Things That Matter

El Paso Widower Who Invited Everyone To His Wife’s Funeral Donates Thousands Of Flowers To Honor All 22 Victims Of The El Paso Massacre

It’s been a little over two weeks since a terrorist upended lives when he attacked an El Paso Walmart, killing 22 people. Since then, there has been an outpouring of grief and pain but along with it a community banding together amid an outpouring of support. 

Over the weekend, that cycle of grief and support continued as many of the remaining victims were finally laid to rest. 

One El Paso funeral home director put together the ultimate send off for all 22 victims, organizing a caravan of hearses that convened at the makeshift memorial. 

Twenty-two hearses carried flowers to the makeshift memorial outside Walmart.

Perches, who organized the funeral for an El Paso widower who made headlines when he invited the entire city to his wife’s service, reached out to other area funeral homes to organize 22 hearses — one for each person killed — to deliver flowers to the makeshift memorial at Walmart, which has become a place to mourn and remember. One final procession.

On Sunday, the hearses left La Paz and followed a police escort for the five mile procession to the memorial.

There were so many flowers at La Paz that it took nearly an hour for about 100 volunteers to load the hearses.

The flowers were donated from the El Paso widower made famous when he invited the entire city to his wife’s funeral.

There were 22 hearses, representing the 22 victims of the shooting, that carried more than 1,000 floral arrangements sent by people around the world for Margie Reckard’s funeral service and burial — which were held on Friday night and Saturday.

Salvador Perches told local ABC affiliate KVIA, “I spoke with (Reckard’s) husband about the idea, and he felt this would be a fitting tribute to his wife and to the other victims,” Perches said. “Contact was then made to all of the other participating funeral homes and all of them agreed that this can serve as a gesture of unity and a sense of closure for all of the funerals that happened from this tragedy.”

People who saw the caravan pass by took to social media to share their emotions.

Cars stopped in both directions as the 22 hearses passed. People captured the moment on cell phones. Some held small American flags and removed their hats.

“I just got chills,” Sunset Funeral Homes Director Christopher Lujan told CNN in an interview. “Seeing 22 hearses is just unbelievable.”

The hearses unloaded the flowers at the makeshift memorial site outside the Walmart where the attack took place.

The makeshift memorial at Walmart sprang up a day after the shooting. People have gathered to pray and sing amid the candles, rosaries and white crosses with handwritten names of the dead.

Funeral directors invited mourners at the memorial site to unload the arrangements. They took the flowers and arranged them around the crosses. “Everybody wanted to participate in one way or another,” said Gomez, who runs the social services non-profit Operation H.O.P.E., in an interview with CNN.

The El Paso Walmart Where A White Nationalist Killed 22 People Reopens With #ElPasoStrong Banner

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The El Paso Walmart Where A White Nationalist Killed 22 People Reopens With #ElPasoStrong Banner

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Amid a class action lawsuit over safety, Walmart has hired off-duty officers to man its El Paso store during today’s quiet reopening, over three months since the deadly, racist mass shooting. On August 3, 2019, a white supremacist drove ten hours from Dallas, Texas, to the Cielo Vista shopping center, armed to kill as many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans as possible. That day, more than 3,000 people were in the El Paso Walmart, and 22 died within the few minutes the shooter opened fire. 

A security guard was scheduled to be there that fateful day but didn’t show. Walmart is currently the defendant in a class-action lawsuit, which is not seeking monetary damages but rather answers as to why Walmart didn’t adequately protect its customers.

The El Paso Walmart reopened its doors but not without an #ElPasoStrong banner greeting customers.

Before its scheduled opening at 9 a.m., employees gathered for the first time since the shooting for an employee meeting. Many wore “El Paso Strong” pins on their nametags. This time, armed off-duty police officers will be standing by, comforting many and alarming others. “There was a time that Walmart hired off-duty officers and for some time prior (to) August 3rd that ceased,” El Paso police spokesman Enrique Carrillo, told The Daily Mail in an email. 

The officers will be paid $50 per hour, roughly double their hourly wage.

