EL PASO, Texas – By daybreak that fateful Saturday, El Paso was already heating up, pulsing toward a high of 104.
Benny McGuire jostled his 10-year-old daughter Madison out of bed. She was in no mood to stand in 100-degree weather selling snacks for her soccer team. But dad persisted.
Robert Evans headed to the place where he’d been a manager for seven years: the Walmart near Cielo Vista Mall.
Dr. Stephen Flaherty, trauma surgeon, clocked in a little early for his shift at Del Sol Medical Center. He had a staff meeting in a bit.
Just another Saturday. Just another hot summer day. Just another American tragedy, waiting to burst open and rain misery over so many people who had no cause to suffer.
Within hours, McGuire would be shouting to his daughter, “Run! … Keep running!” Evans would announce "Shooter, shooter!" over a two-way radio to warn his employees. Flaherty and his team would receive patient after patient from one of the country’s busiest Walmarts, now running red with blood.
By the time it was over, 22 people would die, 25 would be wounded, and a white man with an AK-47-style weapon and a hateful heart would surrender to authorities without a fight.
In a tragedy that drew a presidential visit and ignited demands for gun control, countless lives were forever changed Aug. 3 by a stranger who police say drove nearly 600 miles from suburban Dallas and opened fire, later telling police, "I'm the shooter" and that he targeted "Mexicans."
The impact will be measured for years, and some of the events of that day are still unfolding. There are many unanswered questions.
Today, though, before all the answers are known, here are the stories of some who were caught up in the madness.
A looming threat on an ordinary day
“Hey,” Benny McGuire said to his sleepy daughter. “It’s go-time. Let’s raise some money for your team.”
Reluctantly, Madison crawled out of bed, put on her summer league soccer jersey and headed to the car for the 25-minute drive to the Walmart, where she and her dad would meet her teammates for a day of fundraising.
The EP Fusion all-girls soccer team had planned to sell fresh-squeezed juices for $2.50 and chicharrones (pork rinds) for a buck apiece outside the store. They were raising money for new jerseys and a fall tournament in Arizona.
By 9 a.m., they were at the Walmart. McGuire unloaded ice bags from his car; the other parents brought tables. For the next 90 minutes, the girls, their coaches and parents smiled, laughed and even danced as they sold snacks to customers outside the massive store’s two entrances.
Inside, the store was filling up. The Walmart is close to the border of Mexico, and residents of neighboring Juárez cross over regularly to shop alongside El Pasoans. The store attracts thousands of customers daily. On this day, summer break was almost over for many kids, and Evans, the 44-year-old store manager, noticed a lot of shoppers and employees milling around the back-to-school section near the general merchandise entrance.
Three miles away, Dr. Flaherty already had emerged from his staff meeting at Del Sol, and started to work on patients in operating rooms, the kind of work he expected on a usual day. As the hospital’s trauma medical director, Flaherty is trained in handling some of the worst things that come in through emergency room doors — the injuries that threaten limbs and lives. He’d seen it plenty in his deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan while serving in the U.S. Army.
Meanwhile, somewhere out there, while customers filed in to Walmart past little girls dancing and selling snacks for their soccer team, and while a doctor was going about his daily rounds at a nearby hospital, a man was coming with a gun.
The man, as the authorities have it, had been on the road for 10 to 11 hours.
The route from the city of Allen to El Paso encompasses some 580 miles of lonely Texas roadway over stretches of desert and the occasional small town. Police said the man at some point had legally purchased an AK-47-style weapon near his home.
Many details of his actions that day have not been made public. El Paso police and fire officials — citing the ongoing city and federal investigations in a case that could bring the death penalty — have declined to release much about the gunman’s actions, including specific timelines.
At 10:15 a.m. Saturday, a four-page "manifesto" filled with anti-immigrant rhetoric was posted to an anonymous message board.
The document, which police believe is connected to the suspect, warned of an impending attack, claiming it was "a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas."
'Felt like time stopped' as violence erupts
Around 10:30 a.m., Evans was taking a break outside the store, checking emails on his cellphone. He was walking back in when he heard what sounded like a loud backfire from a car. He stepped back outside to investigate — and saw a man in the middle of the parking lot.
The gunman was already firing, moving among parked cars, blasting toward the front of the store, wearing earmuffs and a blue shirt.
The man shot someone in the lot and then continued to shoot toward the middle front of the store where the girls soccer club was fundraising. Evans saw several people shot there.
“Once I saw more rounds coming out, and these people dropping, I proceeded back into the store,” Evans said. He used his two-way store radio to issue an alert to other employees, using company code language.
Translation: Act of violence. Happening now.
McGuire, the soccer dad, was walking away from the group’s tent area, toward the east entrance where his daughter was when he heard the first gunshot. He looked back to the tent area and saw a puff of smoke.
