El Paso marks Walmart shooting anniversary amid pandemic

  • In this UGC undated photo provided by Stephanie Melendez, is her father David Johnson, center, her daughter, Kaitlyn-Rose Melendez, left, and Stephanie's mother Kathy Johnson. The Johnson family credits him with saving granddaughter Kaitlyn Rose, 9, and his wife, Kathy, by pushing them to the ground at a checkout counter when a gunman opened fire Aug. 3, 2019,at the Wal-Mart in El Paso, Texas. (Stephanie Melendez via AP)

    In this UGC undated photo provided by Stephanie Melendez, is her father David Johnson, center, her daughter, Kaitlyn-Rose Melendez, left, and Stephanie's mother Kathy Johnson. The Johnson family credits him with saving granddaughter Kaitlyn Rose, 9, and his wife, Kathy, by pushing them to the ground at a checkout counter when a gunman opened fire Aug. 3, 2019,at the Wal-Mart in El Paso, Texas. (Stephanie Melendez via AP) Associated Press

  • In this Thursday, July 30, 2020 photo, Noah Reyes looks at the 23 luminarias in Cleveland Square Park honoring the victims of the Aug. 3, 2019 El Paso shooting, in downtown El Paso. (Briana Sanchez/The El Paso Times via AP)

    In this Thursday, July 30, 2020 photo, Noah Reyes looks at the 23 luminarias in Cleveland Square Park honoring the victims of the Aug. 3, 2019 El Paso shooting, in downtown El Paso. (Briana Sanchez/The El Paso Times via AP) Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Aug. 6, 2019 file photo, Catalina Saenz wipes tears from her face as she visits a makeshift memorial near the scene of a mass shooting at a shopping complex in El Paso, Texas. El Paso is marking the year anniversary of the a shooting at a crowded Walmart by remembering the 23 people killed. Authorities have said the gunman traveled from his home near Dallas to target Latinos in the Texas border city on Aug. 3, 2019.

    FILE - In this Aug. 6, 2019 file photo, Catalina Saenz wipes tears from her face as she visits a makeshift memorial near the scene of a mass shooting at a shopping complex in El Paso, Texas. El Paso is marking the year anniversary of the a shooting at a crowded Walmart by remembering the 23 people killed. Authorities have said the gunman traveled from his home near Dallas to target Latinos in the Texas border city on Aug. 3, 2019. Associated Press

  • "Resilience" the art exhibit Friday, July 24, at the El Paso Museum of History in El Paso. (Briana Sanchez/The El Paso Times via AP)

    "Resilience" the art exhibit Friday, July 24, at the El Paso Museum of History in El Paso. (Briana Sanchez/The El Paso Times via AP) Associated Press

  • In this Thursday, July 30, 2020 photo, Mary Stockwell-White pauses at the 23 luminarias lit at Cleveland Square Park honoring the victims of the Aug. 3, 2019 El Paso shooting, in downtown El Paso. Stockwell-White is a registered nurse from Bellingham, Wash., who is passing through and wanted to pay her respects to the community for the anniversary. (Briana Sanchez/The El Paso Times via AP)

    In this Thursday, July 30, 2020 photo, Mary Stockwell-White pauses at the 23 luminarias lit at Cleveland Square Park honoring the victims of the Aug. 3, 2019 El Paso shooting, in downtown El Paso. Stockwell-White is a registered nurse from Bellingham, Wash., who is passing through and wanted to pay her respects to the community for the anniversary. (Briana Sanchez/The El Paso Times via AP) Associated Press

  • Curator Erica Marin works on "Resilience" the art exhibit Friday, July 24, at the El Paso Museum of History in El Paso. (Briana Sanchez/The El Paso Times via AP)

    Curator Erica Marin works on "Resilience" the art exhibit Friday, July 24, at the El Paso Museum of History in El Paso. (Briana Sanchez/The El Paso Times via AP) Associated Press

