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Remembering One Of El Paso Shooting Victims, Arturo Benavides


Today marks one year since a shooter targeted Latinos at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. He killed 23 people. One of the victims was 60-year-old Arturo Benavides, a decorated Army veteran and retired city bus driver. Over the weekend, his family gathered to remember him at the dedication ceremony for a transit center renamed in his honor. Mallory Falk of member station KERA was there.

MALLORY FALK, BYLINE: When she was little, Melissa Tinajero was kind of intimidated by her uncle, who everyone called Tury.

MELISSA TINAJERO: He tried to portray, like, he was like this tough, strong guy, you know, military whatever. But deep down, he was just, like, a super softie.

FALK: A doting uncle to his many nieces and nephews, Benavides was one of eight children and really tight with his family. When the siblings got together, they'd revert back to their childhood selves and gently tease each other. Benavides' brother Mike especially loved messing with him. Here's their sister Yolanda.

YOLANDA TINAJERO: When Mike would tease him, he would always say, Mom, look at Mike. Stop it, Mike. Stop it, Mike. And my brother would tease him on purpose because everybody wanted to hear my brother Tury say that.

FALK: Saturday's ceremony was a chance for the family to reminisce as they gathered outside what's now called the Arturo "Tury" Benavides Eastside Transit Center. It's just across the street from the Walmart where he was killed while shopping with his wife Patricia. They got separated when the shooting started, and she survived the attack. Many of the victims, including Benavides, were 60 or older. He'd been enjoying lots of time with Mike as they both entered their golden years.

MIKE BENAVIDES: Me being retired as well, wherever I would go, I'd go pick him up so, you know, he wouldn't be at home by himself. So we hung out a lot.

FALK: They listened to music together. Mike says his brother was a disco fanatic.

M BENAVIDES: And then of course Spanish as well - he loved Juan Gabriel, Jose Jose.

FALK: Driving around, cracking jokes while music poured out of the speakers...

M BENAVIDES: That's going to be missed for a long, long, long time.

FALK: The coronavirus pandemic has thwarted plans for large public gatherings to remember those lost one year ago. Many memorials are taking place virtually or at a distance, like driving through a park lit up by luminarias at night. But the Benavides family was able to gather for a small, physically distanced ceremony.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Good morning, everyone. It's really great to see so many people here this morning.

FALK: Folding chairs were placed 6 feet apart with a pink carnation on each seat. People showed up in masks and memorial T-shirts. Two Sun Metro buses flanked the podium. Their screens flashed bright orange text, in memory of Arturo Benavides. After the mayor and other city leaders gave speeches and unveiled a memorial plaque, Benavides' widow spoke briefly, dressed in a shirt with a smiling photo of her husband framed by angel wings.

PATRICIA BENAVIDES: (Crying) And I'm pretty sure he's watching it, and he's very proud of himself.

FALK: Now passengers waiting for their bus to arrive can read the plaque and learn about her husband, his military service and 20 dedicated years with Sun Metro. His niece, Melissa Tinajero, says she'll always think of him first as a kind, sensitive, generous man.

M TINAJERO: I'm happy that so many people are getting to know who he is. You know, otherwise he would just be another person. I mean, to us he'd be super special, and we know. But now everybody gets to know about him.

FALK: Tonight El Paso's iconic star on the mountain will flash 23 times to honor the victims from both sides of the border, including Benavides.

For NPR News, I'm Mallory Falk in El Paso.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mallory Falk was WWNO's first Education Reporter. Her four-part series on school closures received an Edward R. Murrow award. Prior to joining WWNO, Mallory worked as Communications Director for the youth leadership non-profit Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools. She fell in love with audio storytelling as a Middlebury College Narrative Journalism Fellow and studied radio production at the Transom Story Workshop.
Mallory Falk
Mallory Falk covers El Paso and the border for the Texas news hub, the prototype for NPR's new system of regional journalism hubs. Previously she worked as a reporter at KRWG in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and WWNO, New Orleans Public Radio. Her reporting has aired nationally on programs including Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Here & Now. A winner of multiple regional Edward R. Murrow awards, Mallory is based in El Paso, and is part of the national Report for America project, which aims to support journalists in underserved areas of America.