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New Mexicans offer support to El Paso after shooting

Carlos Flores, foreground, donates blood at United Blood Services blood bank in El Paso on Saturday. New Mexicans as well as El Pasoans have lined up at local blood banks to donate blood to victims of Saturday’s mass shooting. “We need to pull together and help people in need,” Flores said. Also giving blood in background is Sharon Uribe, also of El Paso. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There was a quick outpouring of support in the region after the El Paso mass shooting, with hundreds of people lining up to donate blood, New Mexicans among them.

“I was born in El Paso but I have lived in New Mexico all my life,” said Janet Aguirre, a resident of Sunland Park, which is just across the state line from El Paso.

While waiting to donate, 25-year-old Aguirre left to buy ice to keep water cold for those standing in line outside in the heat Saturday. A mother of two, she said she, like many New Mexicans, frequently shops at the popular mall that was the site of the shooting.

The Associated Press reported the Saturday morning attack killed 20 people and left more than two dozen injured. Authorities arrested a 21-year-old man in connection with the shooting. Two officials identified the gunman as Patrick Crusius of the Dallas area.

Most of the victims were shot at a Walmart near the Cielo Vista Mall, El Paso Police Sgt. Robert Gomez said at a news conference. He said the store was packed with as many as 3,000 people during the busy back-to-school shopping season.

Aguirre said she knows the place well. “That’s where I spend my weekend, me and my husband. We go to Walmart. We go to Cielo Vista. That’s where we go, especially for back-to-school shopping for the kids now, shoes, clothes,” she said.

“It’s bad,” Aguirre said of Saturday’s attack.

In Las Cruces, hundreds of residents donated blood for the shooting victims.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reported on Saturday that a blood drive being held at Mesilla Valley Mall to support Battle of the Badges, an event supporting law enforcement agencies in both El Paso and Las Cruces, received more people than expected after the El Paso Police Department urged residents in both cities to donate blood for gunshot victims.

Monique Hilverding, a senior donor recruitment representative, told the Sun-News a coinciding blood drive was in session at Cielo Vista Mall when the attack happened.

Laura Brownfield of Las Cruces said she was on her way to El Paso to go shopping when she had to turn around and go home, then decided to head to the mall.

“I came to donate blood,” she told the Sun-News. “It’s sad, but it’s to save a life.”

Hannah Guganich said she felt devastated when she heard the news of the shooting.

“I just wanted to help. I have friends there and they’re all OK,” the Las Cruces resident said to the Sun-News.”It could happen here and it can happen anywhere. You have to do what you can, when you can, to help people in need.”

In Albuquerque, police are stepping up patrols at shopping malls and some department stores in response to the shooting.

Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for the Albuquerque Police Department, said more officers were assigned to Downtown Summerfest at Civic Plaza on Saturday night and will boost their presence around shopping malls and department stores such as Walmart for the remainder of the back-to-school shopping weekend.

“We want to reassure the public – Albuquerque residents and neighbors from throughout the state – who are taking advantage of the tax-free holiday to shop for back-to-school items,” Mayor Tim Keller said in a statement. “We also want everyone to feel safe and enjoy Summerfest. Nobody should have to worry about becoming victims of senseless gun violence.”

Gallegos said Police Chief Michael Geier authorized the additional officers after news broke about the shooting.

“APD is thinking about our neighbors and family in El Paso,” Geier said. “As we offer support to them during this tragedy, we are mindful that we have a job to do in Albuquerque, and that is to do everything in our power to keep people safe.”