Texas — A brother who traveled more than 1,000 miles to confront his sister’s killer. An uncle of a four-year-old orphan whose parents were killed protecting the boy from the hail of bullets. A woman whose husband was gunned down next to her while her nine-year-old granddaughter watched.
Nearly four years after a white gunman killed 23 people at a Walmart store in El Paso in a racist attack targeting Hispanic shoppers, relatives of the victims are packing a courtroom near the US border. and Mexico this week to see Patrick Crusius punished for one of the worst mass shootings in the nation.
The sentencing phase, which continued Thursday, is the first chance the families have had to speak with Crusius face-to-face since the Aug. 3, 2019 shooting.RELATED
Crusius, 24, is expected to receive multiple life terms in federal prison after pleading guilty to 90 counts of murder, weapons and hate crimes in February. He could also receive the death penalty on separate charges in state court.
Here’s some of what the families told Crusius and what others want from the sentence:
forgiveness and failure
Family members credit Jordan and Andre Anchondo with protecting their 2-month-old son, Paul, during the attack, in which they were both killed.
Tito Anchondo, Andre’s brother, said that he will forgive Crusius but also wants to explain to him how he failed.
Less than half an hour before the attack, Crusius posted an online rant about an alleged “invasion” of Texas by Hispanics and warned that they will take over the government and economy.
“He set out to hurt people because he said Hispanics were taking over. I just want him to know that his efforts were in vain,” Anchondo said. “Yes, we lost a lot of people… Those of us who are still here are moving on.”Family members of victims of the mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso leave federal court in El Paso, Texas, on Wednesday, July 5, 2023. (Andres Leighton)
His nephew turned 4 in May. Anchondo said the boy has begun to understand the loss of his parents and deals with it on special occasions, like Father’s Day, and by seeing family portraits of him.
Paul Jamrowski, Jordan’s father, said it was excruciating to sit in the same courtroom as Crusius on Wednesday. He added that he forgives Crusius and that he is not sure that he will get justice.
“These lives will never come back, so how is that justice?” Jamrowski said. “And who can say what justice is? What we do is try to deal with it like every other family has, which is to get on with their lives.”
“They didn’t knock us out”
Dean Reckard claims that he has nothing to say to the man who killed his younger sister, Margie Reckard.
But still, he and his wife traveled from Omaha, Nebraska, to hear what other families are saying to their shooter. The sight of Crusius being ushered into the courtroom on Wednesday shocked Reckard and caused him to break down in tears.
Hilda Reckard, Dean’s wife, indicated that they were there to “deal with hate.”
“I just think that coming here is to take a stand,” he said. “You knocked us down, you didn’t knock us out.”
They carry photographs
Thomas Hoffmann displayed courtroom photos of his father, Alexander Hoffmann, a German engineer who raised a close-knit family in neighboring Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Alexander, 66, had crossed the border on a routine shopping trip on the day of the shooting.
Hoffman said he hoped Crusius would lose sleep over his actions and insisted that he confront the images of his father.
“He always taught us that the color of your skin does not matter because we are all children of God,” he said. He called Crusius “an evil parasite who is nothing without a weapon.”
Elise Hoffmann-Taus, Alexander’s daughter, urged the court: “Please do not go easy on Patrick Wood Crusius.”
“Evil exists beyond the storybooks”
Among the first to head to Crusius was David Johnson’s family, including his widow, eldest daughter and a granddaughter who witnessed the attack.
They all talked about the daily trauma of the death of a doting grandfather who liked to play with his grandchildren, cook and watch NASCAR races.
“He was always my rock and my strength, and you took him away from me,” Stephanie Melendez, Johnson’s daughter, told Crusius. “You stole my daughter’s safety and you changed my life forever… You showed her that evil exists beyond the storybooks.”