El Pasoan in Austin reflects on anniversary of mass shooting; ‘We’re stronger now than we were back then’

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Yvonne Loya can tell you exactly where she was and what she was doing when she heard about the tragedy that struck her hometown on Aug. 3, 2019.

“I just remember the breaking news coming on and then all of a sudden there’s images of El Paso… and there was an active shooter, is what they reported,” the native El Pasoan explained.

The self-described news junkie was in her living room watching CNN.

“I just remember flipping out and thinking, ‘What is going on?’ and they’re saying Cielo Vista and they’re saying Walmart, and there’s a Sam’s — and I knew exactly where they were talking about as soon as they said it.”

Though she moved to Austin more than 20 years ago, El Paso has remained a huge part of her life, due to her family still living there.

Memorial items left near the scene of the El Paso Walmart mass shooting (KXAN/Chelsea Moreno)

“I just remember thinking like…this is a national thing, this is similar to so many other active shooter incidents that we hear about. Only it’s happening in my hometown, in my community, with my people,” said Loya. “I just remember feeling very shaken up, very scared, freaking out, thinking like, ‘Who is there right now?’

Like so many El Pasoans, the memory of August 3 stings and the emotions are still raw one year after a gunman walked into a Walmart and shot dozens, killing 22 and injuring 24 others.

The latest victim, Guillermo “Memo” Garcia, died this past April — bringing the death toll to 23.

On the one year anniversary of the shooting, her heart is with her home.

“I just want all of the victims, the survivors and the first responders to know that we’re all feeling it with you and even though we can’t be together, we’re still together. Through our hearts, through our thoughts, through our prayers,” she said.

“I can’t imagine what those families are feeling. And especially when I think about our current situation with COVID and not being able to be close with others — and you know in El Paso and with our community as a whole, we are very loving people, we love to hug, we love to kiss each other. So I think that that adds another layer of complexity because we’re not able to comfort one another in the way that we normally would.”

Yvonne Loya, Native El Pasoan now living in Austin

Loya’s heart for El Paso has fueled her motivation to found a group for people just like her called the El Paso in Austin Network.

What started as a group meant to unite people from El Paso for social gatherings, turned into a network who fundraises to award $5,000 scholarships every year to students moving from El Paso to the Austin area for college.

As she reflected on how she could bring her community together on this tragic day, she encouraged others living in Austin to reflect on the day’s meaning themselves. She is asking for El Pasoans to send in a short video of themselves reflecting on the day for a video montage she will share on Facebook.

“When you think about the person that committed this and the purpose that they had was to really act on their own misguidance and their own fear and to come after our own community, people that he didn’t even know and just wreak havoc in our community, I think it’s so important for us to let him know and let others know that he was unsuccessful,” she said. “He did not achieve what he was trying to achieve, he did not accomplish what he was hoping to accomplish and if anything, to the contrary, what’s resulted is that we are all much more closer than before, there’s just so much more compassion that has been pouring out through our community.”

Yvonne Loya, Native El Pasoan now living in Austin

The video will be shared on the group’s Facebook page.

“It touched all of us and so instilled in the us the importance of treating each other with compassion, treating each other kindly, being more loving with each other,” Loya said. “That’s what’s so important about us sharing our thoughts and reflections, us finding ways to reach out to one another to let everyone know that we’re not alone. We are all here to support one another and if anything we’re stronger now than we were back then.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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