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“I want them to haunt you.”: Man who killed 23 at El Paso Walmart hears from victims’ families

By Uriel J. García, The Texas Tribune

“I want them to haunt you.”: Man who killed 23 at El Paso Walmart hears from victims’ families” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

EL PASO — Patrick Wood Crusius is scheduled to be sentenced to life in prison in the coming days in federal court, nearly four years after he drove from a Dallas suburb to El Paso and opened fire at a busy Walmart — where he said he “wanted to shoot as many Mexicans as possible” — killing 23 people.

The 24-year-old Allen resident has been in custody since the Aug. 3, 2019 shooting and pleaded guilty earlier this year. As part of a plea agreement, he is expected to be sentenced to 90 consecutive life sentences after the U.S. Department of Justice decided not to seek the death penalty.

The 23 victims who died and 22 other people inured, were mostly Mexican-Americans and Mexican nationals from El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. It is common for residents of both cities to travel daily back and forth for work, school, visiting family and shopping.

A federal superseding indictment issued on July 9, 2020, charged Crusius with 90 counts, including hate crime resulting in death; hate crime involving attempt to kill; and use of a firearm to commit murder.

According to that indictment, Crusius uploaded to the internet a document written by him titled ‘The Inconvenient Truth,” in which he explained why he committed the shooting: “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas. They are the instigators, not me. I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by the invasion.”

Before and after the mass shooting in El Paso, some Texas politicians have described the growing number of migrants arriving at the Texas-Mexico border — many of them asylum-seekers fleeing violence and harsh poverty in Central and South America — as an “invasion.” The “ethnic replacement” Crusius wrote in the documents comes from a debunked conspiracy theory that people of color and immigrants are looking to replace white Americans.

Crusius still faces state charges in the shooting. State prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

The sentencing phase of the federal case started at 9 a.m. local time on Wednesday in U.S. District Judge David C. Guaderrama’s courtroom and is expected to last until at least Friday. Crusius is also expected to make a statement.

As of Wednesday, Crusius heard from 13 relatives of people killed by the gunman. Some of them referred to the shooter as an “evil parasite” and a “monster.” Some wished him to rot in his prison cell.

Crusius, who was sitting next to his team of lawyers, was shackled, wearing a navy blue jail jumpsuit and thin-rimmed glasses. As some victims’ relatives addressed him, Crusius, who has long wavy brown hair, would nod his head back and forth.

Victims’ relatives will continue with their statements at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Andre and Jordan Anchondo

Andre Anchondo, 23, was killed along with his wife Jordan Anchondo, 24, as they saved their newborn baby Paul.

Deborah Anchondo, Andre’s sister, read a letter on behalf of her nephew, Paul, who was two months old at the time of the shooting. He said he misses his father.

Gilberto “Tito” Anchondo said that after his brother was killed, their father was full of heartache. The patriarch of the family, who has since died, told his family that he had forgiven the shooter for killing his youngest son.

“Our father said: ‘I forgive him but I won’t forgive the devil inside him,’” Gilberto “Tito” Anchondo said in court.

Maribel Hernandez Loya and Leonardo Campos

Maribel Hernandez Loya, 56, and her husband Leonardo Campos, 41, were both killed in the shooting. Henandez’s son told Crusius that he has had a hard time moving on in life since the shooting.

“I’ve tried so bad to forget what you’ve done. I hope God can one day forgive you,” Raul Loya said, later adding, “I hope you really think about what you’ve done.”

Alfredo Hernandez, Maribel’s brother, said he is filled with sadness because he “can’t celebrate holidays” with his sister and brother-in-law.

He also said that his sense of security is gone anytime he goes out in public because he has to be “on the lookout for other psychos like you.”

“I hate that you’re alive, eating and sleeping. I wish you all the sadness in the world,” Alfredo Hernandez said.

David Johnson

Several relatives of David Johnson, 63, spoke, telling Crusius that his act of violence caused lifelong fear and trauma in their family.

Johnson’s daughter, Stephanie Melendez, said she’s waited for the moment to tell Crusius how she’s felt. But when she got the chance Wednesday, she said she struggled to articulate the pain of losing her father.