Credit: @anjelia3464 / Twitter

Walmart has significantly invested in its security measures at all Walmart stores. “We typically do not share our security measures publicly because it could make them less effective,” Walmart spokeswoman Delia Garcia told the outlet, “But they may include hiring additional security, adding cameras in-store and using ‘lot cops’ in the parking lot. We will continue our long-standing practice of regularly evaluating our staffing, training, procedures, and technology which are designed to provide a safe working and shopping experience.”

If the government won’t implement gun reform, does the burden of protecting shoppers now lie in corporations?

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The National Rifle Association (NRA) is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States, and the single largest roadblock to gun reform in America. The NRA donates to politicians who then ensure its interests are protected. The class action against Walmart presents a morose shift in the political landscape. It presumes that mentally ill people armed with assault-style weapons are something businesses should expect to protect their customers from. 

While it’s legally sound for Walmart to hire the off-duty officers to protect itself from liability, where is the burden on the police department? If the United States won’t pass gun reform measures, should it raise taxes instead to militarize the police and station them at every church, synagogue, movie theater and chain store? Will corporations band together to lobby the government, founded in capitalism, to take this undue burden off its back?

One shopper reflects the sentiment of many heading to Walmart today: “We aren’t letting this beat us.”

Credit: @KeenanFOX_CBS / Twitter

Journalist Keenan Willard met Emma Ferguson in the parking lot of the Walmart. She stopped to smile for a photo and tell him what her shopping experience means to her. “It’s about standing up to our fear. We aren’t letting this beat us.” Willard quoted her in a tweet.

The City of El Paso began removing the makeshift memorial behind Walmart earlier this week to prepare for its reopening.

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Journalist and El Paso resident Andra Litton tweeted a photo of the makeshift memorial behind Walmart the evening before the City of El Paso started removing the items, along with the fencing, “making it visible from I-10 for the first time since the Aug 3 shooting,” she tweeted. “It still hurts. #ElPasoStrong”

The items have been moved to Ponder Park, across the street from Walmart.

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Next to the memorial are “Temporary Memorial Site” signs in both Spanish and English. They read, “The City of El Paso invites the public to honor the victims of the August 3, 2019 tragedy at the Temporary Memorial at Ponder Park. The public may leave memorial items at the site. The public is encouraged to tie an orange ribbon in remembrance of those lost on August 3, 2019.” Along the fence, traditional Mexican sombreros hang next to a green star that says, “God cares!” “Pray for El Paso” and “#FronteraStrong,” along with Día de Muertos images of Frida Kahlo pepper the memorial.

A permanent memorial is under construction in the Walmart parking lot.

Credit: @265rza / Twitter

The ‘Grand Candela’ will be 30 feet tall, and projected to be unveiled by the end of the year. A month after the El Paso shooting, Walmart announced its plan to phase out certain types of ammunition from its stores, reducing its market share of ammunition from 20 percent to less than 10 percent. 

Still, some feel Walmart’s reopening, with the memorial or not, is a “slap in the face” to the victims. “It’s disrespectful to the people who died in the shooting,” college student Brandon Flores, 19, told CNN. “Anyone would be able to walk over the place where their bodies were laying and it would be just like nothing happened.”

READ: El Paso Artists Joined Together To Commemorate El Paso Gun Violence Victims With A Mural That Highlights Community Strength

A Latina Paid Off Her $102K Student Loan In 6 Years And She Honored The Moment With A Funeral

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A Latina Paid Off Her $102K Student Loan In 6 Years And She Honored The Moment With A Funeral

@mandy_velez / Twitter

“DING DONG MY LOANS ARE DEAD💀,” Mandy Velez, 28, announced to her friends and family on social media. “It is with immense pleasure that I announce the death of my student loans. On August 2, 2019, after 6 years, I finally killed them. It was a slow death but was worth every bit of the fight.” Velez shared the extent to which she penny-pinched, side-hustled, and made advances in her full-time career. That might mean that Velez put away an average of $17k every year for the last six years while working and living in New York City. The real story is far more impressive.

To celebrate, Velez asked her childhood friend, Mike Arrison, to bring his photography gear and meet her at a cemetery. She wore a long, black tulle skirt, and a black lace crop top. Her prop was four $.80 silver foil balloons that read: 102k. She even pulled off a viral, low-budget funeral for her student loan debt.

