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“Pillar Of Support”: El Paso Families Remember Loved Ones As White Nationalist Shooter Is Sentenced To Life Imprisonment

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The white nationalist who murdered 23 people and injured 22 others at an El Paso Walmart in August 2019 was last week sentenced to 90 consecutive life sentences, after pleading guilty to 90 federal hate crimes and firearms violations earlier this year. The mass shooter had driven 700 miles to target the peaceful community of El Paso, and just minutes before the killings posted a racist screed complaining about immigration and a so-called “Hispanic invasion” of Texas. 

But, of course, there is no “invasion.” This is a white nationalist lie. And a dangerous one. The people he targeted that day were ordinary people from both sides of the border. Their names were Andre Anchondo, Jordan Anchondo, Arturo Benavides, Jorge Calvillo García, Guillermo Garcia, Leonardo Campos, Angelina Englisbee, Maria Flores, Raul Flores, Adolfo Cerros Hernández, Alexander Hoffmann, David Johnson, Luis Alfonso Juarez, María Legarreta Rothe, Maribel Loya Hernandez, Ivan Filiberto Manzano, Gloria Irma Márquez, Elsa Mendoza Márquez, Margie Reckard, Sara Regalado Monreal, Javier Amir Rodriguez, Teresa Sanchez, and Juan Velásquez.

Mr. Juarez, 90, was the eldest victim. He worked for many years as an iron worker and was a naturalized U.S. citizen. “When people mistreated him, he always understood and felt that everyone is going through something so we need to be nice to each other,” his loved ones said following his death. The youngest victim was just 15. Javier Rodriguez would’ve graduated from high school this past June. Instead, a seat was left empty “with Javier’s cap and gown draped over it,” KTSM reported. “It’s something that was taken away from us and it hurts, it really hurts,” his dad, Francisco Javier Rodriguez, told the outlet. 

Some survivors and loved ones bravely stood up to give statements during court hearings last week. Rodriguez was among them. The Texas Tribune reports that the dad demanded the gunman look at a displayed photo of his son. He at first refused. Rodriguez pressed the gunman again until he finally relented. “You drove eight hours to commit your hate crime, without thinking of the damage you’d cause,” Rodriguez said.

“Adriana Manzano, the wife of 41-year-old Ivan Filiberto Manzano, who died in the shooting, addressed the gunman in Spanish, telling him that he took away her children’s’ ‘hero, prince’ and ‘their pillar of support,” The Texas Tribune reported. “She added that she hopes her children won’t grow up with hatred toward the gunman so they’re able to move on with their lives.”

“Their dad and the kids are proud to be Mexican,” Manzano said in the report. “And as a wife and mother to them, I am proud to have been part of this Mexican family.” 

Somber reactions to the sentencing came in from both local and national voices, who recognized that while no ruling can bring back the 23 people senselessly robbed of their lives by white nationalist extremism, the week’s proceedings can be “a powerful step toward healing.” It’s important to note that while this sentencing closes the chapter on the federal charges, survivors and families will again have to relive this pain and grief when the white nationalist gunman faces state charges in the attack. 

“Many of the survivors still live with significant physical and emotional pain and unfair financial burdens; the victims’ families still feel grieve the loss of their loved ones; and, the racist motivation behind the hateful attack remains incomprehensible,” U.S.Rep. Veronica Escobar of El Paso said in an earlier statement. “Together, our community will persevere and remain El Paso Strong.”

Mario Carrillo, Texas-based Campaigns Manager for America’s Voice, wrote that the sentencing provided “[s]ome closure to the darkest day in my hometown’s history. But I know for many closure will never come.” He added that we can’t forget “that El Paso was chosen by the terrorist because of what it stands for and because of what it’s been. A bicultural city that for so long has been welcoming of people, just like my family. El Paso’s very values were attacked that day. But it’s so damn resilient.”

“No one in this country should have to live in fear of hate-fueled violence – that they will be targeted because of what they look like or where they are from,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said. He said the sentencing guarantees the white nationalist gunman “will spend the rest of his life in prison for his deadly, racist rampage in El Paso. We are grateful to the victims and their family members who have spent the last three days bravely sharing the devastation and pain they endured,” he continued.

“This hate crime, that extinguished the lives of 23 innocent people, stands as one of the most horrific acts of white nationalist-driven violence in modern times,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. 

But even after this horrific body count, white nationalist rhetoric once confined to the fringe corners of the internet continues to be espoused by anti-immigrant extremists like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. Ted Cruz. Abbott, for example, sent out an anti-immigrant fundraising letter just one day before the El Paso attack that urged Texans to “take matters into our own hands.” In a not-really-an-apology apology, Abbott later said “mistakes were made” in the letter, which bore his name.

“Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the criticism he’s received for adopting language similar” to the language used by the El Paso killer, The Texas Newsroom reported last week. “Today, I’m thinking of the 23 lives lost in El Paso and the survivors who live with enduring pain,” Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro tweeted last week. “This massacre was driven by anti-Latino hate and inspired by racism spewed by political leaders.”

“He set out to hurt people because he said Hispanics were taking over. I just want him to know his efforts were in vain,” Tito Anchondo, an El Paso family member, said according to the Associated Press. Anchondo’s brother and sister-in-law, Andre and Jordan Anchondo, were killed protecting their infant son. Paul, now four, survived. “Yeah, we lost a lot of people. … The ones that are still here, we’re still pushing forward,” Tito Anchondo said.