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More than 3½ years after he walked into a Walmart near Cielo Vista Mall, massacred 23 people and broke El Paso’s heart, Patrick Crusius pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to various hate crimes and weapons charges.
Wearing a navy blue detention center jumpsuit and a white face mask, he showed no emotion in the courtroom during the reading of the charges.
The 24-year-old, who has been in custody since 2019, will be sentenced in June, and as part of the plea agreement, he is expected to be sentenced to 90 consecutive life sentences. The multiple life sentences are the maximum the shooter can receive because the U.S. Justice Department decided last month not to seek the death penalty. His lawyers announced days later that he would plead guilty.
A federal superseding indictment issued on July 9, 2020, charged him with 90 crimes.
Family members of several victims attended Wednesday’s court hearing. But Jessica Garcia, the widow of Guillermo “Memo” Garcia, who was shot at Walmart and died nine months later, was not among them.
“I don’t want to waste my emotions on today,” Jessica Garcia told El Paso Matters. “I wanna save it, so I can say what I need to say later [at the sentencing hearing]. I just hope I have the courage later.”
Garcia said it is puzzling that the federal government didn’t pursue the death penalty.
“I don’t want to hate him anymore,” she said. “I don’t want to allow him to take away more from me that he already has. … I’m just a little disappointed in the justice system. But there’s no amount of punishment or justice that will bring Memo back. I don’t know what would make me content when Memo’s not here anymore.”
Law enforcement have said that Crusius drove nearly 10 hours on Aug. 3, 2019, from the Dallas suburb of Allen to El Paso. After driving through a neighborhood near Cielo Vista Mall, he parked his car at the Walmart. An estimated 1,500 people were inside the store.
Officials said he entered the store to buy food, then went back to his car, where he retrieved an AK-47-style semi-automatic rifle. He walked back toward the store, opening fire in the parking lot and continuing to shoot as he walked into the store. By the time the shooting stopped, 23 people were fatally wounded and another 22 were injured.
Killed in the attack were Jordan and Andre Anchondo, Maribel Campos, Arturo Benavidez, Javier Amir Rodriguez, David Alvah Johnson, Sara Ester Regalado Moriel, Angelina Silva Englisbee, Adolfo Cerros Hernandez, Juan de Dios Veláquez Chairez, Gloria Irma Márquez, Maria Flores, Maria Eugencia Legarreta Roth, Raul Flores, Jorge Calvillo Garcia, Alexander Gerhard Hoffman, Elsa Mendoza de la Mora, Luis Alfonzo Juarez, Ivan Filiberto Manzano, Margie Reckard, Leonardo Campos Jr., Teresa Sanchez and Guillermo “Memo” Garcia.
Most of them died at the scene or succumbed to their injuries over the next couple of days. Rodriguez, 15, was the youngest person killed; Silva-Englisbee, 86, was the oldest.
“This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” Crusius posted shortly before the shooting on a website popular with white supremacists. He also said immigrants were seeking to “replace” white Americans.
The gunman was mirroring rhetoric that continues to be used by some conservative political and media figures, saying that large-scale migration from south of the border is an “invasion” and part of a “great replacement” of white people by people of color.
Most — though not all — of the shooter's victims were Mexican Americans or Mexicans. His barrage was the deadliest attack on Hispanic people in modern U.S. history.
The massacre stunned and infuriated El Pasoans. They lined up by the thousands to donate blood for the victims and gathered in churches and parks to mourn those killed and injured.
Donald Trump, the president at the time, went to El Paso on Aug. 7, 2019, despite most El Paso leaders asking him to stay away. Many of those leaders, including Democratic U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, said Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric was fueling hatred.
Trump sought to meet with eight shooting victims hospitalized at University Medical Center of El Paso while he was in El Paso; all refused.
Crusius still faces state capital murder charges that could carry the death penalty. No trial date has been set, and El Paso District Attorney Bill Hicks recently said a trial may not happen until 2025. Hicks has previously said that the state will pursue the death penalty.
This story was originally published on El Paso Matters.
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