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‘I need closure.’ Community remembers victims on El Paso Walmart shooting’s fourth anniversary

 Patricia Benavidez adjusts a floral arrangement at a memorial that honors her husband, Arturo Benavidez, who was killed at an El Paso Walmart in 2019.
Julián Aguilar
The Texas Newsroom
Patricia Benavidez adjusts a floral arrangement at a memorial that honors her husband, Arturo Benavidez, who was killed at an El Paso Walmart in 2019.

Four weeks ago in a federal courtroom, Patricia Benavidez stared at the gunman who killed her husband in 2019 and asked him why he took her closest companion and partner of 34 years.

“You left me all by myself. I miss him. I miss him terribly,” she said.

Her comments came the same week the shooter, Patrick Crusius, was sentenced to 90 consecutive life sentences for the racially motivated attack that claimed the life of Benavidez’s husband, Arturo Benavidez, and 22 others at a Walmart store.

On Thursday however, Benavidez said that despite being assured the gunman will never see the light of day, there is still a lack of closure or sense of justice.

“Not right now. I still miss my husband terribly,” she said at a remembrance ceremony marking the four-year anniversary of the shooting. “I have mixed feelings about him. I told him that I know he did this because he never got close to the Lord.”

The sentencing came despite Crusius’ defense team assertions the gunman was delusional and couldn’t comprehend the magnitude of his crimes. He admitted he committed the atrocity to ward off what he called a Hispanic “invasion” of Texas, which sparked a fierce debate over how extreme rhetoric influences people to act.

Crusius still faces state charges. Interim El Paso District Attorney Bill Hicks said he intends to seek the death penalty, but the ultimate decision will be up to the jury.

Benavidez said she’ll rely on her faith to get her through the next phase of Crusius’s punishment – and that she hopes the final chapter will bring her more peace.

“Jesus will give me the strength to do that because I want to see what happens. I need closure,” she said.

As the community and the victims’ families grapple with how to move on while honoring the memories of those lost, several victims’ advocates say although closure could still be a long way off, there could be some comfort that the gunman was at least held accountable.

“It's hard to have closure when you lost that many lives,” said Kim Youngblood, the statewide manager for Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a national organization that advocates for the rights of crime victims. “What I think that the sentencing possibly brought was accountability for the young man that committed the act.”

Youngblood added, any sentence the gunman receives won’t address the political and social motivations behind the gunman’s actions.

“It's a continuous healing journey. So, no, I don't think that's closure at all because what we have to make sure of is that what happened never happens again,” she said.

For many, what happened on that day in 2019 was fueled by anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic sentiment. In an online manifesto, the gunman warned of mass migration and a Hispanic takeover.

Politics and hate-speech has at times overshadowed remembrance ceremonies, with some warning that the El Paso shooting did nothing to claw back rhetoric that extremists embrace. If fact, some lawmakers and advocates say it’s gotten worse under Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Abbott has made combating illegal immigration his top priority and spent billions on Operation Lone Star, a state-led border security effort that started in 2021.

Abbott has also repeatedly called unauthorized immigration an “invasion” despite warnings from Democrats about the consequences of using the term.

“We have a governor, Mr. Abbott, who essentially is a mini-Trump but more dangerous,” said Fernando Garcia, the executive director of the El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights. “He has spent a lot of money on this narrative that there is an invasion at the border at the people at border, the people that cross the border, that we are criminals, rapists and [MS-13] gang members. So again, the possibilities of an attack from four years ago to now — they have tripled.”

Abbott’s office has not responded to multiple requests for comments on the criticisms about his rhetoric.

At Thursday’s reembrace, Michael Grady, a local pastor whose daughter was shot four times in the attack but survived, said the federal sentencing brought some closure but “real healing” will take more than anniversary ceremonies.

“Here in the city of El Paso, the thing that's missing is solidarity and unity. These days come like Easter and Christmas and Thanksgiving. And then that's the end of it,” he said. “But we have to have a plan to come together and talk about healing and what it looks like and respond to the people that need it the most.”

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