By Morgan Lee and Paul J Webber | The Associated Press
EL PASO, Texas (AP) — A brother who traveled more than 1,000 miles to confront his sister’s killer. An uncle of an orphaned 4-year-old whose parents died while shielding the boy from the spray of bullets. A wife whose husband was gunned down at her side while their 9-year-old granddaughter looked on.
Nearly four years after a white gunman killed 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso in a racist attack that targeted Hispanic shoppers, relatives of the victims are packing a courtroom near the U.S.-Mexico border this week to see Patrick Crusius punished for one of the nation’s worst mass shootings.
The sentencing phase, which continued Thursday, is the families’ first opportunity to address Crusius face-to-face since the Aug. 3, 2019, shooting.
Crusius, 24, is expected to receive multiple life sentences in federal prison after pleading guilty to 90 murder, weapons and hate crime counts in February. He could still receive the death penalty under separate charges in state court.
Here is some of what the families told Crusius, and what others want from the sentencing:
FORGIVENESS AND FAILURE
Family members credit Jordan Anchondo and Andre Anchondo with shielding their 2-month-old child Paul during the attack, in which they were both killed.
Tito Anchondo, Andre’s brother, said he will forgive Crusius but also wants to explain to him how he failed.
Less than a half-hour before the attack, Crusius posted an online rant about a supposed “invasion” of Texas by Hispanics and warned they would 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 his efforts were in vain,” Anchondo said. “Yeah, we lost a lot of people. … The ones that are still here, we’re still pushing forward.”
His nephew turned 4 in May. Anchondo said the boy has begun to understand the loss of his parents and grapples with it on special occasions, such as Father’s Day, and at the sight of family portraits.
Paul Jamrowski, Jordan’s father, said it was excruciating to sit in the same courtroom as Crusius on Wednesday. He said he forgives Crusius, and that he’s unsure whether justice can ever really be served.
“These lives will never be brought back to life, so how is that justice?” Jamrowski said. “And who’s to say what justice is? What we do is we try to deal with it as every other family has, which is to continue to go on with your life.”
‘YOU DIDN’T KNOCK US OUT’
Dean Reckard said he has nothing to say to the man who killed his mother, Margie Reckard.
But he and his wife still traveled all the way from Omaha, Nebraska, to hear what other families say to the gunman. The sight of Crusius being led into the courtroom Wednesday caused Reckard to convulse and left him wiping tears from his eyes.
Hilda Reckard, Dean’s wife, said they were there to “stand up to hate.”
“I just think that us coming here is to take a stand,” she said. “You knocked us down, you didn’t knock us out.”
Thomas Hoffmann held up photographs in the courtroom of his father Alexander Hoffmann, a German native and engineer who raised a tight-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 loses sleep over his actions and insisted that he confront the images of his father.
“He always taught us that the color of your skin doesn’t matter because we are all children of God,” he said. He called Crusius “an evil parasite that is nothing without a weapon.”
Elise Hoffmann-Taus, Alexander’s daughter, urged the court: “Please, do not be lenient on Patrick Wood Crusius.”
‘EVIL DOES EXIST OUTSIDE STORYBOOKS’
Among the first to address Crusius was the family of David Johnson, including his widow, her grown daughter and a granddaughter who witnessed the attack.
Each spoke of daily trauma from the death of a loving grandfather who liked to play with his grandkids, cook and watch NASCAR racing.
“He was always my rock and my strength, and you took him from me,” Stephanie Melendez, Johnson’s daughter, told Crusius. “You stole my daughter’s safety and you changed my life forever. … You showed her evil does exist outside of storybooks.”
WAITING FOR THE DEATH PENALTY
Albert Hernandez, who lost his sister Maribel Campos and brother-in-law Leonardo Campos in the shooting, doesn’t want to speak in court for now.
He prefers to do so only after Crusius faces a trial that could result in the death penalty, which prosecutors intend to seek in state proceedings.
“This is just a stepping stone for him to be brought to justice,” Hernandez said. “I’m going to wait until after trial, at the end.”
Other mass shootings in Texas also weigh on Hernandez, including last year’s massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde that left 19 children and two teachers dead.
“It’s not about vengeance,” Hernandez said. “It has to do with punishment, and appropriate punishment.”
Weber reported from Austin.
This story has been corrected to show Margie Reckard was Dean Reckard’s mother, not his sister.