Then came a second gunshot.
“I looked at my daughter and said, ‘Run!’ “ McGuire said. “It just felt like time stopped.”
More gunshots. By the fifth, McGuire bolted toward his daughter, two other girls and a parent — all of whom were fleeing into the store. They zig-zagged through aisles, seeking to minimize themselves as targets. McGuire remembers running through the home décor section and seeing towels and kitchen items, and then veering into another section.
"Shooter, shooter!" Evans said into his radio.
The gunman entered through the door near where the groceries and produce are kept, farther away from the busy back-to-school section.
People screamed as they heard a steady stream of gunshots, Evans said, but he never saw the gunman again.
“I was grabbing (customers) by the shirt, by the arm,” and getting them to run to the emergency exits at the back of the store and the Garden Center exit on the side of the store facing Cielo Vista Mall, Evans said.
“'Come on, come on, you got to go out the exits,'” he remembered yelling to the customers in English and Spanish. “'This isn’t a test, we need to get out of the building right now.'”
Octavio Ramiro Lizarde, a 23-year-old construction worker from El Paso, was in line with his nephew at a bank inside the store when the gunman stormed in.
Lizarde wanted to cash his most recent work check so he could spend the rest of the day helping his nephew get ready for school.
Javier Amir Rodriguez, 15, was about to start his sophomore year at a new high school in El Paso.
Lizarde wanted to pay for Javier’s haircut, school clothes and back-to-school supplies. But before he could see a teller, Lizarde heard the gunshots.
People were running in every direction. He called out for Javier and tried to pull him toward the manager's office at the bank.
"I said, 'Come here, hurry up.' He's like, 'Where?' 'Over here, vente,' so I try to pull him and I looked up and (the shooter) was there. (Javier) looked at (the shooter) as well and he turned to look at me and that's when ...," Lizarde said, his voice trailing off.
Lizarde caught a brief glimpse of the shooter, only enough to see that the man wore glasses.
They were then both shot.
As shoppers flee, they are met with carnage
“I just kept reassuring the girls, ‘Keep running! Keep running!’ " said McGuire, who recalled running for about a minute and a half before finding an exit door. “My main focus was just to run … and we just hauled out a back door.”
Once outside, the group ran to a street, then up a hill and crossed over a barrier that led to a movie theater parking lot. McGuire told his daughter and the others to wait there while he went back to get the car.
But when he returned to the front parking lot, he found carnage.
He saw a woman lying on the pavement in a handicapped parking space. He ran to help, but she was already dead. Her truck door was open. She had been loading groceries.
Then he spotted his daughter’s coach, Memo Garcia, who was shot in the leg and stomach. While trying to help Garcia, McGuire saw another coach down.
“I’m looking for anybody. I’m yelling for police. 'I have two down, and one’s dead. The lady in the street is dead,' " recalled McGuire, who caught the attention of a police officer.
“The officer tells me, 'You need to get out of here now. We’re trying to find this guy. He’s still on the premises. We’ll take care of your guys. Just get out of here.' "
And so McGuire went back to the spot where he had left his daughter and the others and yelled at everyone to immediately leave the area, that the gunman was still on the loose and that it still wasn’t safe.
Guillermo Glenn was near the automotive section.
The 78-year-old Texan, born and raised in a small oilfield town near Odessa, is a well-known activist around El Paso, the one often at the front of protests and marches, most recently fighting for environmental justice for immigrants. But today he was just a guy shopping for dog food.
“At first, bang bang — really loud,” he said. “I thought something fell over and crashed."
People started running toward the back of the building in a panic — a lot of people.
“And then I saw some women that were dripping blood,” he said. “I knew then that it was a shooter.”
After a time, Glenn saw emergency workers and shouted for a med tech. A woman was bleeding and needed help.
“They were waving at me, 'No, you have to take her out,' ” he recalled.
So Glenn and an older woman lifted the victim onto a stock cart and wheeled her out.
“When we got to the front is when it really hit us,” he said. "That’s where all the massacre was.”
He saw bodies. And blood.
“We have been made a target,” Glenn said later. “It’s very emotional. ... I had the blood of the wounded people on my hands.”
Back at the hospital, Dr. Flaherty got an alert from the hospital’s messaging system. There was an active shooter in El Paso, it said, but he didn’t know where, how many shooters there were or how many people were injured.
“Usually, that message doesn’t ... turn into actionable information,” he said. “I texted my CEO, David, and said, ‘David, something’s going on.’ ”
Tracing the suspect's path prior to the shooting
There’s no making sense of the madness.
It is impossible at this point to explain why a man with a gun apparently chooses to mow down people he does not know, targeting people who do not look like him, in such an abhorrent outburst of hate. His actions in the store can be recounted only through people who were there. No security videos, if they exist, have been released.
