A year ago, it was an ordinary Saturday in El Paso. At least, that’s how the day started. After a gunman entered a Walmart and started firing at everyone he thought was Latino, it turned into the largest attack against Latinos in American history, with 23 people losing their lives, and 23 others injured.
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the shooting at the Walmart Supercenter in the Cielo Vista shopping mall. For many in the store, it was the back-to-school season. They needed supplies for their kids: backpacks, pencils, notebooks. Others were just doing their weekend shopping. The 23rd victim Guillermo “Memo” Garcia passed away in April, nine months after he was shot. He was in the parking lot raising funds for his daughter’s soccer team.
Yesterday, Biden for America senior advisor Cristóbal Alex, and a native of El Paso, hosted a virtual roundtable to commemorate the anniversary. It was a somber discussion, marked by the harrowing story told about Michelle Grady, a 33-year-old who was injured during the shooting.
At the roundtable, Pastor Michael Grady of the Prince of Peace Christian Fellowship Church recounted receiving a frantic call from his wife that afternoon that their daughter, Michelle, had been shot three times. As they desperately tried to see her, an employee from Walmart used spare clothing to address her wounds. Police had cordoned off much of the parking lot, but Pastor Grady could still see bodies on the ground. “It looked like a warzone,” he said at the roundtable.
Michelle would finally make it to an ICU. Over the past year, she has undergone several subsequent surgeries. Pastor Grady particularly thanked the community of El Paso for rallying around his daughter. “God has brought her a long way,” said the Pastor.
What occurred on that Saturday was shattering for a community that for so long has been a safe and pleasant place to live. Pastor Grady sees a direct line between the actions of the shooter and the hatred that comes from the White House and its current occupant.
The shooter drove from Allen, Texas, so far from El Paso, it’s in a different time zone. He was an avowed racist who traveled 10 hours and over 600 miles to carry out his despicable and racist agenda. He had recorded several manifestos about his racist thoughts on Latinos, and in order to inflict as much trauma as possible, he went to the closest Walmart to the border.
The shooting was the culmination of increasingly violent and racist rhetoric, amplified from the highest office in this country. When Trump launched his candidacy, decrying the rapists and drug dealers from Mexico, many in the border city of El Paso understood the racism he was trying to foster.
But, contrary to Trump’s vision of Latinos in America, El Paso, which is more than 82 percent Hispanic, is one of the safest cities in the country. It has one of the lowest crime rates for cities of its size.
For Rep. Veronica Escobar, also at the roundtable, the anniversary of the attack is another painful reminder of being thrust into a position no lawmaker ever wants to be in: trying to understand the senseless loss of life in her community. She also lamented that a gun control bill passed earlier this year in the U.S. House, but has now stalled.
In the Texas legislature, gun laws were actually loosened right after the shooting. Several Republican lawmakers also vowed that they would not support any gun control measures. State Rep. Matt Schaefer went viral with a tweet thread expanding on that view. “I am NOT going to use the evil acts of a handful of people to diminish the God-given rights of my fellow Texans.”
As El Paso marks this somber anniversary, it comes at a particularly cruel time. COVID-19 has impacted the city horrifically, with high rates of death and hospitalizations. Throughout the state, communities of color are getting sicker and dying at higher rates. Escobar closed out her remarks with a call to action, “We are a family and a people of love, but we need our government to reflect that same compassion, goodwill and love.”
Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images