A community, united on both sides of the border, is shocked by the hatred that spurred a mass shooting event

I know this kind of thing happened in other places, but it could not happen in El Paso because everyone here is very caring. It was shocking to me and the rest, said Kevin Guerrero, 24, a hospital emergency room team leader standing at the improvised memorial for the victims of the El Paso shooting.

The shooting at a Walmart that killed 22 has shocked a town known for its friendliness and concern for others.

What happened is unprecedented, said Eliot Shapleigh, 66, a lawyer and former state senator. Its a tragedy of historic proportions. Were a town of love and peace.

Shapleigh, whose ancestors arrived in the border region in the mid-1840s, is a fifth-generation El Pasoan. He said El Pasos family ties run strong, on both sides of the border, and its a place where three generations of a family can still sit down together for dinner.

His Kern Place neighborhood is by a park that overlooks El Paso and Jurez, and from that vantage, most people cant tell where one city begins and the other ends. We are a united community separated by a river (the Rio Grande) and an international border, he said.

El Pasoans found it astonishing that it took someone from the outside to come here and carry out the unimaginable. A 21-year-old man from the Dallas area armed with a AK-47-type rifle entered a Walmart and began shooting. Twenty-two people, ranging in age from 15 to 90, died from the gunfire and 26 others were injured.

A woman cries as she visits a makeshift memorial at the scene of a mass shooting in El Paso. Photograph: John Locher/AP

A racist diatribe that officials said the suspect allegedly posted on 8chan less than half an hour before the attack described a contempt for immigrants and concern over a supposed Hispanic invasion of the United States.

Adair Margo, the wife of El Paso mayor Dee Margo, is a friend of former first lady Laura Bush, and is the president of the Femap Foundation, which works to tackle economic and public health concerns on the border. Her family traces its history in El Paso to the turn of the 20th century.

This kind of hate is alien to El Paso, said Adair Margo, who recently launched new guided tours from El Paso to Jurez that have become hugely popular. She also has an encyclopedic knowledge of the border regions centuries-old history and culture. We are seen like a second Ellis Island. We have an openness that permeates our community.

The latest census figures indicate that the city has 680,000 residents, and the entire El Paso county has 840,758 people. El Paso is 83% Hispanic.

Besides being rated for years as the safest city of its size in the nation, El Paso has a strong local and federal law enforcement presence; it is also home to Fort Bliss military base, and about 48,000 military veterans live in El Paso.

Shaleigh and Margo said El Pasos border character is what makes living here so enriching for everyone. Spanglish a spoken mix of English and Spanish is common. The city is proud of its symphony and opera companies, and mariachi music is also always in demand.

Lily Limn, 68, a former El Paso city council member, said cross-border ties are inevitable. Her husband is from Jurez and both have friends with families on both sides of the border.

People routinely cross the border for work, business, to attend schools, to shop and to visit relatives.

At first I thought word about the attack was not even true, Limn said. I am still angry. This man came here to shoot us down. It had to come from the outside. I cant imagine anyone from here doing such a thing.

Limn joined hundreds of El Pasoans who gathered at an interfaith vigil that was put together hours after the attack.

The outpouring of support: from blood donors who stood in line for hours in 100-plus temperatures to give blood for the victims, to offers of free funeral services, mental therapy to cope with the grief, cash donations and more, Limn said, are examples of how readily El Pasoans respond to a community emergency.

Following the 3 August attack, El Pasoans quickly adopted a motto to reflect their resilience: El Paso Strong. T-shirts with the motto went on sale to help raise funds for the victims.

It was not the first time the people pulled together to help others. People here have lived through and survived the Spanish conquest, the civil war, the Great Depression, previous immigration controversies, economic aftershocks from Mexicos currency fluctuations, the 2008 recession and more.

Limn was among those protesters waving signs to let Donald Trump know that they did not like his rhetoric that demeans Hispanics. Trump visited El Paso to meet with wounded victims at a hospital and to greet law enforcement and other emergency service workers. Limn said she hopes Walmart shuts down the store where the attack occurred and builds a memorial for the victims on the site. I dont think I would want to shop there again, she said.

Because of its proximity to the toll-free International Bridge of the Americas, this Walmart is frequently patronized by customers from Jurez and other parts of Mexico. On any day, it is filled with families, and on the day of the fatal shootings, many people arrived to buy school supplies for their children.

It was estimated that as many as 3,000 people could have been in Walmart when the shooter entered. The store had no armed security. Later, Walmart officials confirmed that, as a matter of policy, no security guards were stationed at the store, which also happens to sell firearms.

People join hands and pray during a vigil in El Paso, a day after the shooting at a Walmart store. Photograph: Mark Lambie/AP

When we go to the funerals, its going to be very hard, Margo said. These are my people, my El Pasoans, my Juarenses. All this has motivated me to want to do even more in all the areas in which Im involved.

Janeth Chacon, member of a pioneering family of Juarez, said she moved to El Paso to get away from the drug-cartel violence that assails her hometown. Her family founded the Martino restaurant on Jurez Avenue. Now, she said, she has to contend with the possibility that she and other Hispanics could become targets in the future.

Chacon and her son, Christian Favela, 15, had pulled over with their car to look closely at a mural that portrayed mistreatment of migrants. The mural in central El Paso was painted on a wall of Las Americas Immigrant and Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization that helps migrants who are seeking asylum.

I wanted my son to see this because I want him to learn to be sensitive to the needs of others, Chacon said. The shooter did what he did, perhaps, because no one showed him that all people have value.

Chacon said she used her Facebook page to help circulate a picture of someone who was suspected of being in the Walmart on the day of the shooting and was missing. It turned out that it was 15-year-old Javier Rodriguez, who was killed.

Eight of the slain victims were Mexican citizens, including a Jurez educator, according to Mexican officials. The rest were US citizens and a man identified as German.

Shapleigh said he is certain El Paso will recover from this painful blow.

We need to grieve, reach out and hug our neighbor, and bury the dead, Shapleigh said. We need to console the victims. Then, we need to see to it that justice is done.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us


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