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Emotions run high as Walmart reopens in El Paso

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

EL PASO – The parking lot was full and emotions were raw as the El Paso Walmart that was the site of a mass shooting in August reopened Thursday morning.

Some of the first shoppers had tears in their eyes as they entered the store where Walmart employees standing near a Christmas tree greeted them with cheers and applause.

“When I walked in, it was emotional,” said Karina Carmona, 49, who was shopping for Thanksgiving dinner for her large extended family. She had a couple of 22-pound turkeys in her cart.

“We need to move forward,” Carmona said. “We need to all be together and stay strong.”

Maggie Diaz wanted to be among the first shoppers to return to the Walmart in her neighborhood, to overcome the sadness she has felt since the Aug. 3 shooting. The 69-year-old said she was on the way to do some shopping at the store the morning of the attack when she got a call from her daughter to stay away as news spread that a gunman had killed multiple people.

“We have to keep them in our hearts,” Diaz said tearfully.

The store has been closed since it became a massive crime scene after 22 people died in a hail of bullets.

The alleged gunman, Patrick Crusius, drove about 700 miles from the Dallas area to the store near the Mexico border. Police say Crusius told them he had targeted Mexicans, and a manifesto law enforcement officials believe he posted online says he wanted to “stop the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

Crusius has pleaded not guilty to charges related to the shooting.

The parking lot reflected the location of the popular Walmart near the border just off Interstate 10 with license plates from Texas, New Mexico, Chihuahua, Mexico, and a smattering of other states. The store is one of the most successful in the country, according to a company spokeswoman.

Known fondly as “the Mexican Walmart,” due to its proximity to an international bridge, several families in the store on the day it reopened had crossed the border from Mexico to shop.

“We were a little afraid,” Jessica Gurrola, a 22-year-old shopper from Ciudad Juárez, said about returning to the store. She was at Walmart with her mother and sister. Cristina Gurrola said, “We’re shopping for Christmas gifts for the kids.”

The Gurrola sisters in unison said the warm welcome at the entrance to the store was “very beautiful” as they filled their cart with Christmas decorations.

Many returned to the store because of the employees.

“We have to support El Paso and move forward, because we’re a community with a big heart. There are lots of people who depend on us coming to shop,” said Maria Sombra, 55, as she walked toward the store entrance with her daughter. “Truthfully, my legs are shaking a little as I go in.”

Jasmine Amador, 23, agreed with her mother that it was time to face their fears.

“I’m nervous of being here, but, like she said, we need to lose that fear,” Amador said.

Employees at the entrance smiled and handed out black El Paso Strong bracelets to each shopper. Others helped guide people through the newly renovated store, since the layout was completely changed.

Employees overwhelmingly wanted the store to reopen after the attack, according to company officials.

Walmart is building a memorial to the shooting victims. The 30-foot-tall candle, or “Grand Candela,” will serve as “a testament to the light of hope that radiates from the El Paso community,” Todd Peterson, Walmart vice president and regional general manager, said when the company announced the memorial and the store reopening a few weeks ago.

A spokeswoman for the company present at reopening said the memorial outside the store may be finished as early as next week.