EL PASO, Texas — Anguished families planned funerals in two U.S. cities, politicians pointed fingers and a nation numbed by gun violence wondered what might come next Monday as the death toll from two weekend mass shootings rose to 31.
The attacks 1,300 miles apart — at a packed shopping center in El Paso, Texas, and a popular nightlife stretch in Dayton, Ohio — also injured dozens more. They became the newest entries on an ever-growing list of mass shooting sites and spurred discussion on where to lay the blame. President Donald Trump cited mental illness and video games but steered away from talk of curbing gun sales.
For all the back-to-back horror of innocent people slain amid everyday life, decades of an unmistakably American problem of gun violence ensured it wasn’t entirely shocking. Even as the familiar post-shooting rituals played out in both cities, others clung to life in hospitals, with two new fatalities recorded among those injured at the shooting at the Walmart in El Paso.
As in a litany of other shooting sites before, the public juggled stories of the goodness seen in lives cut short with inklings of the demented motives of the shooters, and on-scene heroics with troubling ideologies that may have sparked the bloodshed.
Equally familiar, Washington reacted along party lines, with Trump’s vague suggestion of openness to new gun laws met with skepticism by an opposition that has heard similar talk before.
“Hate has no place in America,” the president declared in a 10-minute speech from the White House Diplomatic Reception Room, condemning racism and rehashing national conversations on treatment for mental health, depiction of violence in the media, and discourse on the internet.
A racist screed authorities were working to confirm was left by the alleged perpetrator in the Texas shooting, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, mirrored some of Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. Some, like Ernesto Carrillo, whose brother-in-law Ivan Manzano was killed in the Walmart attack, said the president shares blame for inflammatory language Carrillo called a “campaign of terror.”
“His work as a generator of hate ended in this,” said Carrillo, who crossed the border from Ciudad Juárez on Monday for a meeting in El Paso with Mexico’s foreign minister. “Thanks to him, this is all happening.”
Trump, in turn, tweeted that the media “contributed greatly to the anger and rage that has built up.”
Trump suggested a bill to expand gun background checks could be combined with his long-sought effort to toughen the nation’s immigration system, but gave no rationale for the pairing. Studies have repeatedly shown immigrants have a lower level of criminality than those born in the U.S., both shooting suspects were citizens, and federal officials are investigating anti-immigrant bias as a potential motive in the Texas massacre.
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a leading voice on gun reform since the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in his state rattled the country with the slaughter of 20 children, immediately dismissed the president’s proposal as meaningless. “Tying background checks to immigration reform is a transparent play to do nothing,” he wrote on Twitter.
Whatever the political back-and-forth, or the re-energized presence of gun control talk on the presidential campaign trail, the very real consequences of gun violence were still being bared by victims badly injured in the two states.
In both incidents, a young white male was identified as the lone suspect. Though authorities were eyeing racism as a possible factor in Texas, where the alleged shooter has been booked on murder charges, in Ohio police said there was no indication of a similar motivation. Police in Dayton said they responded in about 30 seconds early Sunday and fatally shot 24-year-old Connor Betts. While the gunman was white and six of the nine killed were black, police said the quickness of the rampage made any discrimination in the shooting seem unlikely.
Betts’ sister was also among the dead.
“It seems to just defy believability he would shoot his own sister, but it’s also hard to believe that he didn’t recognize it was his sister, so we just don’t know,” said Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine visited the scene Sunday and said policymakers must consider: “Is there anything we can do in the future to make sure something like this does not happen?”
Hours later, hundreds of people stood at a vigil and vented their frustration at the Republican governor, interrupting him with chants of “Make a change!” and “Do something!” as he talked about the victims.
“People are angry, and they’re upset. They should be,” said Jennifer Alfrey, 24, of Middletown, who added that she didn’t agree with interrupting the vigil but understood why so many did.
In Texas, where 22 were killed, authorities said the accused shooter hailed from a Dallas suburb a 10-hour drive away. Authorities seemed to take some solace in knowing the shooter wasn’t one of their own.
“It’s not what we’re about,” El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said.
Let’s talk about gun violence
Politicians must sit down and discuss this issue with an acknowledgment of two realities: that the vast majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens and that this level of gun violence needs to stop.
Details on Page A4
There is no one reason that somebody lives in a homeless shelter.
Whether it’s a woman in her 80s who lived out of a car for three years, or a man who had surgery on his leg and needed a place to recover, the one thing that connects most of their stories is that they are from St. Joseph, and the Crossing Outreach Ministry hears all their stories.
“Most of our guests, probably 75 or 80 percent, are local people that are coming and going and in and out of the job market that need emergency housing,” said Danny Gach, who started the Crossing with his wife, Twila.
“It’s a little misleading in some of the news you hear that people think they’re bused into St. Joe,” Gach said.
More than 550 people have come to the Crossing in the past eight months, ranging in age from 18 to 84.
Twenty-five percent of those have been women.
The Crossing will be taking over the 8th Street Drop In Center across the street from the shelter at 629 S. Eighth St. A fenced-in yard will be added to the new location.
“You only enter and leave the courtyard through the building,” Gach said. “People are screened a little bit to go in the building and then in the courtyard where they can visit.”
