El Paso marks Walmart shooting anniversary amid pandemic
When Stephanie Melendez, her husband and two young daughters tested positive for the coronavirus, the person she most wanted to call was her father.
“I’m married. I have my family. He was still the one I called when I got sick and he’d bring me Gatorade,” said Melendez, 32. “So when we get this virus that’s been all over the news – oh – my dad’s not there for me to call. It just kind of hits home a little harder.”
Her father, David Johnson, was shielding his wife and granddaughter when a gunman who authorities say was targeting Latinos at a crowded Walmart in the Texas border city of El Paso fatally shot him and 22 other people. It was a shockingly violent weekend in the US, with another shooter hours later killing nine people in a popular nightlife area in Dayton, Ohio.
Events to mark the anniversary of the August 3, 2019, shooting in El Paso, a largely Hispanic city of 700,000, have taken on a new look amid the coronavirus pandemic: parks lit with lanterns that people can walk or drive through; private tours for victims’ families at a museum exhibit of items preserved from a makeshift memorial; and residents being asked to show support with online posts.
When Guillermo ‘Memo’ Garcia died in April, nine months after he was shot in the Walmart parking lot while fundraising for his daughter’s soccer team, he became the shooting’s 23rd victim. Masked mourners gathered in a hospital parking lot to mark his death.
“It shook me to remind me that we’re in the middle of a healing process that we’re now being overwhelmed by COVID,” said El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, the county’s top executive.
A service for victims’ relatives will be held Sunday in a sprawling park, allowing for social distancing. The service will be livestreamed. Afterwards members of the public can drive through the park as music plays and lanterns float on the lake.
“It’s going to be solemn, but it will also be a celebration of life,” Samaniego said.
“We can’t allow a shooter to define who we are, and we’re not going to allow a virus to define who El Paso is,” Samaniego said.
Melendez said her family will attend that ceremony and mark the anniversary with a dinner at her father’s favourite steakhouse. Melendez said that as the anniversary of the shooting approaches, she feels the support of the city.
“Even if we can’t all get together, they’re still there, there are still ways,” she said.
El Paso residents describe the friendliness of the city, which has one of the lowest crime rates in the US. Many people have roots in both the US and Mexico, frequently crossing the border. Several of those killed at the Walmart had come from Mexico to shop.