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El Paso shooting stuns tight-knit community that welcomes diversity

At least 22 people were killed when a gunman opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso on Saturday. The alleged shooter referenced white supremacist ideology in a manifesto posted online shortly before the massacre. Judy Woodruff talks to William Brangham, reporting from El Paso on why the violence is so “jarring” in a largely welcoming and harmonious community adjacent to the U.S. border with Mexico.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Guns, hate and America. We devote tonight's program to where we are now and how we face this change — and change this tragic reality, Las Vegas, Orlando, Blacksburg, Newtown, Sutherland Springs, Parkland, all sites of mass murder. Oakland Baltimore, Chicago, all places witness to gun violence this weekend.

    Sadly, there are many more to name, and we take this hour to examine why.

    We start in El Paso, where 22 people were killed.

    Our William Brangham is there.

  • William Brangham:

    For many in El Paso, it's a time to show solidarity. Dozens and dozens of people lined up to donate blood. Local hospitals treating the victims put out the call, and the response has been tremendous.

    Frida Delgadillo is a college student at the University of Texas in El Paso.

  • Frida Delgadillo:

    I'm here because I like to want my community in any way I can. And so many people have shown up that I wanted to be one of them as well.

    When I first heard that there was a shooting, I knew that it wasn't one of the people from El Paso. I knew that it was an outsider, because our community would never do something like this. Our community is very loving.

  • William Brangham:

    Saturday's massacre happened at a Walmart just five miles from the border, where American and Mexican families alike were shopping. Many were getting back-to-school supplies.

    Last night in downtown El Paso, hundreds gathered to grieve the victims.

    Chris Cummings is in local real estate, and came with his wife and family.

  • Chris Cummings:

    I think the only way to heal is to sort of bind with your community and let everyone know that El Paso is not the type of place where this occurs. This was somebody from outside our community. And so we have to show our strength.

  • William Brangham:

    Police believe the 21-year-old suspect, originally from the Dallas area, wrote a racist manifesto that he posted online just minutes before he entered the Walmart.

    He called his rampage — quote — "a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas."

    At least seven of the dead were Mexican nationals, and some at last night's rally were still struggling that immigrants were the target.

    Mary MacKay is a public school teacher in El Paso.

  • Mary MacKay:

    Obviously, it hurts more when this is your own hometown where this happens, but I think it adds a whole other level of pain that this guy came to my home to kill us because of what color we are.

    You know, like he went out of his way just to kill us for being Hispanic. It's — that's a lot to deal with. Like, it wasn't a random shooting. He wanted to kill brown people.

  • William Brangham:

    The border city of El Paso is about 80 percent Latino, and it's been a hub for thousands of Central American migrants crossing the border to seek asylum in the U.S.

    President Trump has also made disparaging comments about the city, and described these migrants as representing a kind of attack on the U.S.

    Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke represented the El Paso area in Congress.

  • Beto O’Rourke:

    We have a president right now who traffics in this hatred, who incites this violence, who calls Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, who calls asylum seekers animals and an infestation.

  • William Brangham:

    Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, who was elected to O'Rourke's seat, said the shooting hurt a community that's already the target of the president's immigration crackdown.

  • Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas:

    I think it's no coincidence this has been ground zero for the president's zero tolerance policies, the return-to-Mexico policy.

    Hatred and bigotry and racism has been teeming below the surface for as long as America has been around, but now it's full-blown out in the open, and we have a real epidemic of hate in this country. And with the epidemic of gun violence, that makes for a very deadly combination.

  • William Brangham:

    The tragedy is also distressing for locals, who see an oftentimes ugly national debate over immigration being waged in a city that welcomes its diversity.

  • Mary Martinez White:

    I think that the passions of many people are being stirred. And I think that it's largely — it is partisan, and it is wrong. And I'm just going to call it what it is. It is an evilness. We have to work together. I don't understand why we're allowing hatred to infiltrate our communities.

  • William Brangham:

    In the end, beyond politics and policy, many simply want the world to know the horror of Saturday is not the city they call home.

  • Gertrude Konings:

    It is a very lovely place. We really chose El Paso to live here. We love the people, we love the city, we love the nature, everything.

    And we live here already over 20 years, by choice. So, it's — people should come and see how the community is, how the place is, and then they will really also get a different idea about the border.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And William joins me now.

    So, William, we are getting a sense of how people are doing there. Tell us more about how this community is responding.

  • William Brangham:

    Well, Judy, I think any community you go to after they have suffered a major tragedy like this, one of these mass shootings, every community across the country says, we couldn't have imagined it ever would have happened here, but especially in El Paso, which is a community that — when you think of the shooter saying he targeted the place because of immigrants, this is a community unlike I have ever seen anywhere else in the U.S., that so embraces their immigrant identity.

    You can see Mexico from where I'm standing right here. The constant flow of Mexicans and Americans back and forth over the border, one man here referred to it as one city, being Juarez and El Paso, that is divided into two countries.

    And that's really the sense you get here. Every single person we have talked to has said, we welcome immigrants here, we have immigrants in our families, we live on this side of the border, we live on that side of the border.

    And so that warm embrace of dual nationalities. When you see — I'm standing in the parking lot of a mall here. You see Mexican license plates all over the place. That kind of community, when you suddenly have violence visited upon it because of immigration is especially jarring.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So the argument, William, that the rhetoric about immigration contributed to this, do people there believe that?

  • William Brangham:

    Some people say that, and some people don't.

    I mean, Frida Delgadillo, the young woman we met at the blood drive this morning, said no one is to blame for the shooting except the shooter himself. Nobody put a gun in his hand. Nobody told him to drive 900 miles down here or 600 miles down here to do what he did.

    But, she said — and this is a point we heard from a lot of people — it is undeniable that the rhetoric about immigrants, calling them rapists and murderers, talking about Central American migrants coming here as an invasion of the United States, she said — and many echoed this — that it's undeniable that that contributes to a feeling of fear and potential for violence.

    You mix that in with a young man who's been marinating in white supremacy online what seems months or maybe years, that's a recipe for disaster.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that it was.

    William Brangham reporting for us from El Paso, thank you.

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