The 24-hour shelter is only one part of the overall plan to help four communities in the area: the homeless, veterans, ex-convicts and those struggling with addiction. Gach said he believes you have to fix all the components together or it’s only placing a bandage on the problem.
Mosaic Life Care has selected the Crossing as the recipient of a Community Connect Dollars grant to create an urban wellness program beginning Oct. 1, when the shelter will become a full-time operation. Community Action Partnership and Pivotal Point Transitional Housing also will play roles by helping individuals become self-sustaining.
The St. Joseph Health Department will be the administrator of the operation, and director Debra Bradley spoke about the collaboration behind the urban wellness program.
“We will be the ones who will be monitoring progress that the agencies are making,” Bradley said. “We’ve got partnerships with CAP St. Joe, the Community Action Partnership, with Pivotal Point Transitional Housing, with the Crossing.”
Members of the St. Joseph School District administration stressed the importance of updated facilities while presenting a rough road map of what people can expect within the next few months.
Three district priorities were highlighted by School Board President Seth Wright during a meeting Monday with News-Press NOW: A Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) that focuses on addressing behavior issues in the classroom through various supportive means; climate and culture, which focuses on attracting and retaining high-quality teachers within the district; and strategic planning, which puts more focus on facility plans and academic rigor.
The final priority was the main focus of the majority of Monday’s meeting, as the district’s Capital Improvement Program initiative was given a $1.1 million boost from April’s tax levy to make more repairs and security upgrades to various schools within the district. Altogether, SJSD is making around $3 million in renovations and repairs to various schools across the district.
DLR, the company behind an ongoing facilities study, recently came to the board of education with a number of different options to make the district more efficient. The options involved closing some schools while consolidating others.
And as online surveys have helped to give the board a community perspective, DLR will host focus groups of around 50 community members — parents, community members, staff — prior to community meetings in September and October before presenting a final plan to the board in November, overlaid by operational costs for each building.
“There are a lot of needs at every level,” Wright said. He also said high schools require more attention in terms of facility updates and reworks.
Once DLR presents its plan to the board, Wright said the board will take that information into account when formulating their own plan for how the school district will look in the future, and which buildings will take priority.
“We’re going to have to raise money to address them through a bond most likely, and so that would require voter approval,” he said.
Wright also added the district be working with L.J. Hart & Co. in the next few months to work through the process of what their bonding capacity will be.
The district also will have to consider whether a more consistent, sixth-through-eighth-grade middle school model makes more sense for the schools.
Wright said the desire to be proactive is behind the recent attention given to SJSD facilities.
“We’ve been very reactive in this school district for decades. Are we doing our kids a disservice?” he said. “If you get a great teacher and sit kids down in a barn, are they going to teach? Of course they will. But I think you have to put the total package together. The fact of the matter is that when people are deciding where (the kids) go to school, they look at the facilities. Curb appeal matters.”
He went on to say that parents are leaving the district for better opportunities, something he said he believes can change with the right opportunities.
Assistant Superintendent Marlie Williams also voiced her opinion on the matter.
“Instructional quality if the biggest indicator of student outcomes. But in terms of the facility configuration for 21st century learning — when you are being deliberate about infrastructure that supports technology … you can bring kids together,” she said. “We have to work together in a different way than when I went to school.”
Currently, capital improvement projects are being put into place, such as new security doors and sidewalk repairs across multiple schools. Various rooftops across the district also were repaired over the summer.
Williams and Wright said that the process of constructing or consolidating new buildings would take some time.
“The next time we could put something on the ballot would be April 2020,” Wright said. “If that passed, that’s two years of planning, architectural drawing and construction. That’s a best-case scenario.”
Altogether, modifying the number of high schools could take up to three years, Wright added.
This has been a special year for training camp in St. Joseph, even though it may be the last.
Sunday’s practice set a new record, with more than 8,000 fans and a weekend milestone of 16,000 attendees.
“Well, it has been a really special camp, record-setting. This camp has already eclipsed the total attendance for every year besides the first,” Dr. Josh Looney, Missouri Western’s athletic director, said. “And I didn’t even know if you can count that era because there was a lot of two-a-day practices, so there was a lot of double counting. We will make a run at those numbers this year.”
Chiefs camp not coming back in the future would be disappointing, but it has brought nearly half a million fans summer memories over the past decade, he said.
“Oh, it is tremendous if you look at the 10 years we have had,” Looney said. “We will be near 400,000 people that have visited over that time that would not have come to our community.”
Local fans have had the pleasure of witnessing the team for the last decade, but the ability of the players still leaves them in awe.
“I just think it is a good thing for people to come out and see the size of these players and what they can do,” Jack Campbell, a local fan, said.
Campbell has been living in town since the 1990s. He believes the benefits of having the team in town for camp include making the community close knit and the exposure for local college sports.
“I think that it creates a lot of camaraderie. People in a few weeks will get ready to go to that first Missouri Western game,” Campbell said. “That should get people all riled up and ready for the college season.
But just because there is not an official word on the Chiefs returning doesn’t mean fans can’t stay optimistic.
“I am hoping that they will be back next year, and I am being positive that they will,” Campbell said.