El Paso victims will speak this week at sentencing of Walmart mass shooter
EL PASO, Texas (KTEP) - It’s been nearly four years since Jessica and her husband Guillermo “Memo” Garcia were shot at a Walmart by a self-described white nationalist, in the largest attack on Latinos in recent history.
Her husband spent nearly nine months hospitalized fighting for his life. His death devastated his family, the girls soccer team he coached, and El Pasoans who clung to the hope he would survive the August 3, 2019 mass shooting.
Garcia, affectionately known as “Tank,” tried to shield his wife and two young children from the gunfire that day. They were selling snacks to raise funds for his daughter’s soccer team near the entrance to the store.
He was the 23rd victim of the mass shooting. He was 36.
“Losing someone the way we lost him and as young as he was and as young as our kids are, having spent literally half of my life with him…” Jessica Garcia, his wife, said.
Garcia was also shot and said she is still trying to recover from emotional wounds.
“I don’t think it really gets easier or better. I think you miss him even more as time passes.”
She and other victims will have a chance to convey their thoughts and feelings as the man who murdered their loved ones is sentenced in federal court this week. The gunman Patrick Crusius, now 24, will also have an opportunity to speak on the first day of the hearing, which begins Wednesday. Victims’ impact statements will follow.
Garcia, along with other victims’ relatives and survivors injured at the store during the rampage, have waited years for justice. Watching other mass shooting cases across the country make their way through the criminal justice system has weighed heavily on her.
“There’s something that’s broken in the justice system,” Garcia said. “As somebody that was on the opposite end of what he did, I don’t feel like we’ve been protected.”
The federal and state cases were delayed by the pandemic. Turmoil in the El Paso District Attorney’s office added to victims’ relatives' pain, Garcia said. DA Yvonne Rosales, faced removal from office for alleged incompetence and misconduct and resigned last year.
Federal Walmart shooting case
Federal prosecutors announced in February they would not pursue the death penalty. In exchange Crusius pleaded guilty to 90 federal charges including hate crimes shortly after.
The U.S. Department of Justice stipulates he must serve a life sentence for each count, effectively keeping him in prison for the rest of his life.
U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas Jaime Esparza was the El Paso District Attorney at the time of the mass shooting. He had planned to retire after serving nearly 30 years in office. Esparza was appointed U.S. Attorney this year as the federal government moved forward with prosecuting Crusius.
The gunman was 21-years-old when he drove more than 600 miles from Allen, a suburb of Dallas, to El Paso on Aug. 3, 2019. He put on “earmuffs,” used to protect shooters from loud gunfire before taking a semi-automatic rifle from his trunk and walking through the parking lot firing as he approached the entrance on that busy Saturday morning, according to federal prosecutors.
Crusius had posted on a social media site often used by White supremacists using hateful, extremist rhetoric.
“This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” Crusius wrote.
According to Federal prosecutor Ian Hanna, Crusius also had material on his personal computer about the “Great Replacement Theory.” The racist conspiracy that purports black and brown immigrants are “replacing” White people has been used by some believers to justify violence.
Crusius told police officers after the mass shooting he came to El Paso to target “Mexicans.”
Amanda Enriquez, a former assistant El Paso district attorney at the time of the attack, said she would be surprised to see Crusius speak during this week’s hearings. She said anything he says will be used in the state trial. The new El Paso DA Bill Hicks says he plans to seek the death penalty.
Some of those who make victim impact statements find relief and others don't, Enriquez said.
“Sometimes victims never get the answer they want,” she said.
Victims' relatives and survivors of the mass shooting can choose to speak during the hearing or write a statement to be read out loud by someone else. Others elect not to say anything during the process.
“They can tell the court, they can tell the defendant themself, how this crime has affected them emotionally, physically, financially, overall…,” she said.
Guillermon Glenn was in the store on the day of the attack. He heard loud bangs and saw people running but didn’t realize it was a mass shooting until he made his way toward the entrance.
There he said he found people with gunshot wounds and others who appeared to be dead. Glenn said he helped put an injured woman onto a stock cart and wheeled her outside where he saw more victims he said. He cannot forget seeing his hands covered in the woman’s blood.
“I don’t believe in capital punishment but I think there’s exceptions,” Glenn said. He’s a well-known South-Central El Paso community activist. “I’ve thought a lot about it all. It should be the death sentence.”
Glenn is concerned that four years later there are no significant changes to gun laws in Texas and political leaders are still using “invasion” to describe migrants arriving at the border.
“This was a tragedy. And, we should make a better community,” Glenn said. “We should try to eliminate some of the violence.”
Memo Garcia’s wife and two children are preparing to celebrate another milestone without him. His daughter's Karina’s quinceañera will be “bittersweet,” Jessica Garcia said.
“This year is another year that has been tough,” she said. “And, it sounds like we say that every year, but I think this year, with such an important event going on in our lives, we see (his absence) a little bit more.”
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