By Amy Held and Mallory Falk, KERA
Earlier this month, Margie Reckard, 63, was gunned down along with 21 others in the El Paso, Texas, masacre that authorities believe was driven by racial hatred. Two weeks later, strangers amassed by the hundreds to honor Reckard and surround her widower, Antonio Basco.
“Never had so much love in my life,” Basco said on Friday as he beheld the crowds, many who waited in triple-digit heat to attend Reckard’s memorial service and support a man they had never met.
When Reckard was killed, she left behind Basco, her partner of 22 years, who considered her his only close family. The couple had moved to El Paso a few years earlier and didn’t have many local relatives and friends.
Powerful images of a solitary Basco crouching and weeping in front of Reckard’s makeshift memorial had spread on social media.
The funeral home where Reckard’s service had been planned put out a call on Facebook on Tuesday, issuing an open invitation. “Mr. Antonio Basco was Married for 22yrs to his wife Margie Reckard, He had no other family,” the post read. “He welcomes anyone to attend his Wife’s services.”
The response was overwhelming.
Harrison Johnson, funeral director at Perches Funeral Homes, told NPR that he quickly learned attendance would exceed its 250-person capacity. So he helped make arrangements to move the service to the larger La Paz Faith Memorial and Spiritual Center in El Paso.
It was there that people from across the country descended on Friday to wrap Basco in a communal embrace.
Jordan Ballard flew in from Los Angeles for a simple reason. “His story moved me,” she told The Associated Press.
Other attendees were local, like El Paso resident Raquel Henderson. For her, the Aug. 3 mass shooting at Walmart was personal.
“It’s like somebody came in and just violated my home,” she said
As Basco made his way through the attendees, they snapped pictures, wrapped him in hugs and issued well wishes in both English and Spanish.
“I love y’all, man,” Basco said, as he received the embraces, one after another.
People rise and clap for Basco as he enters the sanctuary
Nearly two hours into the memorial service, the line of people waiting to pay their respects still stretches for several blocks.
People passed through the chapel, pausing to pay their respects, then moving along to make way for those waiting behind them.
For hours, the line stretched outside for several blocks.
“Since he opened it to the public, I think it was a way of the community to mourn the whole situation,” said Salvador Perches, owner of Perches Funeral Home, which handled Reckard’s burial for free.
When Basco entered the sanctuary, those in the pews rose and applauded. He doffed his hat and at times cried into a blue handkerchief.
When he bowed to kiss his wife’s casket, it was adorned by flower arrangements sent in from across the world.
“We lost count after 500,” Perches said.
“All I can say is that she was a really nice person,” said Estrella Duran, close friend of Reckard. “A lovely person.”
Duran said Reckard recently had surgery to treat her Parkinson’s disease and had been thrilled about the apparently successful outcome.
Reckard had children from an earlier marriage. They attended the service Friday. Her son Dean told The New York Times she was a loving mother. “She would have been overwhelmed to see all the love El Paso showed her.”
Basco said he continues to visit Reckard’s makeshift memorial when he wants to feel closer to his wife.