  • Curator Erica Marin works on "Resilience" the art exhibit Friday, July 24, at the El Paso Museum of History in El Paso. (Briana Sanchez/The El Paso Times via AP)

    Curator Erica Marin works on "Resilience" the art exhibit Friday, July 24, at the El Paso Museum of History in El Paso. (Briana Sanchez/The El Paso Times via AP) Associated Press

  • There are 23 luminarias lit at Cleveland Square Park honoring the victims of the El Paso shooting Aug. 3, 2019, Thursday night in downtown El Paso. (Briana Sanchez/The El Paso Times via AP)

    There are 23 luminarias lit at Cleveland Square Park honoring the victims of the El Paso shooting Aug. 3, 2019, Thursday night in downtown El Paso. (Briana Sanchez/The El Paso Times via AP) Associated Press

  • In this Thursday, July 30, 2020 photo, luminarias are arranged in Cleveland Square Park honoring the victims of the Aug. 3, 2019 El Paso shooting in downtown El Paso, Texas. (Briana Sanchez/The El Paso Times via AP)

    In this Thursday, July 30, 2020 photo, luminarias are arranged in Cleveland Square Park honoring the victims of the Aug. 3, 2019 El Paso shooting in downtown El Paso, Texas. (Briana Sanchez/The El Paso Times via AP) Associated Press

  • Curator Erica Marin works on "Resilience" the Aug. 3, 2019 Walmart memorial art exhibit Friday, July 24, at the El Paso Museum of History in El Paso. Marin and museum staff have gone through items left at the Walmart memorial that has been in storage and created an art exhibit for resilience and healing. (Briana Sanchez/The El Paso Times via AP)

    Curator Erica Marin works on "Resilience" the Aug. 3, 2019 Walmart memorial art exhibit Friday, July 24, at the El Paso Museum of History in El Paso. Marin and museum staff have gone through items left at the Walmart memorial that has been in storage and created an art exhibit for resilience and healing. (Briana Sanchez/The El Paso Times via AP) Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Thursday, May 21, 2020 file photo, mourners wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at a memorial for Walmart shooting victim Guillermo "Memo" Garcia, in El Paso, Texas. Garcia died after nine months in at Del Sol Medical Center. El Paso is marking the year anniversary of the a shooting at a crowded Walmart by remembering the 23 people killed. Authorities have said the gunman traveled from his home near Dallas to target Latinos in the Texas border city on Aug. 3, 2019.

    FILE - In this Thursday, May 21, 2020 file photo, mourners wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at a memorial for Walmart shooting victim Guillermo "Memo" Garcia, in El Paso, Texas. Garcia died after nine months in at Del Sol Medical Center. El Paso is marking the year anniversary of the a shooting at a crowded Walmart by remembering the 23 people killed. Authorities have said the gunman traveled from his home near Dallas to target Latinos in the Texas border city on Aug. 3, 2019. Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Thursday, May 21, 2020 file photo, widow Jessica Coco Garcia, hugs her children at a memorial in the Del Sol Medical Center parking lot for father Guillermo "Memo" Garcia in El Paso, Texas. El Paso is marking the year anniversary of the a shooting at a crowded Walmart by remembering the 23 people killed. Authorities have said the gunman traveled from his home near Dallas to target Latinos in the Texas border city on Aug. 3, 2019.

    FILE - In this Thursday, May 21, 2020 file photo, widow Jessica Coco Garcia, hugs her children at a memorial in the Del Sol Medical Center parking lot for father Guillermo "Memo" Garcia in El Paso, Texas. El Paso is marking the year anniversary of the a shooting at a crowded Walmart by remembering the 23 people killed. Authorities have said the gunman traveled from his home near Dallas to target Latinos in the Texas border city on Aug. 3, 2019. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 8/2/2020 12:37 PM

When Stephanie Melendez, her husband and two young daughters tested positive for the coronavirus, the person she most wanted to call was her father.

