On a recent evening in El Paso, music, prayers, and fellowship greeted visitors at the memorial that has formed behind the Walmart where a recent mass shooting took many lives, injured others, and left this borderland community in pain.
An expression of solidarity is in constant view for those walking along the large display of flowers, flags, crosses, and signs remembering the lives lost and those injured in this massacre.
One couple living in the city shared feelings of shock and pain as they visited on this night. Daniel Gutierrez just returned home to El Paso after serving in the U.S. Coast Guard. He says he didn’t believe the news when he first heard of the attack.
“I lived here my whole life; it’s always been super safe. I used to always leave our doors unlocked all the time at my mom’s house,” said Gutierrez.
Standing next to Daniel, his partner Jessica Gomez says El Paso will never forget this attack.
“There’s a lot of hurt right now. We’ve never seen something like this before. We’ll remember, this is not a forgetful moment, but we’ll cope with it the best we can,” said Gomez.
As this community tries to heal, there are volunteers and groups in attendance trying to help. Ryan Bemis with non-profit Crossroads Acupuncture says he and other ear acupuncture therapists have volunteered to assist people who ask for help.
“We originally started working in the region in response to the violence in Juarez in 2010. That was how our project got started, so we have been working with people affected by violence, by trauma,” said Bemis.
Bemis says that these types of ear acupuncture groups are good for creating safe spaces for people. Sitting in a chair in front of Bemis is Robert Ramos from El Paso. He is relaxing while getting ear acupuncture treatment. He shares why he sought out the treatment.
“My wife is very interested in this type of stuff and she called me over. Yes, I was angry. I was very anxious today. I would say in the last 15 minutes, I felt very relaxed,” said Ramos.
Robert’s wife Laura is sitting next to him, she says many people in El Paso are hurting now and she wants to be present for the community.
“It’s best for all of us in El Paso to do something, instead of just fighting with one another over the politics. I want to move forward in the city and helping my community, and see what I can do to help other people who are hurting,” said Ramos.
Offering furry comfort to those who healing is what one organization has busy doing around the city. Janice Marut, with Lutheran Church Charities has helped organize the group’s K9 comfort dogs to El Paso’s community members, including first responders and medical staff treating those hurt in the attack.
“These (comfort dogs) are from all over the United States. They’ve been trained to be very calm and quiet dogs so that they present themselves, their warm fur, and people just love on them. Helps to release their tension, helps to release and their sorrow, and all we do is just bring the dogs to them,” said Marut.
Pins from communities across country that have endured tragic events decorate Marut’s nametag. Her organization’s comfort dogs were in Orlando after the Pulse nightclub shooting and they have also traveled to communities rebuilding from a tornado. She shares what she has noticed about all of these communities recovering from loss and pain, and has noticed the warmth that the community of El Paso has greeted the group she belongs to.
“The community that’s here…I don’t’ see any anger. I don’t see any huge frustration. It’s more a matter of caring for one another and serving one another, which is amazing I think. They’ve opened their arms to us in so many ways and made us feel so welcomed, and we greatly appreciate that,” said Marut.
Looking at the smiles of those petting the comfort dogs, the feeling seems mutual on this night when so many are trying to heal in this space together.