In the shadow of a memorial, life goes on nearly three years after a mass shooting that took the lives of 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso.
“I think everyone has shell shocked, both from the attack from COVID, and the community hasn't really had the time to process the trauma, but it's there and it's real,” said Zeb Green, a minister of the Unitarian Church in El Paso.
Green led healing circles and worked with the community after the racially-motivated 2019 shooting. As traumatizing as it was, he says it was not surprising that it occurred in El Paso, a border community.
“ It was only a matter of time before El Paso got attacked,” he said.
A 2020 study headed by University of Alabama criminology professor Adam Lankford found that the deadliest shootings, where he categorized by eight or more people that were killed, doubled since 2010, compared to the last four decades.
The Violence Project, a mass shooting tracker, reports that hate-motivated mass shootings, paired with fame-seeking perpetrators have increased rapidly since 2015.
“The shooter in Walmart articulated this very specifically, and that same kind of language of people of color replacing white people is the same language that they were using in Buffalo, all of this violence is not happening sporadically, it's happening under very specific guidelines, ideologies,” said Juan Ortiz, a founder of Casa Carmelita, a community resource center.
He says he also is a victim of racially-motivated violence. To end mass public violence, he believes it’s crucial to recognize patterns between events.
“I think the country has a lot of unresolved scars that continue to fester,” he said.
Colby Rogers is a researcher at the Colorado Resilience Collaborative, which looks for patterns and indicators among acts of targeted and mass violence.
“Around 80% of the time, there's been something such as a breadcrumb, something has been posted online and a lot of people don't want to believe that that content is going to manifest into an atrocity that we see,” he said.
He believes a missing piece to the conversation is the contagion of violence that not only copycats may carry out, but how that violence impacts members of a targeted community months to years after the fact, like El Paso.
“We live in a world currently that absorbs a collective trauma, which is a very much different than like PTSD or anything. It's when the whole community has been exacerbated by hopelessness and helplessness,” he said.
If violence encourages and inspires more violence, whether that’s motivation to carry out acts or a response to trauma, what can stop this domino effect and protect the public? As a nation, we’re still trying to figure this out, but for those still living with the pain of targeted, mass violence, they know of a place we may want to start – an emphasis on community and understanding.
“We have to examine ourselves in the many ways we contribute to that we've allowed that culture to continue and turn a blind eye to the real physical balance that it's enacted,” said Ortiz.