EL PASO — The grief following Saturday’s mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso knows no borders in this region that includes two countries and three states, Texas, New Mexico and Chihuahua. Many who call the borderland region home believe the gunman carefully chose the popular store because it was filled with Hispanic families and shoppers from Mexico.
The FBI is investigating the mass shooting in this West Texas border community that left at least 20 dead and more than two dozen others wounded as a case of domestic terrorism. Mexico’s federal government confirmed six of those killed are from that country.
Authorities have confirmed that the FBI is investigating the case as a federal hate crime.
“The key factor here is it appears to be an intent to intimidate or coerce a civilian population,” John Bash, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas, told reporters during a Sunday morning news conference. “We are treating it as a domestic terrorism case.”
Authorities arrested 21-year-old Patrick Crusius of the Dallas area in connection with the shooting. Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty in the case.
Allen, Texas, the wealthy, upper middle class Dallas suburb where the suspect is from, is about 650 miles from El Paso, or about a 10-hour drive.
Investigators are working to confirm a racist “manifesto” posted just before the massacre was written by the alleged gunman. The manifesto decries a Hispanic invasion of Texas, warns that white people are being replaced by foreigners and advocates for separating America into territories by race. The writer argued that attacking “low-security” targets was a way to “fight to reclaim my country from destruction,” the Associated Press reported.
In the manifesto, the writer says his views on race predate President Donald Trump’s campaign and any attempt to blame the president for his actions is “fake news.”
El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles, in a statement posted on Facebook, lamented that El Paso would be targeted because of its diversity.
“This Anglo man came here to kill Hispanics,” he said. “I’m outraged and you should be, too. This entire nation should be outraged. In this day and age, with all the serious issues we face, we are still confronted with people who will kill another for the sole reason of the color of their skin.”
Greg Allen, the El Paso police chief, said the gun used in the attack was purchased legally. Texas allows for open carry of firearms.
El Paso has averaged about 18 homicides a year for the past five years, according to the El Paso Times. Saturday’s mass shooting surpassed that average yearly total.
The Walmart was packed with shoppers, many of them outfitting their children with clothing and supplies for the upcoming school year when the rifle fire erupted.
“I kept thinking about the kiddos. That’s where they go shopping,” said Rocio Cordero, a Sunland Park resident who works as a counselor at an El Paso elementary school near the store attacked by the gunman.
The Walmart located near an international bridge is popular with families from Mexico.
“He supposedly said he was coming to kill Mexicans,” said Laura Figueroa.
“That he was defending people from the Latino invasion,” said her husband, Jose Figueroa, after attending Mass on Sunday in El Paso with their grandchildren.
“We are family here. There are borders that separate us into states and different countries, but we are united. This hurts all of us,” Las Cruces City Councilor Greg Z. Smith said.
He spent Sunday in El Paso along with his mother, Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, in a show of solidarity and spoke at a news conference organized by the Border Network for Rights. Papen is president pro tempore of the New Mexico state Senate.
“We need to make sure hatred does not grow in this country and is not allowed to fester any longer,” Papen said. “So our sympathy goes to Texas, to El Paso. We’re a family.”
Some, including New Mexicans, blamed the violent attack in El Paso on heated rhetoric that paints immigrants as invaders and criminals.
“Our president is spreading a lot of hate and racism,” said Eustolia Cordero, 68, a Sunland Park grandmother.
“We’re all immigrants in the end,” Cordero said.
Democratic presidential candidate and El Paso native Beto O’Rourke also pointed to Trump.
“It’s really important that the country knows that this is not us, that it took somebody from outside of El Paso coming in, bringing their hatred and perhaps reflecting the hatred and the fear espoused by this president who is trying to teach the country to be afraid of immigrants who he falsely blames for violence in our communities or disparages those who do not look like or have the same traditions of faith as the majority of this country,” O’Rourke told reporters after visiting victims in at a hospital Saturday night.
But former New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, also a native of El Paso, urged people to stop the rhetoric.
“The Political rhetoric surrounding these tragedies needs to be replaced with nothing less than unconditional love and support for those who were injured, their families — and the families who lost their loved ones,” she posted on Twitter. “Please show compassion, love and respect to your fellow Americans.”
At the vigil outside the Las Americas immigrant advocacy center, congresswoman Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, who is from El Paso, talked about the 20 funerals that “should never have happened” that would be held in the coming days.
“El Paso is one big family and when family needs each other, we are going to be there for one another,” she said.
Escobar said that in the face of tragedy, El Pasoans would “lead with love.”
Santa Teresa resident Leo Tapia, 68, said he told his relatives in Albuquerque that he did not need confirmation about why the gunman targeted the border city.
“I told them it was a white supremacist,” he said. “I think a lot of people are opening their eyes. It’s time to see, there’s definitely something wrong with this country.”
Tapia and his wife were among many New Mexicans who attended Mass just across the state line in far west El Paso on Sunday.
“The only way in and out of our street is Texas. So though we sleep in New Mexico, our daily lives are in Texas, in El Paso. We don’t distinguish. We don’t distinguish, ‘Oh you’re from New Mexico, you’re from Mexico,’ ” Yvonne Tapia said.
It’s a sentiment shared by many New Mexicans who call the region home.
Journal staff writers Elise Kaplan, Martin Salazar and Katy Barnitz contributed to this report.