At El Paso Memorial, Community Honors Lives Lost And Takes First Steps To Heal

By Mallory Falk, KERA

Wednesday night, thousands of El Pasoans streamed into Southwest University Park, for a community memorial to honor the 22 victims of the mass shooting that took place just over a week ago, on Aug. 3.

A moment of prayer during Wednesday night’s community memorial service at Southwest University Park in El Paso, Texas.(JONATHAN LEVINSON / OPB)

Upon entering the city’s minor league baseball stadium, visitors were greeted by a group of therapy dogs who traveled from Nebraska to provide comfort.

Christina Acuña, 14, raced over to the dogs.

It’s been a rough week and a half for the Acuña family. Christina’s great aunt was working at the Walmart when the gunman opened fire. She escaped. Christina’s mom, Linda, says the family’s doing everything they can to support her.

“She still doesn’t want to go out very much,” Linda said. “We’ve been trying to take her to church and take her out to places but she’s very jumpy.”

“Traumatized,” added Christina.

Linda says she brought her daughters to the memorial service to show they can keep going, in the midst of tragedy.

For many, like Christina and Linda, the service was not only a space to mourn those they had lost but a first tentative step toward healing.

A visitor to the community memorial service Wednesday, Aug. 14, greets a therapy dog at the entrance to Southwest University Park stadium. The dogs were brought in to provide comfort to community members during the event. (JONATHAN LEVINSON / OPB)

El Paso mayor Dee Margo was among the community leaders who addressed the stadium Wednesday night.

“We are a distinctive multi-generational culture,” said Margo. “We stand at the intersection of three states and two countries. We are over 2.7 million strong. We will not be dismissed, denigrated or defined by evil.”

Other local leaders took the stage, as did Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who said he’s launching a Domestic Terrorism Task Force in response to the hateful attacks.

But it was the officials from Mexico, Like Jesus Seade, Mexico’s foreign affairs undersecretary for North America, who received standing ovations from the crowd.

“The terrible consequences of all forms of anti-Mexican, anti-Hispanic rhetoric should now be clear,” said Seade, “as well as the need to counter them at all levels and by all means.”

And Javier Corral, the Governor of Chihuahua, said it’s time to demand an end to racist, anti-immigrant narratives.

“We understand clearly that the person who perpetrated this atrocious crime,” said Corral, addressing the crowd in Spanish, “and that the person who, from various platforms, insists on hurling a discourse of division does not represent the U.S. nor North American society, much less our neighbors of El Paso, Texas.”

Corral described El Paso and Juarez as a binational community with strong bonds of cooperation.

We don’t just share commerce and industries, or Walmart purchases, he said. We also share culture, music, food and in particular languages and families.

Attendees listen to the invocation at the community memorial Wednesday night for the 22 people killed in a mass shooting on Aug. 3, 2019. (JONATHAN LEVINSON / OPB)

Throughout the service, 31 luminarias lit up the baseball field: 22 in the shape of stars, to honor those killed here. And 9 circle-shaped luminarias, for the victims of the mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, that occurred just hours after the one in El Paso.

Yvonne Bordon came with a friend and fellow teacher. She says seeing those illuminated stars, “[t]hat really touched my heart, and I don’t want to start crying but it’s really, it hit home.”

The weight of the tragedy fully sunk in for the first time, she says, at the service.

Near the end, a chaplain read the names of the victims.

The crowd raised up their cell phones, to cast a light across the stadium.

People raise their phone lights in the air while the names of the 22 victims of a recent mass shooting are read aloud during Wednesday night’s memorial service. (JONATHAN LEVINSON / OPB)

A mariachi performance of Juan Gabriel’s “Amor Eterno,” a Mexican ballad traditionally played at funerals, closed the memorial.

In the days since the massacre, it’s been performed at vigils throughout El Paso.

A fierce wind blew as the mariachi band played and the sound system in the stadium shut off. But the musicians kept going, determined to pay tribute.

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