Odessans Try To Make Sense Of Violence In An Otherwise Friendly City

By Camille Phillips, Texas Public Radio

A line of white crosses dot an empty lot on an otherwise busy road in south Odessa. Since they went up on Tuesday, somber groups of visitors trickled in. They quietly left flowers, balloons, and wrote words of encouragement on the crosses in permanent marker.  

Eddie Pesquale visited a memorial of victims in Odessa. (Camille Phillips / Texas Public Radio)

A man in a blue cotton work shirt moves slowly from cross to cross, lays his hands on each one.

“This…it should not be,” 61-year-old Eddie Pesquale said. “It should not be anywhere, not just here,” he said.

This is the fourth mass shooting in Texas in less than two years. In fact, these crosses were built by the same person who created similar memorials after the shootings in Sutherland Springs, Santa Fe and — just a month ago — in El Paso.

Pesquale is a grandfather, and said divided opinions about guns and gun control stifles real conversations.

“I’m not going to say it’s a gun problem. I’m not going to say it’s a mentally ill problem. I’m going to say it’s a bunch of problems that are tied up into one,” he said.

Like many in the oil-rich Permian Basin, Pesquale moved to West Texas to work in the oilfields. The California native says that was 35 years ago, and he fell in love with the place.

“I could not believe you could find Utopia in the desert,” he said adding that Odessa is a welcoming, family-oriented town.

He’ll never forget the first time a stranger waved at him in the store.

More than a quarter-million people call the region home — about 120,000 live in Odessa. Pesquale said the shootings have left him searching for answers.

Lisset Tercero is asking the same questions.

She came to see the crosses with her 2-year-old daughter and her mother. Tercero says she was on 42nd Street in Odessa when the gunman started shooting at a car dealership there.

“I just saw a girl giving CPR to somebody on the floor. I couldn’t tell if it was a guy or a girl,” she said. “But just seeing that, seeing blood. It was just something I had never seen in my life.”

Tercero said she’s always felt safe in Odessa — the type of place where everyone knows when the high school football team’s playing.

But now, she’s scared. On Monday, she was in a store and feared a man in jogging pants could be carrying a gun.

She left without buying anything. Whenever they’ve left the house lately, Tercero said, she’s found herself praying a Spanish prayer, asking for an army of angels to watch over her daughter.

“Now, I leave the day care. I go to the street. I leave my car. I get in my car. I leave my house — and I’m always saying, ‘Diosito pone un ejercito de angeles para que nos cuidan,’” she said. “I don’t know. It’s just really scary now.”

Chernique Pinckard, though, felt drawn from her house to the memorial. She and her husband recently moved to Odessa for work in the oil industry.

“It’s really sad that tragedy typically brings people close together,” she said. “But that’s the feel I have right now with home being attacked — is just wanting to band together with the community.”

But, for at least awhile, she said there will still be a heavy cloud over the city.

Mitch Borden of Marfa Public Radio contributed to this story.

Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@TPR.org and on Twitter at @cmpcamille.

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