It was a busy, hot, Saturday morning when word started to spread about what was happening at Walmart. El Pasoans throughout the city were just starting their day or running errands.

“As I made my way to the automatic doors of the Sergio Troncoso Library to begin my shift, I noticed a woman on her cell phone crying. Oddly enough, there were multiple people outside on their cell phones looking frantic. I rushed inside to clock in, and that is when all the cell phones in the library began chirping the Emergency Alert noise, “Active Shooter near Cielo Vista area.” I was in disbelief. My coworkers and I stared at each other in disbelief, then we immediately began calling our loved ones to make sure everyone stayed away from that area. We closed the library early, following administrative directives. I waited underneath a nearby tree for almost half an hour as I contacted my loved ones. I remember staring at the grass, catching sight of the train passing by, and I thought of the horror taking place so close by. Suddenly, tears began trickling down my face.”

Matthew Durán, 25

“I was cleaning the kitchen when cell phones in my house started blaring the emergency alert. My daughter checked her phone first and ran to me, saying there was an active shooter situation. I live in the Vista del Sol area, but I consider the Cielo Vista area to be part of my neighborhood. I turned on the TV for more information, but there was none to be found. So I looked on Twitter and found several posts with more information. My heart dropped. My daughter and I ran to the back yard to tell my husband. He was doing yard work. I told my husband to come inside and lock all the doors and windows because there had been no news yet of the culprit or culprits being captured or on the loose. My thoughts immediately went to my mom and dad who may very well have been out shopping. I was scared. We could hear the helicopters in the distance. I made calls and sent text messages to everyone in my family who I thought might be out shopping in the area.”

Noemi Herrera Rojas, 45

“I was at Bridal Novias trying on wedding dresses when the woman helping my friend Lola and I informed us that her sales associate had just returned from Walmart (across the freeway from Bridal Novias) crying because there was a shooting at the store. When we left the store to go to David’s Bridal we were alarmed by the number of emergency vehicles we were seeing. Not putting the two together we continued to David’s Bridal. I was in the wedding dress I would eventually choose when the salesperson helping me informed me that I had to put my clothes back on because the store was going on lock down. At that time EPPD had suspected that there were several shooters targeting several locations and one of them was the Costco across the parking lot from where we were. We sat in the back of the store for about an hour before we were released. When I drove home all the streets were empty.”

Zoe Gemoets, 25

“The day of the attack I got a text from my cousin saying she and her daughters had been inside, but they were now safe. That night I babysat my nieces as we had originally planned. I had my younger niece, about 4 years old, in my arms as I watched the news. She mostly speaks Spanish but the word Walmart is the same in both, so she knew what was being talked about. She told me how she heard the loud sounds and she was scared, but she just ran with her mom. She told me how her mom hid her and her sister in a bathroom, and they were terrified. When I asked if she was still scared she didn’t answer, just playing with a button on my shirt. She fell asleep in my arms a few seconds later.”

Julio-Cesar Chavez, 25
YouTube video
Video by Michaela Román. Photos by Michaela Román, Corrie Boudreaux and Claudia Tristán.

After the weight of the news started to sink in, some did not want to go near Walmart.

“For a good while I avoided Walmart and when I finally started going again, I would just rush in and out of the store. Always being aware of my surroundings and finding an escape route — literally everywhere I went. Now I don’t really rush when at Walmart but I do try and locate exits still. The Cielo Vista Walmart is one that I probably won’t be able to go to again. It brings back the memory of that day, even driving by I still look away.”

Javier Medina, 25

“I became more paranoid when out in public spaces. Every time I am out I assess the area for possible getaway routes in case something was to ever happen again.”

Victoria Causey, 25
Tony Basco, the widower of Margie Reckard, who was killed in the mass shooting, visits the spontaneous memorial near Walmart on Aug. 21, 2019. Many El Pasoaons wore wristbands with messages such as “El Paso Strong” and “Life After Hate” as visual reminders of their grief and solidarity with victims. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters).

In the following days, El Pasoans went to vigils, memorials and other gatherings to express their grief. Others mourned for their home town from afar.

“It was difficult being in Alabama when it went down. Seeing everyone around me just continue with their lives when a part of my soul had been attacked by a white supremacist. I ended up getting fired from my job three days later, I wasn’t sleeping and had fallen asleep at work.”

Rowan Last, 29

“We went to a number of the memorial events in the days after; I remember most clearly a silent march down Yandell, a rally against hate at Ascarate the day Trump came to town and how you couldn’t even park because so many people had come out in the middle of the day and volunteers were handing out water to people roasting in the heat; but people wanted to be there to send a message. As a family we grieved the shock of it internally, I think; but one moment that really stood out to me was standing in line on Montana outside Proper Print Shop to get “El Paso Strong” shirts for my kids and to contribute to the victims fund. It was really people from all over, all walks of life, and kind of an impromptu memorial itself as people talked it through with each other.”

Patrick Dillon, 43

This tragedy has made El Pasoans reflect on the role of racism in our community.

“The heartwarming thing that showed me was that El Paso can come together faster than anything else. When we have a shared problem, we will always find solace together and leave all of our differences behind. The negative side that showed me is that as a whole we still have a colonized mentality and there is a lot of work to be done to change that. The past year has been as tough as it can be for anyone who lives here, but I am still grieving and just recently realized that I will probably always be. I was not born and raised in El Paso, I moved here six years ago for college but while living here I experienced feeling like home for the first time. Whenever I travel I say that I am from El Paso because I feel like I am. Because the city has embraced me and I embrace it back. To know that not even here I can escape from white supremacy has been utterly depressing.”

Jorge Camargo, 23

“When I told my mother-in-law about it, I explained to her that it certainly had not been anyone from El Paso. I bet there can be racist, extremist people around here, but they tend to keep it down because this is an oasis of respect.”

Miguel Royo-Leon, 39

Cover photo: A detail of a mural on the side of Hybrid Fitness on Missouri Avenue emphasizes the unity of the border region, especially after the mass shooting in Walmart last year. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Michaela Román helps El Paso Matters with audience development and community engagement. She is a born and raised El Pasoan, with a background in photojournalism, and is currently working on an M.A. in...