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'White supremacy, racism': Remembering the El Paso massacre that targeted Latinos

The domestic terrorist attack, the deadliest assault on Latinos in the country’s recent history, left 23 people dead and over two dozen injured.
Image: Victims Of El Paso Walmart Shooting Remembered On First Anniversary
A woman places a sign at a temporary memorial in Ponder Park honoring victims of the 2019 Walmart shooting in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 2, 2020.Mario Tama / Getty Images file

Pastor Michael Grady was in a store on a Saturday morning two years ago when he got a call from his wife. She had learned that their daughter was lying in a pool of blood in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, after having been shot three times.

When Grady arrived to see his daughter Michelle Grady, then 33, they had to lift her body outside using a shopping cart, fighting other wounded victims to get her inside an ambulance.

"I prayed for the Lord to spare her life, and he did," he said.

Authorities say that on Aug. 3, 2019, a Texas man drove 700 miles to El Paso from a Dallas suburb and opened fire with an automatic rifle, killing 23 people, including a man who died as a result of his injuries nine months later, and injuring about two dozen more. The suspect, who according to an indictment, told authorities that he targeted Latinos, had railed against immigrants and Hispanics in writing, law enforcement officials said. The attack is considered to be the deadliest against Hispanics in modern U.S. history.

Grady, who advocates for gun control legislation and immigrant border reform, stood alongside members of the nonprofit Border Network for Human Rights, or BNHR, survivors of the massacre and elected officials at one of the events Tuesday to remember those who lost their lives. They are issuing a call to action to “take a stand against white supremacy, racism and xenophobia,” as the group has said in a statement.

BNHR’s executive director, Fernando García, slammed officials in the state for not focusing on and talking about the causes of the attack.

“It was because of this anti-immigrant, white supremacist rhetoric that this individual came from Dallas to El Paso to essentially kill Mexicans,” García said.

The suspect, Patrick Crusius, remains in jail awaiting a trial date. State prosecutors have charged him with murder and are pursuing the death penalty; federal prosecutors have filed hate crime and firearm charges.

Not prepared for the ‘madness based on racism’

Grady's daughter, who underwent over 22 operations and walks with a cane, still experiences post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma. Grady said his daughter takes it one day at a time, even working on a documentary about her experience.

“Emotionally, we weren’t prepared,” Grady said. “The city was not prepared and had never dealt with this kind of madness based on racism.”

In a meeting with Latino leaders at the White House, President Joe Biden marked the somber day memorializing the victims, asking that those wounded that day also be remembered and called for addressing for mental health needs for victims and their families.

He decried the "scourge of gun violence" and "domestic terrorism", saying while he may not be able to end it he would use his power to change its hold on the country now. An opinion article by Biden and first lady Jill Biden opinion article was published in the El Paso Times.

"The most lethal terrorist threat to our homeland in recent years is domestic terrorism — domestic terrorism rooted in white supremacy. We’re going to have to stand united against this violence because it just spills over to all communities," Biden said. 

Other events Tuesday included the unveiling of the El Paso County Healing Garden along plans for the lighted star on the Franklin Mountains to flash 23 times. City Council members planned to read each victim’s name and take turns tolling the city’s memorial bell.

The League of United Latin American Citizens, the country's largest and oldest Hispanic membership organization, held a moment of silence and addressed how social media “fueled the disinformation and hate that led” to the massacre to prevent it from happening again.

García of BNHR said that when it comes to tamping down rhetoric, “not much has changed,” referring to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent hard-line policies, including an executive order that restricts the transportation of undocumented immigrants — most of whom are from Latin America — saying they can spread Covid-19.

The Justice Department has sued Texas, saying the order would severely disrupt federal immigration operations.

At the same time, Abbott has prohibited local governments and state agencies from mandating masks and vaccinations.

Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, was in attendance Tuesday to honor those impacted by the attack, emphasizing the importance in looking at what drove that day and the “threats” that continue. The congresswoman called out former President Donald Trump for allowing “hate speech that fuels violence.” She also condemned Abbott for perpetuating “domestic terrorism fueled by white nationalism.”

“There will be blood on your hands if you continue with this hateful, xenophobic, racist rhetoric and policies that put people in danger,” she said in the event’s Facebook Live. “People, like Greg Abbot, are our greatest national security threat.”

Speaking to MSNBC on Sunday, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said that as Abbott appeals to his political base by focusing on migrants, he is “putting a target on the back of brown-skinned immigrants.”

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

BNHR’s memorial event was held at Ponder Park in front of the Walmart, where flowers had previously been placed to honor the victims. It included victims' testimonials, such as one from a woman who was on her first day of work and an activist who helped those who were injured.

The memorial was a welcome change from last year, when the coronavirus pandemic — before vaccines — restricted the way families and people could get together. In-person and virtual events had been planned to grieve the massacre’s first anniversary, but victims were unable to hug and gather as communities have done in the past after mass shootings because of social distancing restrictions.

The last couple years have seemed “surreal” for Tito Anchondo after losing his brother and sister-in-law, Andre Pablo Anchondo and Jordan Anchondo, along with his father to a heart attack last February. The couple’s baby survived the attack after being shielded by its mother.

With another anniversary passing by, Tito Anchondo told USA TODAY he still feels the pain of losing loved ones.

“I actually think it gets worse over time ’cause then you start realizing the little things, like you know, having a conversation, like wanting to call up my brother or my dad,” Anchondo said. “But I can’t, like, it doesn’t even seem real. But it is real.”

Grady said Tuesday's memorial would be an opportunity to both pay tribute to the lives lost and to address the systemic issues behind the massacre, reminding people about the importance of fighting for human rights — instead of “de-escalating” the tragedy.

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