EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – There was a nervous energy in the air as parents and their young girls trickled into the Far East El Paso Pizza Hut Thursday evening. It was the first time the EP Fusion soccer club had met as a team since Saturday’s mass shooting.
“I kept asking them when I saw them right now, ‘How are they doing? we’re here for you, we’re in this together.'” girls’ coach Benny McGuire told KTSM during the exclusive pizza party invitation.
The “Under 12” girls’ youth soccer team comprised of 20 girls ranging in age from 10 to 11, were doing what so many other youth sports teams do on an average weekend in El Paso. They were raising funds outside the Cielo Vista Walmart for their fall season when gunshots rang out.
As people scattered in the chaos, five parents of girls on the team were shot. Four of them had to be hospitalized. Maribel Latin and Jessica Garcia, have been released. Jessica’s husband, Memo Garcia, is still in ICU at University Medical Center. Another coach, Luis, was also shot. His father, Jorge Calvillo Garcia, was killed.
“It was chaos. It was hell on earth for us. Everything was slow when it first started and sped up. It wasn’t anything I would like to keep remembering, but we have to,” said McGuire.
The girls all attend different schools in both Socorro and Ysleta School districts. While speaking with some of the girls who go to school at Socorro ISD campuses, they told us they were glad to be back at school. They say they enjoy the comfort of friends.
The friends they needed most though, was their team.
Giggles echoed through the Pizza Hut, smiles lit up the room. The girls chanted for their coaches and they made one thing clear: they wanted to play. It became apparent that the girls were the ones who would teach the adults how to move forward. They were the ones showing their parents how to be resilient in the face of unthinkable terror.
Soccer Community Unites
As soon as he heard about the EP Fusion, El Paso Locomotive player Sebastian Velasquez began organizing a fundraiser to make sure the girls won’t have to fundraise this season. They won’t have to fundraise for several seasons if Velasquez has his way.
“Soccer is made up of different cultures, ethnicities. Everyone around the world plays soccer and I think it shows while we do this fundraiser for them that people from all over want to donate and that’s what soccer is about. It’s sports that bring people together,” Velasquez said.
Velasquez, along with Locomotive FC players Omar Salgado and Guillermo Diaz made a surprise stop to visit the girls on Thursday during their pizza party. Judging by the screams, you would have thought One Direction had walked into the room.
“Sign my shoe! Sign my jersey,” the girls exclaimed.
The smiles through the room were contagious. They spread like a healing blanket over their worried parents who wondered if anything would ever be the same again. It would. It will.
Velasquez stood in awe. A grin spread ear to ear. He was just as inspired as everyone in the room.
“I’ve never had anyone this excited to see me,” Salgado told KTSM.
The group of Locomotive FC players has worked to raise money through a GoFundMe account. Velasquez says their current goal is $30,000.
Locomotive FC goalie Logan Ketterer was able to secure goalie equipment for the team through his sponsorship with WestCoast GK.
“I’ve been blessed to work with @WestCoastGK for a few years now. Phenomenal people across the board and we are very happy to be able to help out these young ladies. Goalkeepers are generally alone on the field but the #GKunion is one huge family!” Ketterer tweeted Friday night.
The girls were surprised again when Vasquez, Salgado, and Diaz invited them to be special guests at next Saturday’s match with the Seattle Sounders FC at Southwest University Park. As part of their invitation, the girls will be honored at halftime and receive a special gift from the team.
“Well, we did all that work for nothing,” one parent told us. As it turns out, the team was planning a pool party for next Saturday. The girls made it very clear they wanted to be with the Locomotive FC team — they wanted to be part of their soccer community.
On Friday, the girls played their first game since Saturday’s shooting underneath the blue and pink ribbons of another beautiful El Paso sunset.
Angels in their Midst
Jessica Garcia was overjoyed to see the girls together. Garcia, whose husband Memo is still hospitalized, made a trip to the Pizza Hut with her daughter who plays on the team. The girls took their turns, one by one to hug her and tell her they loved her.
Then a boy reached Garcia’s wheelchair. Applause erupted in the room. Noah Nunez, an older brother to one of the girls on the team was at the Walmart helping the girls when the shots rang out.
In the chaos, Jessica Garcia’s son, Memo Jr., was frozen in fear and unsure what to do or where to go. Nunez ran back out into the gunfire and toward the 6-year-old, swept him up in his arms and carried him through a back entrance at Walmart.
“You’re my angel. You’re one of my angels,” Jessica told him.
Nunez, a quiet and humble teenager, wanted no recognition. He doesn’t want the spotlight and doesn’t feel like a hero. He just did what he needed to do, he said.
Jessica Garcia told KTSM the training the kids got in school during their active shooter drills helped them know what to do. She said many of them were leading the way based solely on the training they’d received, whereas their parents never had to do active shooter drills in school.
One angel Jessica Garcia hasn’t been able to reach yet is the man who drove her to University Medical Center. She’s asked KTSM to help find him. She says she never got his name, but he drove a black car that was parked in the Sam’s parking lot. He had two young children with him and spoke only Spanish. She told us that he followed the ambulance transporting her husband, Memo, to UMC and she hasn’t seen him since.
If you know who Jessica Garcia’s mystery angel is, please contact Andra Litton at firstname.lastname@example.org who will connect you with the Garcia family.