El Paso shooting victims’ families and friends fear for their own safety
As the Torres family gathered around their television in El Paso to watch reports of the shooting rampage in Gilroy, Calif., that left three dead, they worried about relatives in nearby San Jose, and felt relieved after learning they were safe.
Six days later, said Andrew Torres, 24, the next major hate-fueled attack happened “right up the street.”
Two of the freelance photographer’s relatives were killed in the shooting at the Walmart here that left 22 dead, 27 injured and one of the country’s safest cities rattled.
The attacks have left Torres, an El Paso native, deeply shaken, to the degree that he didn’t leave his house for several days.
“It’s becoming a PTSD experience every time this happens,” said the graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso. “It’s ‘will I be next?’”
As funerals have begun for victims of the Aug. 3 mass killing, some friends and relatives of the victims have acknowledged being afraid to attend services, visit the memorial that sprang up in front of the Walmart or even to leave their homes for fear of being targeted.
The suspect not only posted a racist manifesto online before the shooting, railing against a Latino “invasion” of Texas, but he also confessed to police afterward that he had targeted Mexicans, according to an arrest affidavit.
Some Latino residents now debate with friends whether being darker-skinned puts them at greater risk, whether it is safe to shop again at Walmart, if they should avoid shopping with their children, or whether to send their children back to school later this month.
“It seems like this is what it means to be an American” now, Torres said.
Torres fears copycat attacks. He has heard from friends who were near an El Paso immigrant center Wednesday where an armed man wearing latex gloves and driving a truck emblazoned with a picture of Trump as Rambo was detained by police. The man had been photographed earlier in the week attending vigils for the shooting victims. He was later released, police tweeted, because there was no evidence he had committed a crime.
Andres “Jimmy” Cervantes, who lost his uncle Arturo Benavidez, 60, in the El Paso shooting, was also concerned about the man, who was carrying a pistol.
“You do have that in the back of your head now — that that can happen,” said Cervantes, 30, who was back at work in his auto body shop last week.
Cervantes planned to attend his uncle’s funeral Tuesday at El Paso’s St. Pius X Catholic Church, which hasn’t enhanced security since the shooting. He is nervous but reassures himself that the subsequent burial will be at a cemetery at Ft. Bliss, the secure Army post in El Paso where his uncle once served.
Cervantes is also troubled by messages he’s seen on Facebook since the shooting that say, “It’s about time, El Paso,” praising and making light of the attack.
But he hasn’t responded. He said that’s the way his uncle, an affable bus driver, would have wanted it.
“I don’t think he would want hate from hate,” Cervantes said. “The violence has to stop somewhere.”
Since May, three El Paso Catholic churches have caught fire. Authorities were investigating the blazes as possible arson, although the motive remained unclear. St. Pius X’s Father Mike Lewis, who led a funeral Mass on Friday for victim Angelina Silva Englisbee, 86, said his church had already stepped up security prior to the Walmart attack because of the fires.
“We were thinking we could easily be next,” he said.
Since the shootings, some parishioners have asked him to close the church, but Lewis has refused; instead, he hosted a vigil. Now, more than ever, he told them, people need the church as a refuge. He said the attack “shouldn’t be a reason to cower.”
Still, Lewis, 42, who has one parent who is Latino and the other white, finds himself scoping out Target when he runs errands, afraid of another attack.
“We all have experienced a little loss of innocence,” he said in his church office last week as he prepared for Englisbee’s funeral.
“People are on edge,” acknowledged Yvette Lascurain, who attended the funeral Friday because she knew Englisbee’s granddaughter.
“This city is just so small — we’re all so close,” she said as she greeted fellow mourners.
Lascurain’s daughter also knew victim Andre Anchondo, 23, who died with his wife while shielding their 2-month-old son from gunfire. The baby was injured in the attack but went home with his grandparents on Thursday. The self-described “empty-nesters” plan to raise their three orphaned grandchildren.
Lascurain, a real estate agent who lives by the El Paso Country Club, said neighbors messaged her Thursday night, panicked at what sounded like gunfire. It turned out to be fireworks at the country club, she said.
Other friends told her their children were afraid to return to school, worried they might be targeted for being Latino, especially those with darker skin.
“You don’t see a lot of racism here,” she said, “so for this to happen here, a lot of people are scared.”
Lascurain fears the shooting could worsen tensions with Mexico and El Paso’s sister city, Cuidad Juarez, which she occasionally visits. She’s Latina but is worried that, with her blond hair and blue eyes, she could be mistaken for being white and be targeted herself.
“I hope this doesn’t create divisions, make them angry with us,” she said.
Two musicians performed their song outside of the Walmart where 22 were killed, continuing a long tradition of politically charged Latin folk balladry.
Sitting next to her was former El Paso Democratic Party Chairwoman Enriqueta “Queta” Fierro. She knows one of Englisbee’s sons, who attended school with her son Mark Fierro, who was also at the funeral. He said he had worked with victim Jordan Anchondo’s father and had brought the family food last week.
“We’re a community in shock,” Queta Fierro said.
She was startled when she went to have her hair done at El Paso’s largest mall on Thursday, next to the Walmart, and found the halls empty.
“People are scared,” her hairstylist said.
Fierro, 85, was upset. The shooting suspect, Patrick Crusius, 21, of Allen, Texas, is being held behind bars. He stands charged with capital murder, accused of committing a hate crime and an act of domestic terrorism. But he seems to have achieved a goal, she said: “To take that peace from us.”
“We’re going to outlive this feeling,” Fierro insisted, fighting back tears. “We’re not going to stay like this. We’re going to take care of everyone that died, everyone that needs to heal. We will survive.”
Torres, the photographer, was mourning the loss of his father’s cousin and her spouse in the shooting. Maribel Hernandez Campos, 56, was killed along with husband Leonard Cipeda Campos, 41. Torres, whose late mother was white, said he was relieved to see white officials, including the local sheriff, denounce the shooter as a white nationalist. But he also said whites needed to do some soul-searching.
“It’s something the white community has been in denial about for some time: that there are people in their communities who have been radicalized,” he said. “But as someone who is half Mexican, I don’t have that option. We don’t have the luxury of just going home.”
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