One Year After Walmart Massacre, El Paso Fills Up with Victim Tributes

El Paso Tribute BELatina Lati
Photo Credit EFE-EPA/ Jesus Rosales

Twelve months have passed since Patrick Crusius, a 21-year-old from Allen, Texas, opened fire at a Walmart store in El Paso, killing 23 people and injuring 23 others.

After posting an alt-right manifesto against the immigrant community on 8chan, Crusius carried out the worst attack on Latinos in modern U.S. history.

The attacker has pleaded not guilty, but federal prosecutors have charged him with hate crimes. As reported by NPR, El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said Monday that an established family resiliency center in the shooting estimated that the massacre directly affected more than 30,000 people in the border community, where 80% of residents are of Mexican descent.

On the day of the shooting, the Walmart store was full of older people, many of whom were depositing benefit checks that had just arrived, reported Angela Kocherga of NPR KTEP’s member station. More than half  the victims were over 60.

On the anniversary of the horrific incident, the community gathered around a line of hand-painted crosses with the names of the victims, 23 white doves were released in honor of the dead, and the entire city was filled with different types of tributes, following social distancing protocols distancing established during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to ABC News, twenty-three pillars of light were shot into El Paso’s cloudy sky on Monday to commemorate the lives lost, in a memorial “visible from both sides of the border.”

“The white beams stood out against the orange glow of the border lights Sunday night as people lit paper lanterns and played music in a park in a ceremony marking a year since the attack,” the media reported. “There was a service for the families of the victims, but the gathering was closed to the public.”

On Monday, the store where the shooting took place delayed its opening until noon. Residents and store employees wearing masks placed flowers and lit candles on a memorial. The mourners held a moment of silence at 10:39 a.m. the same time as the first call to police about the shooting, according to the El Paso Times.

Some dressed as Aztec dancers and others wearing masks, walked from that monument to the site of an older man carrying 23 crosses. Fernando Garcia, whose group helped organize the march, told the newspaper it was a demonstration against racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy. After sunset, a star of light is lit once for each of the victims in the mountains that dominate the city.

A Massacre Changes Political Life in the City

Once County District Attorney Jaime Esparza decided not to seek re-election after nearly three decades in office, responsibility for prosecuting Crusius for last year’s attack has fallen to Yvonne Rosales, who in January will become the county’s first female and Latino prosecutor.

Rosales, an El Paso native and graduate of Austin High School and the University of Texas, “is inheriting one of the biggest criminal cases in the state’s history amid a pandemic that’s shut down in-person court proceedings,” media reported.

The new prosecutor opens her tenure with one of the most difficult decisions in any prosecutor’s career: whether to pursue the death penalty in the city’s biggest murder case.

Crusius faces dozens of state and federal charges, including nearly two dozen counts of statewide capital murder and 23 counts of hate crimes resulting in death.

Amid a pandemic that hospitalizes Latinos at a rate five times faster than non-Hispanic whites in the country and where recovering the economy will be a titanic battle Rosales’ decision is not easy.

After sealing her victory in the runoff election last month, Rosales said that letting the U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecute Crusius first would make financial sense for El Paso.

“From a legal perspective, it would make more sense for the federal government to try the case first,” she said, adding that the appeals process for federal cases is faster than state cases.

“If you’re going to talk economics, then it would save the county of El Paso millions of dollars to try that case,” Rosales added. She said it’s too soon to make that determination, and she plans to discuss the situation with both the state and federal judges after she takes office.

Rosales said she must also consider whether the community and especially the victims’ families should be forced to relive the tragedy twice during two separate trials.

“As we approach the one year anniversary, it’s going to be a very emotional time for these people,” she said. “Is it something that we really want to put the families through a second time?”