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El Paso mourns its shooting victims; Dayton, Ohio, faces own gun massacre

Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Laura King

Los Angeles Times

Aug 4, 2019

EL PASO — Police had yet to remove the bodies of those killed at a mass shooting inside an El Paso Walmart when another shooting erupted across the country early Sunday.

Less than 24 hours after the El Paso shooting rampage, nine people were killed and at least 27 injured at a downtown nightlife area of Dayton, Ohio, before the gunman was fatally shot by responding police, according to Mayor Nan Whaley.

In El Paso on Saturday, 20 people were killed and 26 injured before police took a suspect into custody, a 21-year-old man from the Dallas area identified in media reports as Patrick Crusius.

Authorities have tentatively linked Crusius to a manifesto posted online shortly before the shooting that railed against an “invasion” of Latino migrants, particularly in Texas.

Federal prosecutors are investigating the El Paso shooting as a hate crime and an act of domestic terrorism and plan to seek the death penalty, according to John Bash, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas.

“We’re going to do what we do to terrorists in this country — deliver swift and certain justice,” Bash said at a briefing in El Paso early Sunday. El Paso Dist. Atty. Jaime Esparza also appeared at the briefing to say the suspect faces multiple charges of capital murder and Esparza plans to seek the death penalty.

At a briefing late Saturday outside the Walmart, El Paso Police Sgt. Robert Gomez said the bodies of those who died inside the store had yet to be removed as the investigation continued.

In his 22 years as a police officer, Gomez said, “This is the most traumatic scene that I have been close to.”

Dayton Mayor Whaley, in a phone interview Sunday with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” called the shooting deaths in her city “completely preventable.”

“We’re city No. 250 – how many more cities have to go through mass shootings before somebody does something to change the law?” she asked.

Among those tweeting about the mass shootings was President Trump, who wrote early Sunday: “The FBI, local and state law enforcement are working together in El Paso and in Dayton, Ohio. Information is rapidly being accumulated in Dayton. Much has already be learned in El Paso. Law enforcement was very rapid in both instances. Updates will be given throughout the day!”

At El Paso’s Del Sol Medical Center, 11 shooting victims were being treated Sunday, three in critical condition, Dr. Stephen Flaherty said at a briefing.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families, the El Paso community... our colleagues across the country in Ohio who are going through the same processes,” he said.

El Paso police were expected to provide updates at a noon briefing.

Victims’ families gathered at a local school to await official notice about whether their loved ones were among the dead. Some left to search local hospitals only to emerge, with tears in their eyes. Clergy and local officials visited those who waited at the school.

“We are trying to do our best for the victims,” Gomez said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has said the suspect will face capital and hate crime charges, and vowed to work with Democrats to help make the state safe.

But many Democrats blamed Republican elected leaders for creating the conditions that led to the shooting.

Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Texas Democrat who represents El Paso, denounced not only lax gun control measures, but a climate of bigotry.

“We have not just a gun epidemic in this country, but we have a hate epidemic in this country,” Escobar said in a phone interview Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, interviewed on “Fox News Sunday,” did not mention Trump by name, but said white nationalism “is condoned at the highest levels of our government.”

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said the shooting was the result of Trump’s “dangerous rhetoric.”

“He has put a target on the back of the Latino community,” Castro said.

Castro called for an independent investigation of the El Paso shootings, apart from those being conducted by Texas officials and the FBI.

Domingo Garcia, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, one of the nation’s oldest and largest Latino civil rights groups, was in El Paso on Sunday to meet with shooting victims’ relatives and to ask the FBI to “set up a task force to target white supremacist terrorists in the United States.”

“We’ve had two mass shootings that appear to be driven by domestic, white terrorists espousing hate and resorting to mass murder,” Garcia said, referring to another shooting incident at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Northern California last weekend. “I am concerned that this murderer was radicalized by the fear mongering and immigrant bashing coming from the White House and members of the Republican Party. It’s creating homegrown terrorists who are going after people just because they’re Latino.”

Several events were planned Sunday to honor the El Paso shooting victims, including an inter-faith evening vigil at a local park with city leaders and El Paso Bishop Mark J. Seitz.

“We stand in horror and shock at the devastating loss of life and heartless attack on our border community,” the Rev. Deborah Clugy-Soto, president of the Interfaith Alliance of the Southwest, said in a statement. “We will mourn, dry tears, offer our sacrifice of prayer and brace ourselves for the work ahead. Because even now the borderlands will stick together.”