The mariachi music at Crime Victims Memorial Park was beautiful, somber, and haunting. It perfectly matched the mood of the El Paso community, gathered for a bell ceremony on the fourth anniversary of the deadliest attack on Hispanics in modern US history.
On that day, four years earlier, a white supremacist gunman drove 10 hours from a Dallas suburb to a Walmart store in El Paso with the stated goal of killing Hispanics. By the time he surrendered to the police, he had killed 22 innocent customers. Another victim would die eight months later.
“Someone came to our town and tried to change our way of life,” El Paso City Representative Joe Molinar reflected before the ceremony began. “But we are resilient,” he added. “We are strong.”
Molinar was the centerpiece of East’s August 3 anniversary ceremony El Paso: a blue bell he won in a raffle during his time as a member of the El Paso Police Department, decorated with his Marine Corps insignia on one side and his police badge on the other.
“If someone loses their life,” Mayor Oscar Leeser recalls Molinar telling him, “they’re going to ring a bell.” During the ceremony, the bell would ring 23 times in “respect for our fellow citizens, for our brothers, our sisters, our neighbors and our colleagues” who lost their lives in the August 3 mass shooting.
Reverend Joe Williams to El Pasoans: ‘Don’t grieve without hope’
Before the bell rang, Rev. Joe Williams of Westside Community Church delivered a powerful sermon on the need for hope in our “fallen world.”
“Cain killed Abel,” he preached to the crowd. “We’ve always had hatred, violence and prejudice in the world,” which he admitted defies human understanding.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Rev. Williams, who also works as a chaplain at the University Medical Center of El Paso, met with grieving relatives of victims, seeking an explanation for the senseless violence.
“I couldn’t give them all the answers,” Reverend Williams admitted. “Sometimes I just gave them a hug and prayed and cried with them. Often that’s all we can do as a community.”
While the trauma of the August 3 shooting “may be painful all your life,” Reverend Williams concluded his speech with a message of strength and love: “Do not grieve without hope.” Speaking of the families, he said: “We want to do our best to comfort them in the hope that nothing like this will ever happen again.”
Mayor Leeser: ‘We are a community of love and care’
Speaking to attendees at the Crime Victims Memorial Park, Leeser highlighted similar themes of healing, hope, and community.
“Four years have passed. The pain has not eased and never will,” Leeser said.
But in those four years, “our community came together,” he reminded the crowd. “Our community is still together today.”
Leeser, the eight members of the El Paso City Council, and Mexican Consul General Mauricio Ibarra Ponce de Leon — representing the eight Mexican nationals killed in the attack — then took turns banging the blue bell as El Paso City Clerk Laura Prine read aloud the names of the 23 victims. Every sound of the bell reverberated sharply, then faded into silence and reflection.
When all the names were called, Leeser said, “no one should ever feel what the families feel today.”
At the very back was Sylvia Snyder, niece of Arturo Benavides, one of the lives taken. “It’s been tough on our families,” she admitted. But with humble determination, she concluded, “We will continue to grow and be strong.”
This article originally appeared in El Paso Times: El Paso and Mexican officials ring a memorial bell honoring the August 3 dead