EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — A storm began to brew in the Sun City Wednesday evening, but it didn’t stop thousands of mourners from coming together to grieve at Southwest University Park and simulcast locations across El Paso.
The memorial ceremony began at 7 p.m. at the ballpark and included speeches from Governor Greg Abbott, Mayor Dee Margo, Jesus Seade, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, Governor of Chihuahua, Javier Corral, and Juarez Mayor Armando Cabada. Local religious leaders also spoke and offered prayers at the event.
Also in attendance were El Paso County Commissioner Ricardo Samaniego, acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan, along with El Paso Police Officers and Detectives who responded to the scene, made the initial arrest and conducted the post-arrest interview of the suspect in the shooting.
Officials from Fort Bliss were also in attendance at the ceremony which began with the presentation of colors and ended with music from the EPFD bagpipe band and Mariachi Alegre singing Juan Gabriel’s iconic “Amor Eterno” before dust and wind encircled the ballpark, leaving only the fall of rain behind to express the city’s deepest sorrow.
The ballpark infield glowed as 22 star-shaped luminarias were lit, in honor of the 22 victims, along with nine circle-shaped luminarias to represent those lost in Dayton, Ohio just hours after the Walmart shooting.
“We never met them in our lives but it hurts us, it feels like they were one of our own and we’re here to show our respect and show that El Paso is strong,” one woman told us.
Parking was free in downtown as mourners waited in long lines to get through security in the ballpark. The event was simulcast at locations including the Abraham Chavez Theater and Ponder Park, adjacent to the Cielo Vista Walmart.
The downtown memorial service may have been miles from the Cielo Vista Walmart, but in East El Paso, mourners gathered at Ponder Park — just a few blocks from the Walmart where the shooting happened.
Many at the park say they were personally affected by last week’s shooting.
“This is my community, Cielo Vista is where I live it was my Walmart my sams my Cielo Vista Mall,” Mary Yanez, LULAC District 4 Director explained.
Yanez is hoping that the city considers location when it comes to designing a monument to the August 3 shooting victims.
“That monument that they wanted to build should be on Ponder Park which is the closest to that memorial that the community has built,” Yanez said.
Many of those who gathered at Ponder knew the victims, as the tight-knit east El Paso community remembered them together.
“I did know one of the guys there, Tury Benavides, he used to be a bus driver there,” Francisco Armendariz said.
Then, there was former Cielo Vista Walmart employee Dolores Hernandez who was there to pay respects to a relative who was killed while helping his granddaughter fundraise for her youth soccer team.
“Luis Calvillo, he was raising money for the kids and he stopped by just to get some chicharrones and he was one of the first ones who died,” Hernandez tearfully explained.
Through the tears, through the pain, through the wind and through the rain, El Pasoans came to the park looking to heal together.
“Unfortunately life goes on but it’s going to be hurting for a long time we won’t forget them we won’t,” Hernandez said.
So many in attendance at Ponder Park say they hope to see a permanent memorial in place in their neighborhood to commemorate the lives lost and those left behind, something the City of El Paso says they’re already planning to do.
Dozens of El Pasoans who didn’t make their way into Southwest University Park came together right outside the ballpark at Cleveland Square to watch the memorial on a simulcast screen.
“It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen,” El Pasoan John Tree shared.
The community showed their solidarity by attending the city’s Community Memorial. However, they also shared their pain.
“I don’t know any of the people that were killed, hurt, but it hurts,” El Pasoan Esperanza Morales said.
Dozens sat outside of Southwest University Park and watched the memorial through a live simulcast.
“To see all of El Paso, all the people that came out both in the stadium and out here was just absolutely the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.,” Tree said.
No matter where these El Pasoans were, all said they stand strong for those affected no matter what.
“I’m pretty sure it feels good for those families. They’re not alone, we’re all mourning with them,” Hector Camacho shared.
“All these people were our loving neighbors, friends, and we just had to be here tonight. It was very important to us,” Tree added.
Gusty winds did start to pick up during the memorial, but the majority of the people at Cleveland Square park stayed until the very end.
Abraham Chavez Theater
The Abraham Chavez Theater was one of a handful of locations where the community could come together to watch the service live through a simulcast feed.
“It’s extremely important for our community to recognize this and to heal but unify tonight and remember those who were lost and say prayers for the families as well,” Holly Fields with El Paso Live explained.
Fields said crews worked overnight to bring the memorial to the community and help show people what El Paso Strong means to them.
“El Paso Strong means the community coming together in such time of tragedy but it just shows how tightly knit the El Paso community is,” Northeast El Pasoan Gisselle Gutierrez said.
“El Paso Strong means we are one country, one nation, one city that is so strong,” Luis Garcia, also from Northeast El Paso explained.
More than 35 volunteers with the American Red Cross, including grief counselors were in the area making themselves available to anyone who may want to talk to someone.
“We really do hurt. It’s a wound that you can’t even see but there is a lot of pain,” Joe Lopez from Central El Paso said.
For those who watched from the Abraham Chavez Theater, they say they wanted to come out and be there for each other.
“We will never forget. We will ever forget this tragedy,” Garcia said.