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Crime & Justice

El Paso and Buffalo experience nearly identical hate crimes

 A rose bush with large pink flowers in bloom is among the plants surrounding the Healing Garden at Ascarate Park honoring victims of the Walmart mass shooting in El Paso.
Angela Kocherga
/
KTEP
A rose bush with large pink flowers in bloom is among the plants surrounding the Healing Garden at Ascarate Park honoring victims of the Walmart mass shooting in El Paso.

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El Paso held a candlelight vigil for the 10 Black shoppers killed during a mass shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo. Dozens of people gathered to show solidarity with the Buffalo victims, their families and survivors. The vigil Sunday began at twilight in a healing garden created to honor the El Paso victims of the Walmart mass shooting.

Though nearly 2,000 miles and three years apart, the circumstances of the racist attacks in each city are nearly identical.

“I just think it’s strange that it was almost exactly the same. Of course, it brought back some feelings,” Tito Anchondo said. His brother and sister-in-law were killed in the Walmart mass shooting in 2019.

Adria Gonzalez had a flashback after hearing about the Buffalo shooting. “Anxiety kicked in. Memories came back from that morning inside the Walmart shooting August the 3rd," said Gonzalez. She helped some older shoppers escape to the back of the store as a then 21-year-old man opened fire.

The El Paso and Buffalo hate crimes are strikingly similar. The gunmen accused in each of the attacks, both traveled hours to reach their target: supermarkets filled with shoppers on a Saturday. And both young, white men posted hate-filled screeds online before their deadly rampages.

“It was, just a very eerie kind of feeling that someone would duplicate something so similar, said El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego.

Rather than lone wolves, the alleged killers could be considered copycats – learning from each other. In his screed, the 18-year-old New Yorker arrested for the Buffalo shooting referenced the Texan charged with the El Paso killings. Both alleged gunmen wrote that they were also inspired by yet another racist mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“When it happens over and over again, now, it becomes a greater impact because each one is building on the other, how people feel” Samaniego said.

Though the El Paso and Buffalo hate crimes share similarities, El Paso families know each life lost is grieved individually. Healing is personal.

Gonzalez has focused on new life. She accomplished a goal she set right after the mass shooting. “I did say that I was going to get pregnant, and I was not going to lose hope.”

Her baby girl is due in October, and she’s picked a name. “Victoria, she’s a blessing, a miracle baby,” Gonzalez said.

Anchondo is helping raise his 3-year-old nephew who survived the Walmart attack. Andre Anchondo, 24 and Jordan Anchondo, 25, died shielding their then infant son.

Tito Anchondo also helped start the El Paso chapter of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit organization that helps families of victims and survivors.

Many of those families are still waiting for justice.

“They’re anxious about the fact it’s already going into three years, and they haven’t heard anything specific about the trial,” Samaniego said.

The accused gunman faces multiple murder and hate crime charges. A federal trial date has not been set according to the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas. The El Paso District Attorney’s office did not provide any update on that trial despite repeated requests from KTEP.

El Paso has moved forward with efforts to honor the lives lost in the attack. Samaniego spearheaded the building of a healing garden that opened in Ascarate Park on the second anniversary of the mass shooting last year.

A wall with 23 plaques, each with the name of a victim of the El Paso shooting is the centerpiece of the tranquil setting that includes water gently cascading from small fountains. The garden includes 23 Italian Cypress trees and rose bushes now in full bloom.

“I think that’s the other message: create something not just for them but for the entire community to heal, I think was very helpful to us,” Samaniego said.
Copyright 2022 KTEP. To see more, visit KTEP.

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