'We're heartbroken': El Paso mourns as funerals for shooting victims begin

Vivian Ho in El Paso
Photograph: Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Images

They kept their sunglasses on indoors to hide the tears, and hugged each other for longer than usual. They wore brave faces with their “El Paso Strong” shirts, but even the strong must grieve, this week of all weeks in this corner of Texas.

Five days since one of the most deadly mass shootings in recent US history, the funerals and memorials for the victims have begun, in El Paso and directly across the border, in Mexico. On Thursday, the family and friends of Leonardo Campos, 41, gathered in the lobby of a local funeral home for the viewing of the husband and stepfather, and clipped on black ribbons with pins of his face.

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“Right now, we’re heartbroken,” said his younger brother, David Campos, his eyes wet.

Men broke down sobbing at the elder Campos’s casket, their shoulders shaking and hunched. Women gasped for air as the tears took their breath away, embracing each other and the Campos family.

For those that packed the small chapel that afternoon, their grief was made worse by the knowledge that they would have to do this all again: Campos had been gunned down alongside his wife, Maribel Hernandez Loya, 56, last Saturday.

“We still can’t process it,” David Campos said. “We think they’re going to come through the door, or they’re going to call you.”

Friends and family of Leonardo Campos at a funeral home in El Paso, Texas, on 8 August. Photograph: Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Images

Leonardo Campos was the type of man who would take care of others in this situation, comforting everyone and drying their tears, his friends and family said. A stepfather to three, he was always looking out and mentoring others.

“He very much had a father side to him,” said his colleague, Joel Urrutia, 25. “I saw him as a big brother. He taught me a lot.”

Campos was studying to be an English teacher, and worked at TriWest Healthcare Alliance, helping veterans. It was a program that former congressman and 2020 Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke was instrumental in bringing to El Paso, and Urrutia made certain to thank O’Rourke for that when he showed up at Campos’s wake.

It was O’Rourke’s second service that day – earlier he was in Ciudad Juárez, El Paso’s sister city directly across the Rio Grande, in Mexico, where he attended the funeral of Iván Manzano.

Beto O’Rourke arrives at the funeral services for Iván Manzano in Ciudad Juárez, on 8 August. Photograph: STRINGER/Reuters

At the Campos service, he shook hands with the family before stepping outside the chapel with Campos’s stepson, to whom he gave his personal cellphone number. “I didn’t even expect him to be here,” said the stepson, Raúl Loya, 34.

Campos was set to get a promotion on Monday, two days after his death. He was going to be a supervisor, Urrutia said. “It was his dream, and it got taken away from him,” he said.

But Urrutia remembers all the things that Campos taught him.

“There’s so much hate toward other people and I know that’s the whole point of this whole thing – they want us to react and they want to get a reaction out of us,” he said. “But we’re not going to let it get to us. That’s not what we do.”