EL PASO, Texas (NewsNation Now) — A series of tributes will take place Tuesday across the border city of El Paso to commemorate the lives lost two years after a gunman targeting Latinos opened fire at a Walmart, killing 23 people in an attack that stunned the U.S. and Mexico.
Officials will unveil a garden that is meant to bring healing to the community. The Healing Garden event will feature community members, leaders and special guests such as labor and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta and Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard to honor those killed.
“It’s 23 portraits of all the victims done in a beautiful format,” said County Judge Ricardo Samaniego. “It’s an opportunity to show how we came out of a tragedy stronger. We want to show the rest of the country that we can unite and heal.”
Much like the first anniversary of the shooting, many of the events honoring those slain will be affected by precautions for the coronavirus pandemic. The dedication of the healing garden — in a county park space dedicated to quiet reflection among water and plants — will be closed to the public. Victims’ families and officials will take part in the ceremony, which will be live-streamed.
A bell-tolling event was held Tuesday morning, where council members rang a bell and read the names of those who died.
Another socially distanced observance will include a luminaria drive-through. Luminarias are traditional lanterns made from paper bags, sand and candles or LED lights.
The Aug. 3, 2019, shooting happened on a busy weekend day at a Walmart that is typically popular with shoppers from Mexico and the U.S.
Authorities say Patrick Crusius — charged with capital murder under Texas law and hate crimes and gun laws at the federal level — confessed to driving more than 600 miles to El Paso from his home near Dallas to target Mexicans. Just before the attack, authorities said, he posted a racist screed online. He has pleaded not guilty, and his defense lawyers have said he has severe “mental disabilities.”
In addition to those who died, more than two dozen were injured. Many were citizens of Mexico. El Paso is a largely Hispanic city that forms an international metro area with Ciudad Juarez with more than 2 million people. On the U.S. side, suburbs stretch into New Mexico.
Officials have been adamant about emphasizing the racist motivations of the alleged shooter, who is still awaiting trial.
“We’re all in this together. This kind of attack was something that was very much inspired by hate, inspired by racism,” Svarzbein said.
The Border Network For Human Rights (BNHR) is hosting an event at Ponder Park that is a call to action against white supremacy, racism and xenophobia to amplify the continued social justice issues related to the attack.
“I still feel very compelled to speak out against hate, which in my view has gotten far worse,” said U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas).
Escobar will speak at the BNHR event and take some private time to console the families of the victims before going to the Healing Garden Tuesday night.
The weekend of the shooting in El Paso was shockingly violent in the United States. Hours after the killings in Texas, another shooter killed nine people in a popular nightlife area in Dayton, Ohio.
You can watch the bell tolling ceremony in the player below:
The Associated Press and NewsNation affiliate KTSM contributed to this report.