People in New Mexico are reeling from a mass shooting just a couple hundred miles away this weekend. The gunman, who killed 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, is believed to have written a white supremacist manifesto railing against Hispanic people and immigrants; he's in custody and charged with murder. KUNM went out to see how this is affecting Albuquerque residents.
I met Miguel Tena in the parking lot of an Albuquerque Walmart Monday where he was shopping with his wife and son. They would have been at that store in El Paso on Saturday if their weekend trip had gone as planned.
"I was coming from Mexico on Saturday," said Tena. "We had to go because my wife’s mother lives over there and she was sick."
Tena says they would’ve stopped by El Paso's Cielo Vista mall, where the shooting occurred, on their way back – except that the border crossing took way longer than usual. Finally, Border Patrol let them through.
"So we continued driving toward Walmart," said Tena, "and then we saw all the police and helicopters and everything going on, and we found out it had just happened. We were like 20 minutes behind the shooting. We were just overwhelmed that the border control took so long to let us across. We were just thanking God for that."
Another Albuquerque shopper, Ephraim Duncan, said this is the first mass shooting that hit really close to home for him. He says background checks for buying firearms should be more stringent.
"Definitely mental health should be a major factor," said Duncan. "Like a health pass – maybe they should see a psychiatrist before, like get clearance from a doctor, like, ‘hey, he can have a gun.’"
Studies show people with serious mental illness are responsible for less than three percent of violent crimes each year – and even fewer that involve guns.
Bridgette Quintero responded to a callout I put on Twitter about the shooting. She introduced herself as a fourth generation Hispanic in New Mexico. "I grew up in Las Cruces," she said, "and it really devastated my heart to think maybe I had a friend there, maybe I had a family member there."
Quintero says white supremacist rhetoric needs to be countered with education. Maybe if people like the young white shooter better understood their own family histories, she said, they wouldn’t latch on to race-based hatred.
"We’re never going to all be the same race," said Quintero. "So you need to be okay with how America was built, and you need to understand your history before you feel that Hispanics or Native Americans or anybody of any culture does not belong in this country, because we all belong here."
"They’re focusing on the white supremacy, but that doesn’t scare me," said Jason, who didn’t want to give his last name for fear of retaliation, because he’s a supporter of President Trump. He’s African American, and he says only the shooter is to blame for Saturday’s massacre.
"My first reaction was, well, I feel sorry for the victims. My second reaction was, well, [the media is] gonna blame Trump."
Jason said he believes violence like this weekend’s is caused by a loss of Christianity among young people. "Bring back Jesus in schools. Bring back prayer in schools. You take God away, and who fills the vacuum? the devil."
Renee Garnett does blame Trump: "I love my country, but I do not agree with my President." Garnett says the way he talks about immigrants and Hispanics sets a dangerous example for the rest of the country.
"I’m Hispanic, and I’m proud to be," said Garnett. "And you know what? For a long time now, I’ve been afraid. I'm afraid to be out here. If I’m with other people I care about, then my mind is constantly running: it's like, 'where’s our exits, what are we gonna do if a scenario happens?' I would give my life for my family or anyone else around me."
"It's ridiculous. It’s ridiculous we have to live in fear like this."
Garnett works as a caregiver, and after talking with me, she went on into Walmart to get groceries for her client. Everyone’s still gotta make a living, she said, whether you live in fear or not.
Support for KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project comes from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the McCune Charitable Foundation, and from KUNM listeners like you.