The suspect, 21, had lived in Allen with his grandparents in a two-story house in a park-side neighborhood of homes with manicured lawns called Star Creek. They've said he moved out six weeks ago, but spent a few nights there more recently when they were out of town.
Weeks before the rampage, his mother contacted the Allen Police Department out of concern that her son had an AK-type rifle, the family's lawyers said.
Dallas attorney Chris Ayres confirmed a CNN report that said the mother only sought information and wasn't motivated by a concern that her son was a threat.
The family's lawyers claimed the mother was concerned about her son's age, maturity level and lack of experience but was told that he was legally allowed to possess the weapon.
The lawyers said the mother didn't identify herself or her son in the call.
Authorities have not disclosed specifics of the man's travel to El Paso. But when he arrived, police said, he got lost in a neighborhood, then found his way to the Walmart. He was hungry and stopped to eat.
At 10:39 a.m., someone dialed 911 about a shooting.
The gunman entered through the front.
Evans, the manager, said he was running and trying to call 911 on his cell while moving customers toward a rear exit.
They headed out an emergency door. Now outside, Evans went around to the Automotive Department door, where he saw a customer who had been shot in the back being treated with compression by another employee to slow the bleeding.
He then moved to the Garden Center side of the store and customers waved him down because there was a vehicle with a man and woman inside. The woman had been shot in the face and was unresponsive, Evans said. The man, who had been driving, was “kind of slouched over and he was bleeding heavily from his back,” and in the front, he said.
El Paso Mayor Dee Margo was in Austin, 576 miles away, attending a Saturday morning meeting in the state capital when he started getting alarming emails.
“It was pretty stressful,” Margo said. “I was trying to get good data and we didn’t have good data. The first one, the first data we got was there was a shooting, there were no fatalities. Then it was three.”
Margo realized he had to get back home, but there were no commercial flights that could get him to El Paso before 7 p.m. “So, I called a friend who had access to a plane and he gave me a ride.”
On that flight, the mayor had no Wi-Fi, no updates.
“For an hour and a half, hour and 15 minutes, I was totally out of contact,” Margo said. “All I could do was pray. That was frankly all I could do. I thought about it and prayed.”
Evans eventually made it back to the front entrance where he had been taking his break, and police were there.
“The officers taped off the store and wouldn’t let me back in,” Evans said.
One of his assistant managers had helped employees hide in the store’s money center and then started helping the wounded.
A customer said the shooting was over.
“I don’t have a time. It seemed like forever. It seemed like it’d never stop,” Evans said.
"I was shaking and breathing heavily and adrenaline, running to get everyone out of the building. … There are no words.”
Lizarde, shot in a foot, stayed on the floor beside his wounded nephew, Javier, for what seemed like 15 to 20 minutes until police told Lizarde he had to leave. They helped evacuate him from the store, which he remembers being covered in blood.
Those minutes felt like eternity and all he could think about was whether Javier, who had so much ahead of him, would make it out alive.
The teen was more like a son to Lizarde, he said. He taught the boy how to play video games and dribbled soccer balls with him in the park. Javier played for his high school team and a local club team and dreamed of meeting Brazilian star Neymar.
The boy also was good with Lizarde's two young children. Javier knew how to calm Lizarde's daughter when she would cry.
At the hospital, minutes after texting his CEO that “something’s going on,” Dr. Flaherty sent a more alarming message from the hospital:
“David, this is real. We got five on the way.”
Five patients quickly turned to 11, and the hospital staff swung into action. More patients went to another hospital.
Flaherty said he doesn’t remember what time the first patients arrived, or when the last one did.
The day was a blur until about 8 p.m.
“It’s hard to put this whole thing into context in the first three days ... it’s not lost on anybody in the first hours that 20 people are dead,” Flaherty said. “That’s something you carry with you.”
Lizarde was taken to Flaherty's hospital.
His foot was in such bad shape doctors gave him the option of amputation. Instead, he opted for orthopedic surgery, the first of many expected procedures in an effort to save it.
He said he's an optimist who wants to walk again, to return to work and support his fiancé, 2-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter.
His nephew, Javier, died. He was the youngest victim of the 22 who perished.
"I did lose my nephew right in front of me," Lizarde said. "It was a horrible image and I hope nobody ever goes through it. It's very painful."
Lizarde said his own physical pain will eventually end.
“The only pain that won’t end is the emotional," he said later from the hospital.
“He was really fun to be around,” Lizarde said. "He was my ride or die."
He’s still struggling to understand why his nephew's life was cut short by a gunman accused of hatred for people who look like himself and Javier. But he said his faith will give him the strength to one day forgive.
“I really hope that if he doesn’t get the death penalty, I hope he gets better mentally and realizes what he did and betters his life,” he said.
When he's released from the hospital, Lizarde wants to tattoo Javier's face on his body. He wants to always keep him close.
