By Julio-César and Chávez
EL PASO, Texas (Reuters) – With “El Paso Strong” shirts on and with the sun setting behind them, thousands of people crowded into a baseball stadium in the town on Wednesday evening to remember the 22 people killed by a gunman at a local Walmart store on Aug. 3.
“Words cannot express the heartbreak and loss our community has encountered,” El Paso Mayor Dee Margo told the crowd gathered in the U.S.-Mexico border town during the memorial.
“Yet tonight all of the Paso del Norte region stands together to honor those taken from us,” he said. “To grieve, comfort, and love one another as a united binational people.”
The attack on the largely Hispanic community was the first of two recent mass shootings that have rocked the nation and entered the political debate.
El Paso was followed 13 hours later by a mass shooting in a busy nightspot in Dayton, Ohio, that left nine dead.
The memorial came 11 days after an attacker, who police say drove hours to El Paso from a Dallas suburb, killed 22 people and injured dozens more. The attacker said he was specifically targeting Mexicans, according to police. El Paso is a largely Hispanic city.
As El Pasoans entered the baseball stadium Wednesday they were greeted by emotional support dogs, brought by a group that has been visiting disaster areas since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.
“Some people said they hadn’t smiled since that Saturday, some people hadn’t cried yet until they touched the dogs, but that warm fur just starts that emotion,” said Janice Marut, of Lutheran Church Charities, while memorial visitors played with large golden retrievers.
The baseball infield was dotted with 22 stars made out of luminarias, paper bags with candles or lights inside, to remember those killed in the El Paso attack along with nine circles commemorating the dead in an Ohio shooting that happened just hours later.
The memorial was streamed live on the internet to different places around the city, including a park one block north of where the shooting happened.
The largely Democrat-voting city cheered on Republican Governor Greg Abbott as he said elected officials would meet to discuss hate crimes, gun violence, and domestic terrorism next week.
On the stage along with the governor and El Paso’s mayor were Mexican government representatives, taking part to remember the eight Mexican nationals who died in the same attack.
The governor of Chihuahua, the neighboring state, and the mayor of Ciudad Juarez just across the border, condemned the resurgence of white supremacy in the United States.
“We don’t just share business or industries, or shopping at Walmart. We share culture,” said Chihuahua governor Javier Corral.
Margo, who spoke last, reiterated the ties in the binational cities and cultures, and said the attack would not change El Paso.
“Hate will not overcome love, hate will not define who we are,” he said.
(Reporting by Julio-César Chávez in El Paso, Texas; editing by Rich McKay and Hugh Lawson)