“In your act of hatred you took a good man,” she said.

Melendez’s daughter was also at the Walmart with her grandparents, but survived the shooting. The family has said Johnson saved his wife and granddaughter from the shooter by hiding them under a checkout station and shielding them.

Melendez said the shooting has since shaped her then-9-year-old daughter’s life.

“You showed her evil, you showed her monsters do exist outside of storybooks,” she said. “I want you to remember my daughter’s cries. I want them to haunt you.”

Kaitlyn Melendez, Stephanie’s daughter who brought her service dog with her, told the gunman: “I shall not ever forgive you.”

Raymond Attaguile, Johnson’s brother-in-law, criticized the gunman’s upbringing, saying his parents should be ashamed of him.

“I don’t know what kind of people raised you to be this kind of person,” he said. “Shame on your parents.”

Kathleen Johnson, David’s wife, told Crusius he killed the family’s provider and protector.

“I’ve had countless hours of counseling to deal with my PTSD. I don’t know if I’ll be the same; if that’s possible,” she said. “I have to remind myself everyday that I’m safe from this killer. There are days when I can’t get out of bed.”

She also told Crusius that he didnt’ take “the memories and joy” David Johnson brought her while he was alive.

Alexander Gerhard Hoffmann

Alexander Gerhard Hoffmann, 66, was also among the victims in 2019. He was originally from Germany, but moved to Mexico in the 80s, according to his son and daughter who spoke at the hearing. He was living in Ciudad Juárez when he was killed, but had planned to make the trip back to Germany to retire there before he was killed.

Hoffman was in the German Air Force and had been stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso when he met his wife, his family told the New York Times. The couple had three children and lived in Europe before settling in Juárez, where Hoffman worked as an engineer.

“You’re an evil parasite,” the couple’s son, Thomas Hoffman, told the gunman Wednesday.

Thomas Hoffman said the shooter had broken up his family. He said his father and mother had been together for more than 40 years.

“You killed my father in such a cowardly way. We were a small but happy family,” he said.

His father would routinely cross the bridge into El Paso to buy tools and furniture. Thomas Hoffman told Crusius he was ignorant for not knowing that immigrants bring jobs and spend money.

“I hope that every night you think about the people you shot and you can’t fall asleep,” he said. “You’re a coward, you’re a mistake of society.”

Elise Hoffmann-Taus said her father loved watching James Bond and Star Trek movies. She also said her father wanted his children to be engineers, like him. He died not knowing that his grandson has decided to pursue an engineering degree after high school.

“The killer robbed us all, robbed us all of the opportunity to see my father,” she said.

Arturo Benavides

Bertha Patricia Benavides spoke about life after the death of her husband Arturo Benavides, 60, an Army veteran and retired city bus driver. She said they had been married 34 years and didn’t have children.

“You left me all by myself,” Bertha said, pointing at Crusius and immediately wiping tears away. “I’ll never get over it.”

She said she has fallen into a depression because she misses her husband every day.

“I just have one question: Why did you do it?,’” she said. “Then I answer my own question. It’s because you don’t know the Lord, you’ve never gotten close to the Lord.”

Shooting survivors struggle to cope

Two teenage girls who were in front of the Walmart fundraising on the day of the shooting described how much it has traumatized them. They’ve spent years that were supposed to be filled with fun and happiness learning coping skills to help with their depression, anxiety and stress.

Jocelyn Atilano, who is now 17, said she lost a cousin in the shooting. She returned to school two weeks after the shooting. Initially, the principal had let Atilano eat her lunch in a counselor’s office, away from her peers in the cafeteria. When she thought she was ready to join her peers, she had a panic attack during lunch, she said.

From the witness stand, facing the audience in the courtroom instead of reading from a podium facing Crusius like the other victims, she said that she used to be happy “until a coward chose to use violence against the innocent.”

“I would have nightmares that the shooter would come to my house and kill me,” she said.

Her teammate, Genesis Davila, who is now 16, said that she remembers the last hug from Guillermo “Memo” Garcia, one of her coaches who was killed in the shooting.

Davila’s father was shot in the leg but survived, she said.

“I want you dead,” she said, staring Crusisus down. “I hate you so much.”

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