His slow recovery has been marred by frustration and dreams of returning home to Chihuahua City, Mexico, since being hit by a bullet from an assault rifle, damaging his stomach, intestines and an artery. renal. At the end of February, doctors gave the green light to the laundry appliance repairer to make the four-hour return trip he and his family had prayed for during those long months at a Texas hospital.
But days after his return, he relapsed and has been confined to a hospital room ever since as the coronavirus pandemic threatens his recovery.
“It’s devastating. We came home hoping to get our lives back, ”said De Alba Montes’ wife Oliva Rodriguez Mariscal, who spends hours by her husband’s bedside wearing a face mask. Their daughter, she says, is not allowed in the hospital and only sees her father on video calls.
As Monday marks the first anniversary of a gunman opened fire on a busy Walmart store, killing 23 people and leaving 23 injured, there will be no crowds for memorials or strangers connecting arms to honor those who have died.
When EP Fusion football coach Guillermo “Memo” Garcia – the last victim killed in the mass shooting – died after months of fighting for his life in a hospital, only 10 people were allowed to enter the funeral home in both and a drive-thru prayer vigil was held.
Tito Anchondo, whose brother and sister-in-law died protecting their baby, said he had suspended production of a documentary honoring the victims due to the pandemic. A public opening for an exhibit featuring items from the long makeshift memorial that formed behind Walmart has been suspended.
The family of Arturo Benavides, army veteran and retired bus driver killed in the shooting, have been asked to invite just 10 people to a dedication ceremony for a renowned bus transfer center for pay him homage. Her niece, Melissa Tinajero, said relatives are planning to visit the site in teams for the August 1 event.
On the eve of the first anniversary, families of the victims, survivors and officials attended a memorial service at Ascarate Park, where a permanent memorial of the healing garden is to be built. They kept their social distances and wore masks as a group of crime victim advocates wearing purple T-shirts held photos of the 23 people killed in the shooting.
El Paso residents are ready to cross or walk a path of luminaries – small paper lanterns – on Monday in Ascarate Park or to turn on their own luminaries on their porch. Others will attend virtual memorial services.
Texas has been struggling with major outbreaks of Covid-19 in recent months. Many South Texas hospitals are overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients and the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has risen to more than 418,000, placing the state at a higher number than New York – once the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic.
In El Paso, more than 14,200 people have tested positive for the virus and 266 deaths have been linked to Covid-19, according to local health officials.
El Paso Mayor Dee Margo has said the pandemic is the third major crisis the city has faced in recent years, but he believes it will eventually pass. Last year shelters scrambled to house thousands of migrants released by federal officials amid a wave of asylum seekers and within months the shooting rocked the city.
The pandemic, the mayor said, has limited the city’s ability to honor the victims and made it difficult for this binational community to heal together. This prevents many survivors and families of victims who live across the US-Mexico border from entering the country due to coronavirus travel restrictions and has forced many more to withhold one of the ways fundamentals which they interact with each other.
“Our standard greeting is an abrazo (hug). We kiss and we kiss and that’s what we are, ”Margo told CNN. “This pandemic says you can’t do that and it complicates who we are, our normal nature and culture. ”
Almost a year had passed since Adria Gonzalez, 38, shouted and used her pink hat to indicate an exit to those inside the Walmart store when she met a man she she had helped to get out safely.
“He looked at me and there was peace in his eyes. He told me, “I was one of God’s angels,” Gonzalez remembers.
The reunion took place in a park in El Paso with Gonzalez, her mother who was with her during the shooting and the man wearing masks. They stood at a distance, following social distancing guidelines, as they recalled the moments of terror that marked their lives.
But Gonzalez says she couldn’t help but bend over and hug the man, even as her mother jumped in to warn them of Covid-19.
“A sacred emotion washed over us and we hugged each other hard, strong but wearing our masks,” Gonzalez told CNN. “It was something I had to do. “
Pandemic disrupted healing process, expert says
For many people, healing from the lasting trauma of the mass shooting may become even more difficult as a result of the pandemic, experts say.
This disrupted the normal healing process because it involves social support, engagement with others and returning to a routine – all of which has become virtually impossible while distancing and socially isolating, said Farris Tuma, chief of the research program on traumatic stress at the National Institute. mental health.
“The pandemic itself includes many of the same kinds of experiences and risk factors… as any other trauma or disaster in terms of the consequences on people’s lives,” Tuma said.
Some of those factors are death, economic hardship and simply worry and fear of getting sick from the virus, he said.
In the two weeks since the Walmart shooting, a crisis hotline operated by Emergence Health Network – the city’s largest mental health service provider – doubled the daily number of calls it received.
Kristen Daugherty, CEO of EHN, said some callers first wondered why El Paso and more specifically the Hispanic community had been targeted, while others felt guilty because they had changed their plans to go at Walmart that morning and changed their plans at the last minute.
Later, the call takers tried to allay people’s fear.
“People would call and say you know, ‘I’m Hispanic, I’m scared to go to the store and the kids are scared to go back to school,” she said.
Currently, “the global crisis hotline and crisis services are almost at the same level of service” provided after the shooting, the agency said.
“I think it changed the way people saw the need to take care of oneself from a mental health perspective, even if it was just talking to someone checking someone out,” he said. said Daugherty.
About 120 people who were affected by the Walmart shooting still have access to counseling services, she says, and many more have asked for help since the start of the pandemic.
“It hurts us all”, says the mayor
A year has passed since the massacre and the accused shooter awaits trial in local and federal cases.
Patrick Crusius, 22, from Allen, Texas, faces 90 federal crimes, including hate crimes, and nearly a dozen state-level capital murder charges, according to reports. court documents. He pleaded not guilty.
Authorities said he traveled to El Paso for the sole purpose of killing immigrants and Mexicans in the west Texas border town.
“It hurts us all. We have been attacked for who we are by a white supremacist… a perverted white supremacist 700 miles away, ”said Margo, the town’s mayor, adding that the gunman“ would never have come from our side. not who we are. This is not who we are. ”
Last month, Crusius’ lawyers said he was in a psychotic state when he was taken into custody minutes after the shooting and suffered from a mental disability. They disclosed the mental health conditions in a motion asking for more time to investigate “red flag mitigation themes” as prosecutors decide to call for the death penalty.
A status conference in the federal case is scheduled for October.
A year after De Alba Montes, his wife, and their 10-year-old daughter stopped by Walmart to buy back-to-school supplies before having breakfast and were injured in the massacre, there is no clear end in sight to his hospital stay.
Some days he is overwhelmed with sadness and desperate to go home, other days he welcomes his wife in a good mood and says to her in Spanish “al rato salimos de esta, vas a ver que todo va a pasar”.
Their nightmare will pass, he tells his wife, as their faith is stronger despite setbacks.
“God is the only one who can help us overcome this, God will offer us the miracle of letting us leave the hospital in good health,” said his wife Rodriguez Mariscal.