all, those at the park said.

Margarita Arvizu also remembers how her daughter, an employee at the store, endured several minutes of horror on Aug. 3. She recalls the anti-immigrant sentiment coming out of Washington prompted by the Central American migrant surge in the days prior to the shooting,  

“This touched all of us in El Paso. This hatred was borne of words that (the gunman) took to heart and caused him to take away our peace, leave our families in mourning and left us in fear of something like this happening again,” Arvizu said.

El Paso activist organizations like the Border Network for Human Rights still hold former President Donald Trump responsible for fanning the anti-immigrant flames that might have inspired the Walmart shooter. Now, its leadership says a similar narrative is coming out of the Governor’s Mansion in Austin, Texas.

Gov. Greg Abbott “is saying that there is a massive invasion of Mara Salvatrucha (gang members), criminals at the border, that we need to build a wall, that we need to have state troopers at the border to stop the immigrants,” BNHR Executive Director Fernando Garcia said.

He mentioned state initiatives to arrest and charge migrants with trespassing on private property and stop and question those suspected of transporting unauthorized immigrants.

The anti-immigrant narrative “is alive and well” in Texas as is the unfettered sale of firearms, which is a dangerous combination, Garcia said.

“Unfortunately, the situation has not changed. It could happen again. Let’s warn ourselves: It could happen again, and it could happen here in Texas because the same vitriol is being used against immigrants, against us, against our border communities,” he said. “There is no healing if we don’t deal with these issues. There is no healing if we don’t start talking about how we change this hateful narrative against our border communities and against immigrants.”

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, agrees that racism still poses a threat to residents of border communities. “There’s a long history of racism in our country, unfortunately. But what was previously a whisper has now been given permission to be out in the open in the ugliest, most dangerous way,” she said, blaming Trump for the latter.

She continued her call for passing gun control laws she believes will cut down on violence.

Meantime, the Walmart store where the shooting happened urged customers to observe 23 seconds of silence — one for each victim — at exactly 10:39 a.m. and some of its employees gathered at the Grand Candela memorial in the parking lot.

And Tuesday evening, El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego was set to inaugurate the new Healing Garden at Ascarate Park.

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