The mass shooting that took place in El Paso August 3, 2019 resulted in a most unique outpouring of public grief two weeks later. I am honored to have witnessed and participated in this remarkable series of events.
Salvador (Sal) Perches is CEO of Perches Funeral Homes in El Paso, Texas, Juarez, Mexico and Las Cruces, New Mexico. He also started the El Paso Funeral Museum at one of his funeral home locations on the west side of town. Once a month, he holds a community outreach and education event at the museum/funeral home.
Months earlier, we had agreed to bring a one-day Before I Die event there on August 17. But the mass shooting at a WalMart that killed 22 people changed our plans. We still went ahead with the Before I Die seminar, but we changed some of the presentations and included a session on “Lessons on Grief and Mourning in Cartoons.”
Rise Again El Paso
Sal also asked if I could provide an uplifting message to the hurting community at a special event on Friday, August 16. After thinking about it overnight, the answer came.
I had done a speech years earlier called Rise Again. The theme of resiliency is based on the refrain of the song “The Mary Ellen Carter” by Canadian songwriter/singer Stan Rogers. I revisited that speech and tailored the content to the situation in El Paso.
Here is video of the speech, Rise Again, recorded in 2013. The Rise Again El Paso speech will be posted after the video is prepared.
On the noon news program on KVIA-TV Channel 7 in El Paso, Sal Perches and Gail Rubin were interviewed about the Rise Again El Paso community event, the upcoming visitation for Margie Reckard, and the procession of 22 hearses that will take all of the flowers to the public memorial at the Walmart. Broadcast on August 16, 2019.
The Call to the Public
The last of the 22 funerals for the shooting victims was for Margie Reckard. Her husband Antonio Basco had no family, so he issued an invitation for the public to attend Margie’s funeral. Perches Funeral Home shared a post on social media, and the message went viral. People from across the US planned to come to El Paso for Margie Reckard’s visitation and funeral.
Flower arrangements started pouring in from across the US and around the world: Japan, New Zealand, South Africa. The funeral home moved the event to their largest available facility, the La Paz Faith Center. The historic church seats 350 in the main sanctuary.
At first, the estimated count of flower arrangements was 300. The phone kept ringing at the funeral home, and the delivery trucks just kept coming. Bouquets, vases, standing arrangements, elaborate floral sprays, and other flower arrangements continued to be delivered. The count grew to 500, then 1,000.
The front of the sanctuary was covered in flowers, including on top of the wall of cremation niches at the back of the raised dais. Floral stands lined one side of the room, and arrangements filled the window alcoves, the lobby, a small chapel, and the table next to the restrooms. Smaller bouquets were placed on the stairs to the choir loft where news cameras were stationed, and a variety of arrangements were positioned outside next to the doors of the church.
The visitation was announced for 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. The sanctuary filled up by 5:00 p.m. and a line formed outside in 99-degree heat. By 7:00 p.m. the line wrapped around the entire block where the church was located, plus an additional block adjacent to the church.
Motorcycle groups set up a line of members standing guard with American flags. People signed a guest register as they waited in line. An estimated 3,000 people came through over the course of the evening, which did not end until after 11:00 p.m.
When Antonio Basco arrived, he greeted people in line outside the La Paz Faith Center. He made his way through the center aisle of the sanctuary toward his wife’s casket. People stopped him for hugs, condolences, and words of strength for El Paso.
People wore T-shirts proclaiming “El Paso Strong.” The hashtag #ElPasoStrong was all over social media.
The Floral Tribute Moves to Walmart
On Thursday night, even with the initial floral arrangement count of 350, Sal Perches realized there would be far too many flowers to go to the cemetery for Margie Reckard’s burial. He had an inspiration.
He called all the leaders the of El Paso funeral homes that contributed funerals for the families of the slain. They coordinated a caravan of 22 hearses to carry the wealth of floral tributes to the public memorial that had sprung up along a fence next to the Walmart where the shooting occurred.
On Sunday morning, 22 hearses from the Perches, Sunset, Martin, San Jose, Mt. Carmel, Crestview and Hillcrest funeral homes were loaded up with flowers. Everyone wore “El Paso Strong” t-shirts. All 22 hearses were fully loaded. El Paso police provided a procession escort from La Paz Faith Center to the public memorial. Along the route, people watched, recorded, and waved.
At the Walmart, a crowd of hundreds watched the procession arrive. Once the hearses were parked, members of the public helped take the flowers out and place them along the length of the fence. A mariachi band played music.
Sal Perches addressed the media and the crowd, with the representatives of all the funeral homes gathered together. “That was unbelievable, so emotional driving in here right now,” he said. “We had to give to our community the showing of the 22 hearses in procession means our 22 lovely people that we lost from El Paso, Juarez and Chihuahua. Something has to be done. We cannot have any more lost lives.”
“We had over 1,000 arrangements for Mrs. Reckard. Yes, they were for her, but they were also for everybody, for all of the victims, for our city, for everybody that participated in this, and all the people that are here, always cleaning up and coming to the memorial. Thank you, thank you for helping to unload,” he added.
It was a fitting way to end the two weeks of funerals and help the El Paso community move toward healing.
After the epic weekend, Salvador Perches said, “We appreciate the uplifting words Gail Rubin brought to El Paso after the tragic shooting that devastated our community. At our one-day Before I Die seminar, she provided an incredible warm and upbeat presentation and her knowledge won over the audience in a big way. I highly recommend Gail!”
Massive News Media Coverage
The news media came out in force for Margie Reckard’s visitation. In addition to the local El Paso media, there was CNN, NBC Nightly News, NPR, Univision/Telemundo, The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, and Associated Press. At least 12 television cameras occupied the choir loft and took images on the sanctuary’s main floor.
The news stories included: