El Paso absorbs more grief as shooting deaths climb to 22

Eleven-year-old Leilani Hebben puts her head on her mother Anabel Hebben's shoulder as they visit the scene of a mass shooting at a shopping complex Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — The Texas border city jolted by a weekend massacre at a Walmart absorbed still more grief Monday as the death toll climbed to 22 in El Paso, where the shooting rampage claimed more lives than the number of murders here just two years ago.

Anger also simmered, including toward President Donald Trump, who on Monday addressed the nation for the first time since the attack in Texas and another in Ohio that killed 31 people in all and wounded dozens more. The possibility that Trump would come to El Paso in wake of the tragedy unnerved some residents who said his divisive words are partly to blame.

In scripted remarks from the White House, Trump urged unity while blaming mental illness and video games. He made no mention of limiting gun sales.

Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar of El Paso made clear that the president was not welcome in her hometown as it mourned. Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who was an El Paso congressman for six years, also said Trump should stay away.

“This president, who helped create the hatred that made Saturday’s tragedy possible, should not come to El Paso. We do not need more division. We need to heal. He has no place here,” O’Rourke tweeted.

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Other residents in the largely Latino city of 700,000 said Monday that Trump’s rhetoric is difficult for them to stomach.

“It’s offensive just because most of us here are Hispanic” said Isel Velasco, 25. “It’s not like he’s going to help or do anything about it.”

Authorities are scrutinizing a racist, anti-immigrant screed posted online shortly before police say Patrick Crusius, 21, opened fire on Saturday. Language in the document mirrors some of the words used by Trump, who on Monday denounced white supremacy, which he has been reluctant to criticize.

The Federal Aviation Administration advised pilots of a presidential visit Wednesday to El Paso and Dayton, Ohio. But the White House had not made any formal announcement.

The El Paso shooting is one of the deadliest in U.S. history, and the death toll rose Monday as doctors announced that two more of the wounded had died. Dr. Stephen Flaherty of Del Sol Medical Center described the wounds as “devastating and major” and said that one patient who died had major abdominal injuries affecting the liver, kidneys and intestines.

The hospital did not release the names or ages of the two patients who died, but hospital officials described one as an elderly woman.

Mexican officials have said eight Mexican nationals were among the dead. Tens of thousands of Mexicans legally cross the border each day to work and shop in El Paso. Another patient remained in critical condition.

Mexico’s foreign secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, said Monday the Mexican government considers the mass shooting to be an act of terrorism against Mexican citizens on U.S. soil. He said Mexico will participate in the investigation and trial of the man suspected of carrying out the attack.

El Paso has long prided itself on being one of the safest cities in the nation. When years of drug cartel-driven violence in neighboring Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, left tens of thousands of people dead, El Paso still had one of the nation’s lowest crime rates. Police reported 23 murders last year and 20 the year before that, making Saturday’s rampage a year’s worth of bloodshed.

Authorities searched for any links between the suspect and the material in the document that was posted online, including the writer’s expression of concern that an influx of Hispanics into the United States will replace aging white voters, potentially turning Texas blue in elections and swinging the White House to Democrats.

Vanessa Tavarez, 36, from the rural West Texas town of Seagraves, traveled to El Paso on Saturday to renew her Mexican husband’s residency and work documents. They arrived with their 5-year-old son at a motel only to find police helicopters circling overhead and the swimming pool on lockdown.

Shopping at the Walmart where the shooting occurred was on the family’s to-do list before the shooting occurred. Fear nagged at them, Tavarez said, as they bought supplies that aren’t available at home and caught a movie.

“I don’t think anybody would be in favor of him (Trump) being here, first of all,” Tavarez said. “Because a lot of people probably think it’s because of him that everything happened. … I just think people will be angry.”

Juan Figueroa, a 24-year-old Army soldier who has lived in El Paso since early this year, said his feelings about the president are complex. He said Trump has a right to go wherever he wants, including El Paso, but he worries that the president’s presence might incite more violence.

But Figueroa said he blames only the shooter for his actions.

“The big reason I think he was attacking Hispanics was he was uneducated, he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know what Hispanics don’t do or what we do out here,” Figueroa said. “I mean, there’s always going to be people out there that hate other groups.”

Weber reported from Austin.