El Paso's Latinx community carries on amid near insurmountable loss in wake of shooting

By Christine Bolaños

 
El Paso’s community members praying for the victims of Saturday morning’s shooting. Photography by Mark Ralston/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

El Paso’s community members praying for the victims of Saturday morning’s shooting. Photography by Mark Ralston/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

 

22 innocent lives taken. Countless families shattered. A community united in tragedy. A country grappling with two mass shootings in less than 24 hours. 

This is the cruel reality the El Paso, Texas community is facing after an alleged domestic terrorist killed at least 22 people and injured at least two dozen others at a Walmart near Cielo Vista Mall on the morning of Saturday, August 3. The number of fatalities is two shy of the total number of homicides the border city experienced in 2018 and higher than the recorded number in 2016 and 2017.

Law enforcement believes the suspected mass shooter posted a document with anti-latinx immigrant sentiments. Federal authorities want to pursue hate crime and domestic terrorism charges. In the meantime, the El Paso community and its allies came together over the weekend to hold vigils in honor of those they lost, raise monetary funds for survivors, and to donate blood to those injured. Those efforts continue this week. 

Rep. Veronica Escobar of El Paso commended her constituents for opening their hearts and “wrapping [their] arms” around those in pain and suffering. She said El Pasoans are strong and resilient and will help one another for as long as support is necessary. 

Some of the Latinx victims included Andre Anchondo and his wife Jordan who were celebrating their first wedding anniversary, had just dropped off Jordan’s older daughter at cheerleading practice and were shopping for school supplies. Friends and family believe Jordan died shielding their infant son from gunshots while Andre lost his life trying to save them both.

Anchondo’s brother Tito Anchondo confirmed his worst fears on social media less than 24 hours ago. His beloved brother died at the hands of the gunman. He immediately received an outpouring of support. 

“Why are we born in the first place if this is how we have to go,” he posted on his Facebook wall mere hours ago. He thanked the online community for its support and listed some ways to help his nephew, including donation of diapers, blankets, clothes and school supplies Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 120 North Piedras. He said monetary donations can be made via a Facebook fundraiser and GoFund Me fundraiser. 

“Alongside 2-month-old Paul is [their] two daughters Skylin and Victoria. Not only did Jordan (and) Andre love each other endlessly, but the children were so loved by them as well,” the GoFund Me page reads. 

Arturo Benavides was killed while shopping at Walmart with his wife. The Los Angeles Times reports he was a U.S. Army veteran who retired a few years ago as a bus driver from the El Paso’s Sun Metro. 

His niece Jackie Luna told the newspaper she had a close relationship with her late uncle. She said he loved his family and was an amazing husband, son, brother, godfather, and uncle. 

“I was practically their child,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “I spent my childhood waking up at their house, sitting out on the front porch with him on Sunday mornings, listening to the oldies on the radio.

Among the casualties were Javier Amir Rodriguez, a 15-year-old high school player and avid soccer player; Elsa Mendoza Marquez, a 57-year-old elementary teacher from Juarez, Mexico, sister city to El Paso, and mother of two adult children. 

A vigil held Sunday evening for victims of the mass shooting in El Paso. Photography by Mario Tama/Getty Images

A vigil held Sunday evening for victims of the mass shooting in El Paso. Photography by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Stories are still pouring in as survivors share the legacy and love their lost loved ones leave behind. In the meantime, the debate over gun control, mental illness, racism, and hate crime intensifies amid the El Paso massacre and one in Dayton, Ohio, which cost the lives of 10 people, including the perpetrator, and injuries to at least 27 people. Hate crime was ruled out as the cause of the massacre in Dayton, but in El Paso, the community continues committed to seeking justice. 

“We are heartened that this has been recognized for what it is: a racially-motivated terrorist attack on our safe and tranquil community,” Rep. Escobar wrote on her Facebook page. “The shooter came into our community because we are a Hispanic community and because we have immigrants in our community. He came here to harm us.”

Law enforcement is concerned there may be some copy-cat crimes  looming and asks the American collective to remain vigilant of any suspicious activity. 

In a press release, the FBI stated: "The FBI remains concerned that U.S.-based domestic violent extremists could become inspired by these and previous high-profile attacks to engage in similar acts of violence. The FBI asks the American public to report to law enforcement any suspicious activity that is observed either in person or online."

Seven Mexican citizens were among the casualties and were shopping when the alleged gunman, 21 year-old Patrick Crusius of Allen, located north of Dallas, began firing “a high-powered weapon” that El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen told El Paso Times was purchased legally. The country of Mexico is now pursuing legal action  for the loss of the seven individuals. 

“There are deadly consequences to bigotry, racism, and hate,” Rep. Escobar wrote. “There are deadly consequences to dehumanizing our fellow human beings. 

Domestic terrorism is one of those deadly consequences and we stand together in calling for our federal government to draft a national plan to deal with white supremacy and domestic terrorism as a national crisis, and support legislation and funding that would deal with the national emergency that we face with both the gun violence epidemic as well as the hate epidemic plaguing our country.”

Escobar publicly said President Donald Trump is not welcome in her city after the mass shooting. She said Trump has made her people, Latinxs, the enemy and it is his strong anti-immigrant and bigoted rhetoric that has encouraged others to commit atrocities out of fear and hate. 

"I hope that [Trump] has the self-awareness to understand that we are in pain, and we are mourning, and we are doing the very best in our typical, graceful, El Paso way to be resilient," Escobar said per a USA Today report. "And so I would ask his staff and his team to consider the fact that his words and his actions have played a role in this."

For his part, Trump expressed grief over the tragedies in both cities but fell short of categorizing the El Paso massacre as a hate crime over the weekend. Instead, he said more resources need to be allocated toward better treatment and services for mental illness. However, on Monday, he did condemn white supremacy and acts of violence in light of the recent mass shootings. 

In the meantime, law enforcement said the suspect is cooperating with authorities, and they are still trying to link an anti-immigrant, anti-Latinx manifesto published online hours before the massacre to the alleged gunman. He has been charged with state capital murder and is facing possible federal domestic terrorism charges according to the Texas Tribune

“We are calling on our leaders to stop demonizing Latinos for political gain and instead take meaningful action to fight white supremacy. We call on them to make our communities safer and stop putting gun sales above our lives,” said Antonio Arrelano, interim executive director of Jolt Action, the largest Latino progressive organization in Texas. “Despite what white supremacy spews, Latinos aren’t invading Texas. We’ve always been here, we belong here, and we’re not going anywhere.”

Photography by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Photography by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Ways to help victims of mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton:

Donate blood

The two El Paso donation centers were at capacity as of Sunday, but Vitalent is still accepting blood donations as of Monday. 

Donate to a charitable organization

No more water and food is necessary at El Paso, but charitable organizations in both cities are requesting donations. These include the El Paso Community Foundation, Paso del Norte Community Foundation’s El Paso Victims Relief Fund, The Dayton Foundation’s Dayton Oregon District Tragedy Fund, and the Public Good Campaign.