'I'm married. I have my family. He was still the one I called when I got sick and he'd bring me Gatorade,' said Melendez, 32. "So when we get this virus that's been all over the news - oh - my dad's not there for me to call. It just kind of hits home a little harder.'

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Her father, David Johnson, was shielding his wife and granddaughter when a gunman who authorities say was targeting Latinos at a crowded Walmart in the Texas border city of El Paso fatally shot him and 22 other people. It was a shockingly violent weekend in the U.S., with another shooter hours later killing nine people in a popular nightlife area in Dayton, Ohio.

Events to mark the anniversary of the Aug. 3, 2019, shooting in El Paso, a largely Hispanic city of 700,000, have taken on a new look amid the coronavirus pandemic: parks lit with lanterns that people can walk or drive through; private tours for victims' families at a museum exhibit of items preserved from a makeshift memorial; and residents being asked to show support with online posts.

When Guillermo 'Memo' Garcia died in April, nine months after he was shot in the Walmart parking lot while fundraising for his daughter's soccer team, he became the shooting's 23rd victim. Masked mourner s gathered in a hospital parking lot to mark his death.

'It shook me to remind me that we're in the middle of a healing process that we're now being overwhelmed by COVID,' said El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, the county's top executive.

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A service for victims' relatives will be held Sunday in a sprawling park, allowing for social distancing. The service will be livestreamed. Afterward members of the public can drive through the park as music plays and lanterns float on the lake.

'It's going to be solemn, but it will also be a celebration of life," Samaniego said.

'We can't allow a shooter to define who we are, and we're not going to allow a virus to define who El Paso is,' Samaniego said.

Melendez said her family will attend that ceremony and mark the anniversary with a dinner at her father's favorite steakhouse. Melendez said that as the anniversary of the shooting approaches, she feels the support of the city.

'Even if we can't all get together, they're still there, there are still ways,' she said.

El Paso residents describe the friendliness of the city, which has one of the lowest crime rates in the U.S. Many people have roots in both the U.S. and Mexico, frequently crossing the border. Several of those killed at the Walmart had come from Mexico to shop.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Authorities say Patrick Crusius confessed to driving to El Paso from his home near Dallas to target Mexicans, and just before the attack posted a racist screed online. Crusius, 22, faces state capital murder charges, and a federal hate crime and gun case that could likewise bring a death sentence if he's convicted.

Dr. Jose Burgos, who was working as shooting victims arrived at University Medical Center and now helps coordinate care for COVID-19 patients, said his alarm that Hispanics were targeted lingers.

'The feeling is definitely still there, you're more aware of the fact that you may be looked at a bit differently, that you might be targeted. That's still there,' he said.

The morning of the shooting, Melendez's parents took their granddaughter Kaitlyn to the Walmart to get new clothes and a basketball. They were at the checkout when the gunman fired, and David Johnson pushed his wife and granddaughter under the conveyor belt. Johnson was not Hispanic, but his wife and granddaughter are.

"That was always his priority, was his family, and he always put others first. That showed that day,' Melendez said.

Struggling to deal with the aftermath, Kaitlyn, now 10, began to hit her stride again after switching to a smaller school. Then it closed because of the pandemic.

This summer, Kaitlyn was set to go to a camp for kids with post-traumatic stress disorder when she, her parents and her 3-year-old sister tested positive for COVID-19. They recovered in about a week and no one had severe symptoms. But, Melendez said, the worry that one of them might get worse was overwhelming.

'You're like, 'How can I do this again?'" Melendez said. 'We survived one thing and then we get hit with something else and it's just - literally for me it's like, OK, get through one day, get to the next. And a lot of it is: What would my dad do right now?'

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Stengle contributed from Dallas, Attanasio from Santa Fe, N.M. Associated Press writers Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, N.M., Astrid Galvan in Phoenix, and Jake Bleiberg in Dallas contributed to this report.

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