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El Paso Shooting Survivor Reflects On Her Experience 1 Year Later

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The biggest massacre deliberately targeting Latinos happened one year ago this Monday. A gunman who allegedly wrote a manifesto of anti-immigrant hate opened fire at a Walmart Supercenter, killing 23 people and wounding more than two dozen others. The woman we are going to speak with next was there. Adria Gonzalez was with her mother shopping for food when the first shots rang out. She is credited with saving the lives of many others.

Welcome to the program.

ADRIA GONZALEZ: Hello.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Adria, take me back to when you heard those first shots ring out.

GONZALEZ: Me and my mother were in the meat section. And as Latinos, you kind of fight with your mother sometimes. We were fighting about some meat because my mother was telling me it's too expensive. And I told her, don't worry; I'll pay for it. And that's when the first shots - we heard.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what did you do?

GONZALEZ: I ran up to the front. I was probably thinking that I was maybe, like, 10 to 15 feet away from him. And that's when I saw everything - bodies on the floor with blood, people yelling, screaming in Spanish. It was terrible. But that's when I started to see people not knowing where to go, and I started yelling in Spanish and in English. (Speaking Spanish). Let's go. Follow me. (Speaking Spanish). There's doors on the side. That was our everyday Walmart, and I knew where the doors were. And people were following me. And I said, let's go this way.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, you got people to run to the back of the store. Many people that day there were elderly. I believe half of those killed were over 60.

GONZALEZ: Yes, because every first of the month, they get their security checks or their retirement checks. So that's why there were a lot of senior citizens that morning - a lot of them - because there's a bank inside Walmart.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, many credit you with saving their life.

GONZALEZ: Yes, that's correct.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, that must be hard but also wonderful.

GONZALEZ: It's hard because you go back and you say to yourself, I should've done more. But I did what I could. And I didn't want anyone to call me a hero because I - it was not about being a hero. It was about helping my people. It's like we're family. In El Paso, we're family. We see senior citizens as our grandparents, you know, our (speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Adria, how have you been experiencing the last year? I mean, what has been the impact on your life?

GONZALEZ: The impact of my life - a little bit worried when we go to stores. Our psychologist, our therapist tells us, you know, you have to get out a little bit. And we do. But we sometimes are worried about, you know, who is going to attack us or who's going to judge us or what if this is going to happen again.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There was a lot of discussion after the attack of trying to lessen the rhetoric around hate, especially of the Hispanic community. Has that happened, in your view?

GONZALEZ: This person just came from Dallas and, you know - and started to do this horrible thing to my people, you know? Why? Why did he do it? I still don't understand why. Why so much hate against us? - because I know my people come, and they try to do their best and try to work and try to, you know, live a better life.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm so sorry.

GONZALEZ: I always say El Paso is (speaking Spanish). It's family. I knew a lot of people who passed away in this tragic morning. I knew them. That's how connected we are in El Paso. That's how connected we are.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I understand that you've been doing things to heal.

GONZALEZ: Yes, I have.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you tell me a little bit about that?

GONZALEZ: Being with my wife - mostly my wife has been a huge support for me, just talking about it and just letting it go little by little. Also what I do is I buy properties, and I flip them. The last one I did is a Airbnb Harry Potter.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You gave it a Harry Potter theme.

(LAUGHTER)

GONZALEZ: Yes, 'cause I needed some magic in my life. I needed something to motivate me. And just getting an old house and just making it beautiful and - that's my therapy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And how is your mother doing, and how is she healing?

GONZALEZ: My mother's healing by doing her mask - her face masks. She gets happy. She gets her (speaking Spanish) in the morning. And she starts sewing every day...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She's making face masks for hospital workers.

GONZALEZ: We actually started March the 5 when the COVID-19 started. That's when I woke up one morning, and I said, Mom, we have to help out. And that's how we did it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Adria, how are you going to mark the anniversary?

GONZALEZ: On our anniversary, we're going to be in our house praying - two hours of praying (speaking Spanish), with our Virgin Mary and praying for those souls to rest because my mother and I believe that they're still there inside Walmart and that their souls are still there. And we need to pray.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is Adria Gonzalez, who was at the Walmart one year ago in El Paso. (Speaking Spanish).

GONZALEZ: (Speaking Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.