MATHIS – Last Saturday at around 10:39 a.m. in El Paso, as parents and children were doing their back-to-school shopping, a lone gunman walked into a large Walmart and opened fire.
More than two dozen people were wounded in the massacre that erupted, including children and parents drawn to a back-to-school sale.
According to law enforcement officials, the shooter was looking for Mexicans to kill and unleashed a barrage of gunfire that left 22 people dead and more than two dozens injured.
Justice of the Peace Pct. 5 Nere Villarreal was watching as it all unfolded on her TV and quickly picked up the phone. Serving in the military for more than 24 years, her son was stationed at Fort Bliss – which is headquartered in El Paso – gearing up for retirement.
And her granddaughter worked on Saturdays at the shopping center located just a few hundred feet away from where the massacre occurred.
“I was watching the news, and I called my son because my first thought was my granddaughter,” Villarreal said, still visibly shaken Monday morning. “I know she works every Saturday, she goes to college so she has to go every Saturday.
“I was emotional all day Saturday and cried all day.
“It was just so close to home and just so unbelievable.”
She said she feels for all the families who were impacted by the horrific event and feels lucky that her family ended up being OK.
“I called my son first because I saw it in the news, and he said ‘Mom, she’s fine,’” Villarreal continued. “He kept checking back with me all day long, back and forth, back and forth.
“Even (Sunday) my husband called him and asked if he was OK. He said we’re fine, Dad; we’re fine.”
Incredibly enough, this wasn’t the Villarreals’ first brush with a mass shooter in recent years.
On Oct. 1, 2017, when a gunman opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip, killing 58 people and wounded 422, Villarreal and her husband, Mathis Mayor Ciri Villarreal, were there.
“We were in the hotel when people first started running into there bleeding and screaming that there was an active shooter,” Villarreal recalled. “Then me and my husband got separated.
“It was horrific, and I thought it was going to die.
“I was hiding in a little corner with five women, and they came in and told us to run, run, run.
“So it was like that all over again. All I could think of was what if my granddaughter had to go through that?”
Villarreal said she thanked God that her granddaughter showed up to work minutes after the rampage occurred and was unharmed.
The El Paso shooter lived in Allen, approximately 600 miles from the Walmart, and is currently being held on capital murder charges without bond.
Villarreal said that people regularly crossed the border, legally, from Ciudad Juarez to shop at the Walmart and nearby shopping center, and the area is usually packed – much more so this past weekend due to back-to-school sales.
“It’s just really scary you know,” Villarreal said, her voice shaking. “It just hit too close to home.”