Shortly after the shootings, police say, Patrick Crusius, 21, of Allen surrendered to an El Paso police motorcycle officer at Sunmount Drive and Viscount Boulevard, about a block behind the Walmart. A cellphone video posted online purportedly of the arrest shows an officer leading a man slowly away from a car, the man's hands behind his back. They say he surrendered without a fight.
The suspect did not have a rifle on him, a police spokesman said, declining to say where the rifle was found and other details, citing the ongoing investigation.
Crusius showed no remorse to investigators and appeared to be in "a state of shock and confusion,” police Chief Greg Allen said.
The mass shooting is being considered a hate crime and federal prosecutors are looking at domestic terrorism charges.
Crusius was charged with capital murder and was being held in isolation in the El Paso County Jail. El Paso County District Attorney Jaime Esparza has said that prosecutors will seek the death penalty.
McGuire got his daughter and her soccer friends away from the store about 11:15 a.m.
They drove to his girlfriend’s house, where they drank water, cried and consoled one another. McGuire got on social media to warn soccer parents not to head to the Walmart for the fundraiser.
He spent the next several hours on his phone, answering calls and texts from worried friends and family. At one point he turned off the phone.
“I grabbed my daughter and I held her,” he said. “And me and her just cried.”
None of the soccer players was hurt in the attack. Two parent volunteers were shot and released from a hospital. Two coaches remained hospitalized.
“It was so unreal,” he said, noting his biggest fear was losing his daughter and the other girls. “Saturday could have been the last day that I saw her.”
One community spanning two countries
Mayor Margo made it back to El Paso about 1:30 p.m., and went immediately to where authorities had gathered, then on to a staging area at nearby MacArthur Intermediate School, and a news conference with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
“We just made the rounds," Margo said. "I was kind of numb.”
Days later, he was still that way.
"We were a community 100 years before the United States was formed, and that’s what people don’t understand," he said. "We’re totally different. We’re the largest binational, bilingual, bicultural area in the world. ... We are one region. You cannot tell the difference between where El Paso ends and Juárez, Mexico, begins.”
Around 8 p.m., staff at Del Sol had all patients “tucked in and safe,” Flaherty said. He worked overnight, planning for the next day. And the next day. And the next day.
He went into a hospital call room around 3 a.m. Sunday and took a nap. He didn’t go home until 10 p.m. that next night.
Preserving the memory of those lost in the shooting
There are other stories, other tragic events and acts of heroism, that are not included in this account. Since Aug. 3, El Pasoans, their neighbors in Juárez, and people around the nation have mourned the victims of the Walmart mass shooting.
A makeshift memorial to the victims grows daily, stretching a block or more and sandwiched between the Walmart and a nearby Hooter's. There are handmade crosses, balloons, posters, drawings and written appeals for change. It's been the scene of prayer circles, musical performances, hugging and sobbing. Flags also fly there, representing the United States, Mexico and the state of Texas. Eight of the dead are from Mexico.
Funerals and memorial services already have begun.
One of them was a rosary service for Leonardo Campos.
It was midday Saturday when David Campos started texting his big brother, Leonardo, in El Paso. David had just seen the news.
"He was always the type to call back," Campos, 26, said of his 41-year-old brother, who grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and had moved to El Paso about six years ago. He lived with his wife, Maribel Hernandez, and her four children.
Hours passed. Nighttime fell. Fears escalated.
By Sunday morning, David Campos would learn that his brother, who coached him in baseball, pushed him to excel and dreamed of being a physical education coach, was among those killed.
This was the man the Campos family and friends honored at the memorial service, where David Campos came to say goodbye to his Dallas Cowboys-loving brother and mentor who years ago jumped at the chance to coach his little brother’s baseball team. Leonardo was remembered as a man with a big personality who excelled at baseball, football, soccer and dancing. He even joked sometimes about becoming an exotic dancer; he could do the splits between two chairs.
"He was super tough on us but it was worth it," David Campos recalled with a slight smile. "He made me a better player, and a better man."
He added: "He would also tell us to never give up, no matter what life throws at you."
Maribel Hernandez also died.
The couple, relatives said, had just dropped off their dog at a pet groomer before stopping at the Walmart just five minutes from their home.
David Campos of San Juan, Texas, had never visited his big brother in El Paso, a place that Leonardo had grown to love for its scenic views and culture.
On Thursday, David finally made it, only to mourn his brother in a casket.
Jim Schaefer, Tresa Baldas, Vic Kolenc, Molly Smith, Daniel Borunda, Lauren Villagran, Joshua Bowling, María Cortés González and USA TODAY staff writer Trevor Hughes produced this report. The story was written by Schaefer and Baldas.
This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: El Paso shooting survivors recall panic, terror: 'Time stopped'