By Diana Nguyen
On Saturday in the border city of El Paso, a violent rampage at a Walmart became one of the deadliest in Texas history, leaving 22 dead and dozens more injured.
The incident was too close to home for many who spend time in what residents call the safe, family-oriented Cielo Vista neighborhood.
On Sunday morning, some 70 parishioners came to worship at Immanuel Baptist — one of the churches closest to the site of Saturday’s deadly mass shooting.
Julianna De Leon lead the worship service, and has been part of the congregation for years. Like the thousands of shoppers who were at this Walmart on Saturday morning, she was a regular at the store.
“I think the thing that was most terrifying for me was that, I mean, that’s my Walmart. That’s the Walmart we shop at,” she said. “We were there three times this past week. So, it was pretty scary.”
She came to her church on Sunday to find a way to cope, and to help lead the congregation in praying for the victims and their families.
“As a Christian, I feel like now is the time to be a message of hope and a message that there is somebody who can carry the burden and comfort the ones that desperately need to be comforted and that’s Jesus,” she said.
Many at the church spoke of near misses that loved ones had with the shooter — like a cousin who was on her way to the store when the attack broke out, and a mother intercepted by a lunch date. The man who delivered the sermon, Phil Topper, also had a story of his own.
“One of the things that gets me through times like these, that we’re going through as a city right now, is I try to focus on the eternal. Because it helps me deal with the pain that I know some people are experiencing,” he said. “And except by the grace of God, I would be doing that very same thing because our daughter was approximately within 15 feet of the shooter, and for whatever reason, he did not shoot her.”
For Mickey Mancill, who grew up in the neighborhood and has been attending the church for several decades, the tragedy tainted a place that was once a big part of his life.
He said on his way to church he drove by his old school, MacArthur Elementary-Intermediate, which is being used as a reunification site for loved ones.
“It hurt to see my elementary school that was always such a place of innocence… to see it have to be used for something like that. It’s very disturbing,” he said.
Mancill added the shooting reminded him of how fragile life is.
“Just like I told my son this morning, ‘Don’t ever leave. I love you,’ because you never know. It’s like these people in that Walmart, they were out buying school supplies to start school next week. You never know what’s coming at you. So, don’t leave anything unsaid and be aware of what’s going on around you,” he said.
There are several vigils being held throughout El Paso for victims, including one at Immanuel Baptist on Monday night. All are welcome.