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How The El Paso Community Is Coping After Mass Shooting Leaves 22 Dead

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Let's cross the border now and check back in on El Paso, Texas, where people say they also feel targeted for their Hispanic heritage. In this relatively safe city, people are still in shock from the mass shooting that left 22 dead. Marfa Public Radio's Carlos Morales reports on how the community is coping and hoping that one day El Paso can return to normal.

CARLOS MORALES, BYLINE: El Paso, Texas, is a patchwork of communities hugged by rugged mountains and the sprawling Chihuahuan Desert. Its name is a nod to a history of migration. El Paso is Spanish for the pass.

JOSE RODRIGUEZ: We've always be welcoming of immigrants. We're supposed to be the Ellis Island of the southwest.

MORALES: Jose Rodriguez is a Democratic state lawmaker who represents this deep blue district. He estimates the region's population at nearly 3 million, counting both El Paso and its sister city across the Rio Grande, Ciudad Juarez.

RODRIGUEZ: Here, you have U.S. citizens that live in Juarez. You have Juarenses that live in El Paso. You have families that go back and forth. And I think what America needs to understand is that this has been going on for over 400 years.

MORALES: Today El Paso is nearly 80% Hispanic. And authorities say that might have drawn the alleged shooter to the city. The 21-year-old suspect is believed to have written a 2,300-word manifesto warning of a, quote, "Hispanic invasion of Texas." Rodriguez says he's seen this kind of hatred before.

RODRIGUEZ: There is a culture of violence that's grown here in this country for a number of years that predates Trump but which has accelerated, including here in Texas.

MORALES: But not in El Paso. The city has one of the lowest crime rates in the country. The number left dead in Saturday's shooting almost eclipsed the total number of homicides last year. At a small park a short 10-minute walk from the Walmart where the mass shooting took place, Beverely Flores sits on a park bench and remembers what it was like growing up here.

BEVERELY FLORES: It wasn't any horrible things that went on here. You know? I could walk anywhere and feel safe.

MORALES: Now 63 years old, Flores comes to this park almost every day with her husband and their dog Bella (ph). Normally, she says, it's packed with families, kids running through grassy fields playing soccer and football - but not on Sunday.

B FLORES: Usually there's more people, but it's weird today.

MORALES: Her husband Albert, who is 78, says this isn't his El Paso.

ALBERT FLORES: I can tell you one thing - when I first heard about it, we were at home - and things like that don't happen here at all, ever.

MORALES: Over the last few days, outside the Walmart, a makeshift memorial has steadily grown with people bringing flowers, leaving notes or trinkets - like 42-year-old Danny Flores (ph).

DANNY FLORES: You never imagine ever that it would happen in your own backyard. That's my high school. I graduated from right there. My parents live just a mile down that way. These are our stomping grounds right here.

MORALES: Flores and his wife brought their 3-year-old daughter, who added her stuffed bunny to the memorial.

D FLORES: We told her that we were going to go give one of her stuffed animals for people that got a coco. Some people got a really bad coco, huh, baby?

MORALES: Coco is Spanish slang for little bump.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: There was people hurt.

MORALES: As the city mourns, more vigils are planned. Funerals are expected to begin soon, including some in Mexico. And many of the wounded - more than two dozen people - are still in the hospital.

ALBERTO ORTEGA: (Speaking Spanish).

MORALES: At the memorial, Alberto Ortega says El Paso is going to change a little now. He said people, at least for a while, will feel a sort of dread and nervousness whenever they're out in public.

ORTEGA: (Speaking Spanish).

MORALES: He hopes that feeling passes soon and that El Paso can return to the quiet, close-knit border town he calls home.

For NPR News, I'm Carlos Morales in El Paso, Texas.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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