EL PASO, Texas – About 50 shoppers lined up early Thursday ahead of the reopening of a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, that had been closed since August, when a gunman police say was targeting Mexicans opened fire in the store and killed 22 people.
On the day of the attack, Walmart didn’t have a security guard on duty. But as the doors opened to the public for the first time in three months and shoppers streamed into the renovated space, they passed dozens of sheriff’s deputies, security guards and store employees. Workers greeted customers with cheers of “Welcome back to Walmart!”
Walmart has quietly hired off-duty officers at its stores in El Paso, Texas, since Aug. 3, when police say Patrick Crusius drove more than 10 hours from his grandparents’ house in a Dallas suburb to carry out the attack. Crusius, 21, pleaded not guilty.
More than 3,000 people from largely Latino El Paso and neighboring Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, were at the store when the attack happened.
Among the visitors to the reopened store was Eddie Medina, who walked out carrying a frozen turkey and wearing a T-shirt in honor of his wife, Cecy Medina, a Walmart employee who survived the shooting while working in the women’s clothing section.
The shirt reads: “My wife is a cancer survivor and a Walmart survivor. She is El Paso Strong.”
Medina, 62, said recent months have been difficult for his wife; her yearlong fight with cancer ended in May, but was followed by her mother’s death and then the shooting. She’s been seeing a psychiatrist paid for by Walmart, but she’s still too traumatized to return to the scene of the crime.
“I told her ‘I’m going to go in your place,’ ” the husband said. “I just retired last month so I could stay home and take care of her.”
The retail giant reopened the store amid ongoing lawsuits over security on the day of the mass shooting.
The interior of the building was rebuilt after authorities took more than 10 days to finish processing blood and bone fragments in the massive crime scene.
“There was a time that Walmart hired off-duty officers and for some time prior [to] August 3rd that ceased,” El Paso police spokesman Enrique Carrillo said in an e-mail.
When Police Chief Greg Allen first revealed the phasing out of officers during a City Council meeting, council members discussed possibly requiring that off-duty officers be hired at large stores, though the idea hasn’t been implemented.
Instead, Walmart started hiring off-duty officers at their stores throughout the city, from its sprawling Supercenters to its smaller neighborhood grocery stores.
“We’re covering Walmarts, we’re also covering Sam’s [Club],” said El Paso police union President Ron Martin. “Even the neighborhood Walmarts are being covered.”
Martin said it’s unclear how long Walmart will continue to employ off-duty officers at every location.
The off-duty officers are paid about $50 per hour, depending on their rank, which is about double the officers’ full-time hourly wage.