In August we experienced the unimaginable as a city. A 21-year old drove into town and strolled into a local Walmart, unleashing his hatred on unsuspecting shoppers through rifle rounds.
My family and I stayed home that day as the texts poured in. First it was a warning from a friend that formerly lived in El Paso. Then it was a couple of texts from some close friends in town. Finally, it was an official advisory from the city warning us of an active shooter and advising us to stay home.
My family and I were getting ready to drive to San Antonio the following day, and although I needed to pack and clean the house, I found it difficult to do either. Instead I spent most of the day close to my phone and watching the news as we waited to hear the final outcome of this story, all the while praying for the shooter’s quick capture and safety for our city.
A few hours later, we received the news that the shooter had been caught, but not before damage had been done. Twenty-two people lost their lives that morning, and twenty-four had been injured. But the wounds that were inflicted within the span of an hour extended well beyond the walls of Walmart that day. As we assessed our losses, we came together as a community and mourned. We mourned, but we also found strength within ourselves to respond to the grief of others.
That afternoon, lines of people overflowed blood donation centers, all intent on giving blood to save the lives of those injured. Soon after, different organizations set up funds, and people made donations to help the victims of the massacre. And then the shirts were produced and purchased—the ones that said El Paso Strong and that also served as a fundraiser to help meet the needs of the wounded. And soon every car dealership, fast-food restaurant, gas station, and numerous other businesses proudly displayed this motto on their billboards.
El Paso Strong.
We would not be defined by a killer’s hatred of our community. Rather, we would be known for our response to the tragedy as we joined together in unity and love. This is what El Paso is. This is who we are.
Fast-forward seven months later, and another killer has made his way into town. In the short time he has been here, he has infected 292 people, hospitalized 57 (23 of which are in ICU) and killed 2 individuals. We await the final outcome of this story, however. The killer is still active; we have yet to assess the final damage.
We have been issued the same advisory as we were in August. Please stay home. Restrictions have been set in place to save our community from a silent and subtle killer. This time, however, our response has been astoundingly different than what it was seven months ago.
We have abused the meaning of our core values, turning unity into near proximity and mistaking selfishness for love.
As different individuals continue to disregard the city’s restrictions, we naively continue to invite the killer into our homes and then allow him to follow our guests to their homes, unwittingly giving him permission to prey on our most vulnerable. Instead of starving the beast, we continue to feed him by offering him a buffet of people from whom to choose. And he’s growing. No amount of people will satiate his hunger.
If we are to slay this dragon and reclaim our city, then it will be when we truly live up to our motto and choose our core values again. We must find unity in the solidarity of our solitude. We must express true love through the sacrifice of distance. Then, just perhaps, we will look back at this time and see that distance truly did make our hearts grow fonder. And we will know that solitude was only a stepping stone to allow for the future gatherings and celebrations that we can only dream of now.
So let’s fight this predator and take back our community. We didn’t let a killer define us last year, and let’s not allow one to now. Join me as we rise above this enemy with unity, determination, perseverance, and selfless love. Then, and only then, we will once again be El Paso Strong.