EL PASO, Texas – The residents of the peaceful Texas border city of El Paso are not yet managing to get past the mass shooting that left 22 people dead, and just recalling the tragedy brings it intensively back to them as if it just happened, and many have said: “It seemed like a war.”
In fact, El Paso was among the safest communities in the United States until last Saturday morning when a young man entered a local Walmart with an AK-47 assault rifle and opened fire indiscriminately on anyone within range.
The store, one of the most popular among people in the border zone both in Mexico and in the US, was having a “back to school” sale, and at one of the entrances a group of kids were collecting funds for school activities.
When the shooting broke out, there was a stampede. Some store employees and customers threw themselves on the ground while other ran down the store aisles trying to find a place to hide or take cover.
“I thought that it was fireworks or that something had fallen, but I saw that many kids were coming – more than 10 – and I ran and ran, panic-stricken, and I cried and cried. Then there were more shots and I tried to protect them,” said Silvia Jacobo, who was decorating pastries in the store and became agitated as she retold of her experiences.
Jacobo recalled the scene of one of the kids collecting funds for school materials who was shot down to one side of the bank branch located just beside the Walmart entrance through which the shooter advanced.
“Javier Rodriguez was on my nephew’s football team, and he got hit,” said the Walmart employee, two of whose workmates were wounded in the gunfire.
Rocio Bibriescas, who was at cash register No. 8 at the time the shooting commenced, said that she ran to save her life, heard the shots behind her and thought that it sounded like a war zone inside the store.
“There was a moment where I wanted to hide, but I was so scared that I couldn’t find a place to run to. I heard the bullet impacts all around. There were a lot of them, it seemed like it was a war going on inside. It was horrible,” the woman recalled.
The cashier sadly said that several of the dead were regular customers, whom she described as friendly and honest.
“It makes me very sad that this happened, that many people died, because they were very good people. Older people and young ones,” she said.
The presumed gunman, Patrick Crusius, 21, who is under arrest and facing the death penalty if convicted of the massacre, drove almost 10 hours to El Paso from the Dallas area with the aim of killing as many Mexicans as he could to fight against the “Hispanic invasion,” according to the manifesto he posted on the Internet a few hours before his deadly rampage.
By chance, El Paso photojournalist Armando Vela was just about to enter the store when the shooting began.
“I started recording and taking photos, but then I had to leave because I couldn’t stand seeing the people who were shot,” he said, adding that his heart sinks when he merely thinks that he regularly goes to the store with his mother and the shooter “could have gotten (us).”
“Just a few minutes earlier and he could have shot me,” he said, amid tears.
At least 22 people died and another 26 were wounded in the massacre, the worst in the US since November 2017. The great majority of the victims were Hispanic, including several Mexican citizens.
So far, El Paso authorities have said that there was only one shooter, but Mayor Dee Margo said that three people had been arrested for links to the massacre, although it is not yet known precisely what the relationship between the three might be.
Crusius, a presumed “white supremacist,” was arrested a few blocks from the store, and in his Internet manifesto propounded racist ideas against Hispanics using words previously used by President Donald Trump to refer to people in that group.
During his campaign rallies, Trump called immigrants “animals” and, like the attacker, said that immigrants coming from Latin America constitutes an “invasion” of the US.