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Reporter's Notebook: Reflecting On El Paso At A Makeshift Memorial

Stella Chávez

I spent last weekend and a few more days reporting from El Paso. Before leaving, I wanted to see the one place I hadn't been to: the makeshift memorial outside the Walmart where 22 people were killed.

I wanted to pay my respects and try to process what happened. When reporting on a big breaking news story, meeting crazy deadlines and getting very little sleep — you don't have time to do that.

The memorial has grown in size. It's adorned with lots of candles, flowers and stuffed teddy bears. The signs are in Spanish and English, many proudly declaring "El Paso Strong."

There are messages from employees of other Walmart stores and other businesses. There are notes from El Paso residents and faraway places ("From your Canadian neighbors. We grieve with you!"). And there are white, wooden crosses bearing the victims' names.

There’s a constant flow of people stopping by and pausing. Some cry softly; others kneel or bow their heads and pray. One woman drapes a red and white beaded rosary over one of the crosses. A man scribbles a message on a poster board.

Credit Stella Chávez / KERA News

A little girl in jean shorts and pink boots stands silently in front of the memorial, in front of a teddy bear. She doesn’t move or say anything for several minutes.

What is she thinking? Does she know what happened? How is this tragedy explained to a child?

The memorial is also sprinkled with messages to President Donald Trump.

One reads "Sr. Trump: Ya no mas actos de rascismo. Actos de odio." Mr. Trump: No more acts of racism. Acts of hate. It's written by three young girls – Americans with Mexican parents.

It ends with "Ya tenemos miedo de salir...Dios lo bendiga." We are afraid to go out…God Bless You.

It’s a lot to take in. A lot to process.

On the flight home, I got a text from a good friend – a former journalist – who wanted to know how the past few days had been. I'm glad she asked. I want to talk about it. Just not now.

I've covered numerous tragedies, but nothing quite like this – not a mass shooting. And not one that targeted people of Mexican heritage. People like me.

Copyright 2020 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter.
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