Crime & Justice

With virtual hugs and vigils, El Paso remembers victims of Walmart massacre

El Paso, Texas, Aug 3 (efe-epa).- National leaders and organizations on Monday once again remembered the 23 people killed in the mass shooting a year ago at the Cielo Vista Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, calling it “the deadliest violent act” in recent memory – and quite possibly in US history – committed against Latinos.

The Covid-19 pandemic, which in El Paso County has spiked, has forced most of the tributes and memorials to remember the 23 dead and the 22 wounded in the attack by Patrick Crusius with an assault rifle inside the store in the border city to be held virtually.

“They were teachers and bus drivers. Grandfathers and children. Americans and Mexicans. Families just out running errands. Each a life of meaning and potential – and part of what makes El Paso so very special,” presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said in a video message.

In honor of the victims, starting on the weekend a number of vigils and virtual tributes have been held, while the El Paso Museum of History, after offering a private tour to the families of the dead and wounded, inaugurated an online exhibit including items preserved from a makeshift memorial erected at the massacre site.

In like manner, on Monday afternoon several city parks will be illuminated with lanterns and other lighting to honor the dead, while the local Mexican Consulate in this county of more than 720,000 – more than 80 percent of whom are Hispanics – will unveil a plaque in honor of the fallen and their relatives.

“The Mexican government does not want the victims or the attack itself to be forgotten. This was one of the most serious attacks against the Mexican community in the United States and it is something that must never happen again,” Mexican Consul in El Paso Mauricio Ibarra told local media.

Orange ribbons decorated Ponder Park on Monday morning and some 200 people – including relatives of the victims and local leaders – joined a procession that left from there heading to the Walmart.

El Paso Bishop Mark Joseph Seitz, who was part of the procession, told EFE that the local community is still processing the massacre, noting that the community had discovered that it is very united, not perfect but one that would like to bridge the borders between cultures, languages and skin color.

Devora Anchondo, the sister of Andre Anchondo, one of those killed in the massacre, told EFE that “the anniversary represents something unreal.”

The participants in the march arrived at the Walmart parking lot, where they viewed the monument called “La Gran Candela” (The Big Candle), a structure made up of 22 aluminum arches to honor the 22 people who died at the scene – joined later by the 23rd victim, Guillermo Diaz, who succumbed to his wounds after being hospitalized for eight months.

To be added to the monument will be the Healing Garden, a space with palm trees at the main entrance to Azcarate Park where a commemorative metal plaque will be placed.

Crusius drove for almost 10 hours from his home near Dallas to get to the El Paso Walmart, where people from both sides of the international border regularly shop. His aim was to kill Mexicans, as he confessed to police who arrested him shortly after he carried out the attack.

The now-22-year-old, who a short time before perpetrating the massacre posted on the Internet a racist manifesto in which he said that his act was in response to the “Hispanic invasion” of Texas, is facing more than 90 state and federal charges, including first-degree murder and committing hate crimes. If found guilty, he could face the death penalty.

Meanwhile, El Paso Mayor Dee Margo told EFE that the massacre will not be allowed to define the local community, saying that she was certain that it will be merely an asterisk or footnote in the city’s history, going on to say that there is nobody living in the border region who is capable of committing a hate crime of such magnitude.

Crusius, whom she called a hate-filled “white supremacist,” had to travel to the area from 700 miles away, she said.

Using the hashtag “ElPasoStrong,” whereby many expressed their support for the victims on the Internet, the federal congresswoman representing El Paso, Veronica Escobar, joined the tributes and, like other local leaders, on her Twitter account posted the names of the 23 dead.

“My community continues to confront hate with love and to honor the victims and survivors,” Escobar said on the floor of the House of Representatives, adding that the attack “wasn’t only another tragic outcome of America’s gun violence epidemic but also a result of America’s hate epidemic, fueled by racism and xenophobia as well as rhetoric coming from the most powerful leaders in the land.”

“One year later, we still don’t have laws that make us safer from gun violence, and we still face a reckoning on hate,” Escobar added.

Residents of the city believe that unity will come from the success of the hashtag, regardless of skin color or ethnicity, and Anchondo said: “I think that things happen for a reason and that this has helped our community to be united and for people to be good-hearted.”

Along that same line, Jimmy Villatoro, one of the people who helped the victims at the time of the attack, told Hispanic television network Univision that “We’re united as a city … healing ourselves like a family.”

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