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A quiet home and a lost wedding ring: How a mass shooting upended this family

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A rod in Martha Juarez’s left arm, the silence in her home and a missing wedding ring are daily reminders of the mass shooting that changed her life.

Martha and Luis Juarez had been married for 70 years when a gunman opened fire at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, while they were shopping. Luis, 90, was one of the 23 people killed in the 2019 shooting and the oldest one. His wife underwent several surgeries, spent weeks in the hospital and months in physical therapy after being shot in the arm.

“We still struggle to find ways to care for my mom and we know that she’s still hasn’t processed that trauma because she can’t,” said her daughter, Meg Juarez. “She doesn’t want to go talk to anyone (about it).”

Martha Juarez is among those who survived a mass shooting or lost a loved one, and are still grappling with how hate upended their lives. Many are trying to find a path forward not only for themselves but for the future of their communities.

For Latinos across the country, the shooting in El Paso felt like a devastating reminder that their identities could make them a target for hate crimes and violence, just like the 2015 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston was for Black people and the 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh was for the Jewish community. Last week, the attacks at three spas in the Atlanta area prompted similar fears, grief and outrage among the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.

When Raymond Chang first heard about last week’s shootings, he was in shock and disbelief. His next thought was, “Oh my gosh, we’re having the Asian El Paso right now,” he said.

Chang, a Korean American who is the campus minister at Wheaton College in Illinois, said it was impossible to not think of the Atlanta shootings as an attack on AAPIs. Six women of Asian descent were killed, he said, just as the country was seeing a spike in reported violence toward Asian Americans.

Easy ways to help Asian Americans under attack

Authorities said the suspect in the El Paso massacre traveled to the city with the sole intent of killing immigrants and Mexicans. The accused shooter, Patrick Crusius, is facing multiple hate crimes and capital murder charges. Trial dates have not been set in the state and federal criminal cases against him.

Robert Aaron Long, 21, is being held in connection with the Atlanta-area shootings. He’s claimed responsibility for the shootings saying he believed he had a sex addiction and that he saw the spas as “a temptation … that he wanted to eliminate,” according to the sheriff’s office in Cherokee County.

America has not been a welcoming country for many, survivor says

The 2015 shooting that claimed the lives of nine people at a historically Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, is one of the massacres etched into the country’s memory.

The shooter, an avowed White supremacist, was convicted of federal murder and hate crimes charges. He was sentenced to death in January 2017.

Jennifer Pinckney, whose husband Rev. Clementa Pinckney died in the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, says the many mass shootings that have followed force her to relive the tragedy.

“It takes me back to hearing the gunshots and the commotion that went on. It takes me back to when all of the family members were in a hotel, waiting to hear about our loved ones and then once they found out, you hear them screaming and crying out,” Pinckney said.

Since losing her husband, Pinckney says she’s focused on raising her two daughters and “continues to stay strong” for them. She also created a foundation in honor of her late husband to partner with South Carolina groups supporting religious, educational and charitable causes. Other family members of the victims have written books about grief and their path to healing as well as become vocal advocates against gun violence.

A man who served as a jury foreman at the shooter’s federal trial in 2016 said last year that he felt “damned disgusted” because the country was seeing too many Black people killed over nothing.

“We’ve gone through this way too much here lately,” Gil Truesdale told CNN last June. “It was bad enough then, but now with all this, it sort of hits you in a different place.”

For Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who survived the 2018 attack on Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, many communities across the US continue to be threatened regardless of their religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation and the calls for unity should be stronger than ever.

“We need to work together, to be able to help each other to work through the challenges of living in America,” Myers said. “America has not been a welcoming country to immigrants, despite the hopes of the founders. That doesn’t mean that it can’t become something better.”

She fears more people will be targeted

When Martha Juarez returned to her El Paso home from the hospital, she didn’t want to go anywhere or even watch TV. She was afraid and grieving, her daughter says.

Her husband was gone and the wedding ring that marked the beginning of their life together as a married couple was nowhere to be found. Her precious ring was lost, the family says, at some point while medics tended for the 89-year-old injuries at the store or the hospital.

Juarez has been constantly battling the loneliness, which was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Her children, mostly of them living outside El Paso, have been juggling schedules to care for their mother and one of them has relocated to the city to accompany her.

Despite the many challenges, the family can’t forget the attack stemmed from White supremacy, said her daughter, Meg Juarez.

“I think that this is something that we need to start reckoning within our country…dismantling the systems of White supremacy,” she said. “Because all people of color will be targeted … and many have been.”

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