“I never asked for or received help. No one ever paid my bills,” Mandy Velez proudly shared.

Credit: @mandy_velez / Twitter

The good news is that Velez is holding her strategy close to the chest. She opened up about her whole journey on Instagram. “It began in 2013, when I graduated with a total of 75K in student loans,” she shared. “I moved to New York, but I made sure to pay more than the minimums, which totaled to $1K a month. It was like another rent. I took jobs not based on what I really wanted but what could help me survive. I did this for five years straight.”

At one point, Velez was laid off, but she still never missed a payment. 

Credit: @mandy_velez / Twitter

“Even after a lay-off during this journey, I hustled like hell and never missed a payment,” she confessed. “It was more than most people can do, and I, a single, childless, able-bodied woman consider myself lucky. But still, I carried this burden alone. I never asked for or received help. No one ever paid my bills.”

She savagely “killed the last 32k of debt in EIGHT months.”

Credit: mandyvel / Instagram

Velez felt like her life was “on hold” and reaching a breaking point. She wanted to do more with her money than pay off debt. She wanted a house and a family. That fueled a shocking final blow to her debt and paid off the last $32,000 in just eight months. It wasn’t easy.

Velez lived off a third of her monthly salary to save that $32k.

Credit: @mandy_velez / Twitter

“Turns out, packing lunches and not taking Ubers can save you a ton,” she wrote in a caption. The rest of her story does sound like murder. “I worked my ass off at work and asked for raises, and got them. I worked three jobs at once, my day job and then side hustles. I walked dogs until my feet literally bled. In the cold. In the rain. In the heat. Nothing was beneath me. I babysat. I cat sat. I stayed up for 24 hours straight to make a few hundred bucks as a TV extra on shows they filmed overnight. I cut my food budget down to merely salad, eggs, chicken and rice,” she revealed. 

“I said “no”—my God I said no—,” she continued. “To making memories with my family and friends and prayed there would be other opportunities in the future. Was it easy? No. Worth it? I’m smiling in a cemetery. 102K lifted from my back. You tell me.”

Velez thinks the system is rigged, and that America needs significant policy change to freely educate their citizens.

Credit: mandyvel / Instagram

“Lots of people will see my story and say, see if she could do it, so can you. But I don’t think that,” she said. She acknowledges that she was lucky in being able-bodied and healthy enough to miss entire nights of sleep and work three jobs. “Not everyone can do this,” she warns. Why? The game is rigged. “Only those who play know it,” she says.

Velez is sharing her story because she doesn’t “feel we student borrowers deserve the hardship that comes with these loans: high interest rates, sketchy providers, yearly tuition hikes, the list goes on.” She hopes that her story will inspire those who are in the game to murder their loans. She also hopes it better informs those who are considering playing. Finally, she wants you to vote for “policy that makes the system much more fair. Any little bit of action helps.”

Of course, what’s a celebratory funeral without endless gratitude to the Puerto Rican mami that supported her through it all?

Credit: mandyvel / Instagram

“To my mom who saved me from a year more of debt by encouraging me to go to a state school first,” she begins her Instagram tribute, “even though we sobbed together when the financial aid to Syracuse and Boston wasn’t enough. I’m sorry I gave you so much trouble. I am so grateful for your foresight. I love you always and forever. Thank you, everyone, for cheering me on.”

What’s next for Velez? Girl’s finally taking a much-needed vacation.

Credit: @mandy_velez / Twitter

First thing’s first. She has an emergency fund set aside. Next, she’ll set aside money for taxes for all the dog walking and other side gigs. Then, she’ll start saving money for a down payment on a house. Finalmente, Velez has her “Sights set on Sicily next year” and is taking recommendations. The cherry on top of a successful slaying and funeral? “A cool thing about paying off debt is now having that extra income for ME. And the things *I* want to save for. Not filling the pockets of predatory lenders with insanely high interest rates. Feels amazing.🖤”

Our deepest, gratifying condolences to you, Velez. Felicidades.

READ: Wells Fargo Is Being Accused Of Denying Loans To Undocumented Students