Linda and Saul Lara have been attending therapy for several months in order to address the trauma of August 3, 2019, when a gunman shot and killed 22 people, and injured at least 23 others, at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.
The Laras were in the parking lot of a Sam’s Club, next door to the Walmart, when they heard the gunshots and had to flee. “It was like, boom, boom, boom, boom, 10 or 15 shots really fast,” Linda Lara told TIME the day after the shooting. She said she called 911 as she and her husband watched people run for cover and parents shield their children.
Six months later, the suspected killer, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius of Allen, Texas, is now facing 90 federal charges, including 22 hate crimes. Some of the charges carry a maximum penalty of death. The Department of Justice announced the charges at a Thursday evening press conference in El Paso.
“It’s justified,” Linda Lara tells TIME. “He hated Mexican people. For him to drive 10 hours — he could have turned around at any time. So it is a hate crime.”
The charges include 45 counts of murder or attempted murder under federal hate crime laws that include a maximum sentence of life in prison. He has also been charged with 45 counts of using a firearm to commit violence.
Crusius, a white man, is accused of driving 10 hours from north Texas to target Mexicans in El Paso. A manifesto attributed to Crusius that was published shortly before the shooting describes Hispanics as “invaders.” Crusius confessed to police upon his arrest, but later pleaded not guilty to state capital murder charges that could include the death penalty. He has been in jail since the arrest, and on suicide watch.
“We’re not gonna let up, our resolve is firm, we’re going to take the fight to the violent extremists, and we’re gonna win,” said John Bash, U.S. Attorney for western district of Texas, at a Thursday evening press conference.
El Paso County District Attorney Jaime Esparza did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment, but he told The Dallas Morning News in a statement that he supports the indictment by the U.S. Attorney’s Office “as one more way of holding the shooter accountable. The District Attorney’s Office will continue to work hard to ensure that justice is done and that the shooter is held accountable by our community.”
A trial date for the state charges has not yet been set, and the chance for a change of venue could cost the county between $6 to $8 million, according to the El Paso Times, which could mean cutting from county projects aimed to improve infrastructure like roads, parks and assistance for the elderly.
The county also determined Crusius to be indigent, and is paying for his defense — costs that the Laras say has continued to harm the city.
“He’s already taken a lot from El Paso,” Linda Lara tells TIME. “It totally aggravates me.” The couple says they couldn’t sleep after the shooting, and began therapy for that reason.
Before the shooting, Linda Lara says she didn’t believe in the death penalty. “Now I’ve changed my mind,” she says. “He caused 22 deaths. I think that’s the least that could happen to him.”
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